Let’s face it: our bodies are forever changed after menopause, and a different body requires a different diet. What should you be eating after menopause to avoid weight gain, bone loss, heart disease and other problems that become more common with advancing age? Let’s look at a few healthy diet changes you can make to maintain your health (and your figure).
An apple (and a carrot) a day keep the doctor away. Most people fail to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, and older women are no exception. Fruits and vegetables are great sources of the vitamins and minerals your body needs more than ever- with fewer calories as well on the whole. Eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as certain cancers.
Milk and yogurt and cheese…oh, my! As estrogen levels fall, bone loss accelerates, which can lead to thin and brittle bones that are prone to fracture with minimal (or no) trauma. You can protect yourself from developing osteoporosis by ensuring that you are getting enough calcium in your diet. Milk, yogurt and cheese are all good sources of calcium, as are soy, broccoli, orange juice and almonds.
Calcium’s best friend. Vitamin D is also crucial for good bone health. Vitamin D helps your body to absorb the calcium you take in and helps to strengthen your muscles. There is also plenty of research linking low vitamin D levels with depression; in fact, in recent years vitamin D has been linked to a number of health issues. We get very little vitamin D from the foods we eat, and it can be very difficult to get enough vitamin D from food sources alone. Good food sources of vitamin D are egg whites, oily fish (such as salmon) and cod liver oil. Milk and orange juice are often fortified with vitamin D. It is also important to get outside in the sun a little bit each day- 10 to 15 minutes outside without sunscreen is considered sufficient. Why? Our bodies have the ability to synthesize vitamin D from sun exposure, which is a pretty neat trick.
What about protein? Protein is even more important as we age because protein helps our bodies repair and rebuild- without protein we cannot recover from illness and injury. Beans, nuts, seeds, meat, eggs and fish are all good sources of protein. To avoid weight gain, choose lean cuts of meat and poultry without the skin. Try to eat fish at least twice a week, with one portion being of the oily variety (i.e., salmon, herring, mackerel). Choose foods that are high in protein but lower in calories.
The skinny on fat. Many of us have gotten the message that fat is bad. The truth is, we need fat to survive. Our bodies use fat as a fuel for energy. The trick is choosing foods that contain “good” fat (unsaturated fat) and avoiding foods that are high in “bad’ fat (saturated fat). This can be difficult because foods containing saturated fat taste good– really good! Cakes, pies, sausages, butter and biscuits are all foods that are high in saturated fat. Foods that are high in unsaturated fats are nuts and seeds, avocado, oily fish and olive and vegetable oils. See the difference? Get in the habit of reading labels, where the amounts of both kinds of fat are clearly labelled, and try not to eat too much of any fat. Soon you will be a pro at choosing foods that contain the lowest amount of fat. Doing so can help to prevent high cholesterol and heart disease.
Rough stuff. Fiber plays an important role in health. For one, fiber binds to cholesterol, so eating plenty of fiber can actually be of benefit if your cholesterol level is high, as excess cholesterol can be shed as waste. Secondly, fiber can be helpful if you are trying to maintain or lose weight. Foods that are high in fiber leave you feeling fuller, longer. Lastly, fiber is good for the health and regularity of your bowels. With age, our bowels can become less efficient, which can lead to constipation. Fiber is a great antidote for constipation. Aim for 21 to 20 grams of fiber every day.
Calories, calories, calories. Not sure how many calories you should be eating after menopause? Your caloric requirements depend on your activity level, your health and other factors. What we know is that after menopause, our metabolism slows and it becomes more difficult to lose weight. You may find that you need fewer calories to maintain your weight. If you are trying to lose weight, you may need to cut your caloric intake while at the same time increasing your level of activity or amount of exercise.
By following some of the suggestions above, you can help to decrease your risk of developing many of the health problems that tend to plague older women; at the same time, changing your dietary habits can increase your energy level, which may have been flagging. You have nothing to lose (except perhaps some weight) and everything to gain by eating a healthier diet.