Menopause is the cessation of periods for 12 months (1). Symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, insomnia, mood changes, slowed metabolism, and many more, which can be overwhelming and debilitating for some women.
Current evidence suggests that diet plays a significant role in managing menopausal symptoms. While a low-fat, plant-based diet is associated with beneficial effects on body composition in postmenopausal women, some foods can worsen menopausal symptoms and trigger additional symptoms that make you feel worse.
Here are 10 foods that may worsen menopausal symptoms, so you know to skip them in the grocery store or when ordering from your favorite meal delivery service.
1. Fatty Foods
The hormonal changes that occur during menopause result in various metabolic disorders. It alters the level of body fat mass, fatty acid metabolism, and energy metabolism. This results in fat accumulation and even obesity in extreme cases.
Alterations in lipid metabolism can also cause excessive fatty acid synthesis and the release of inflammatory markers in the body, possibly leading to cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes. Fatty foods, especially those high in saturated and trans fats, can worsen these conditions.
To combat this, foods rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and phytochemicals should be added to your diet. You can try out a vegan meal delivery or an organic meal kit for a healthier alternative.
2. Spicy Foods
According to research, spicy food can worsen hot flashes by triggering sweating and flushing (2). It can also aggravate acid reflux and other digestive problems.
In extreme cases, this can lead to sleepless nights, resulting in fatigue, mood disorders, and headaches.
3. Caffeine-Rich Foods
Coffee, tea, energy drinks, and caffeinated cold drinks are best avoided during menopause. Studies have linked caffeine to worsening hot flashes, heart palpitations, and night sweats.
These vasomotor symptoms of menopause are usually experienced around the head, neck, chest, and upper back. They occur because hormonal fluctuations affect the mechanisms that control blood pressure and regulate body temperature.
Sugar or sugary foods spike your blood sugar levels. And with the dip in estrogen and progesterone levels during menopause, high blood sugar can aggravate or create insulin resistance. This can make women vulnerable to diabetes, heart disease, and even cancers. High blood sugar also results in weight gain and the complications that follow it. Insulin resistance can also make HRT (hormone replacement therapy) less effective.
Studies have linked high blood sugar to an increase in the amount and frequency of hot flashes. It can increase your stress levels, resulting in a more aggravated hormonal imbalance. This, in turn, worsens mood swings, depression, and sleep disorders.
5. High-Sodium Foods
Foods high in salt have been linked to lower bone density in postmenopausal women. High blood pressure is a very common problem for women going through menopause, and salty foods can aggravate this condition. Too much salt can also cause dehydration, triggering hot flushes, headaches, palpitations, and joint pain.
High-sodium foods cause bloating, another very common menopausal symptom. This happens mainly at the ankles. Processed foods such as chips, sauces, dips, canned foods, and dried meats are some examples of foods that are high in sodium.
In general, women have less alcohol dehydrogenase in their bodies. This enzyme helps metabolize alcohol in the liver to make it inactive.
For this reason, alcohol tends to do more damage to women, especially during menopause. It aggravates hot flashes by causing the blood vessels to dilate. Alcohol also causes dehydration which, as mentioned previously, triggers many other menopausal symptoms.
7. High Saturated Fatty Food
Menopausal and postmenopausal women are more prone to heart disease due to lower estrogen levels in the body. As saturated fats can worsen this situation, it is better to steer clear of them.
Processed meat and full-fat dairy products are high in saturated fats. Switch to healthier alternatives such as lean meats, fermented dairy products, and nut milk.
8. Ultra-Processed Foods
Ultra-processed foods are not real foods. They can be defined as food substances modified by chemical processes and then assembled into ready-to-consume, hyper-palatable food, also called cosmetic food (3).
It is loaded with sodium and empty calories that can worsen menopausal symptoms. It increases your visceral fat, which can also cause other complications. Processed foods are high in preservatives and other harmful chemicals.
Choose healthier alternatives such as whole grain crackers, veggies with hummus dip, or a trail mix.
9. Refined Carbs
Refined carbs are stripped of their nutrients and fibers due to excessive processing. As a result, they are just empty calories with a high glycemic index. They spike your blood sugar to unhealthy levels, triggering a surge in insulin production. Therefore, these foods lead to insulin resistance and metabolic disorders.
Eating refined carbs during menopause can worsen an already unhealthy lipid metabolism. It causes visceral fat accumulation around the waist, triggering an avalanche of additional health problems. To combat this, try eating more high-fiber vegetables that actually help regulate your blood sugar levels.
10. Artificial Sweeteners
It's quite common for people to shift to artificial sweeteners as they age. However, this isn't a good idea during menopause, as artificial sweeteners can negatively affect your health. It can increase insulin resistance.
It can also kill the good bacteria in your digestive system, resulting in a condition known as dysbiosis. This gives rise to severe digestive problems, such as gas, bloating, indigestion, inadequate absorption of nutrients, and widespread inflammation in the body.
Artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, sucralose, or aspartame have been known to increase the growth of pathogens in the body.
A proper menopausal diet plan is very important. Low-fat, high-estrogen foods can help with menopausal symptoms. Steer clear of processed foods high in sugar, salt, and saturated and trans fat. Instead, find a healthier alternative for a better transition. They may even ease your menopausal symptoms!
Check out meal delivery services like Factor_ and Sunbasket if you need some extra guidance when it comes to making healthier choices. They can be a great option if you're looking to eat nutritious meals with less effort in the kitchen.