Menopause is a natural transition in life that can bring on a variety of physical, mental, and emotional changes. These changes can be supported with an anti-inflammatory style diet.
An anti-inflammatory diet is centered around whole, unprocessed foods such as a wide variety of plant fibers and phytoestrogens from fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, healthy oils and lean proteins. It also emphasizes reducing or eliminating the consumption of highly processed foods which contain large amounts of sugar, preservatives and artificial ingredients.
An anti-inflammatory diet is a whole food diet that can reduce the frequency or severity of symptoms associated with menopause.
Why is important to have an anti-inflammatory diet?
Inflammation is part of the body's response whereby the immune system recognizes and removes harmful and foreign stimuli and begins the healing process. The inflammatory response can be classified into either acute and chronic.
The acute inflammatory response is usually triggered due to trauma, microbial invasion, or noxious stimuli. It starts rapidly, becomes severe in a short time and symptoms may last for a few days for example:
a hard workout at the gym
a skin infection, or
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is regarded as a slow, long term-term inflammation lasting for prolonged periods of several months to years. The prolonged inflammatory state can lead to the body's inability to repair and overcome daily stress, illness and disease. While in this state it is harder to maintain a healthy weight, lose weight, maintain lean muscle mass, feel energised and well rested.
Is menopause an inflammatory condition?
Having menopause symptoms is a normal stage of a woman's life, when her menstrual cycles come to an end and she no longer has periods. Perimenopause is the time of menopause transition and can take place for 4-8 years prior to the final period and can go on for more years after menopause.
The hormonal changes that occur during menopause can trigger a wide variety of menopause symptoms such as:
Mood swings and irritability,
Decreased sex drive
Poor bone health or density
Decreased sex drive
Menopause weight gain
You can read more about the symptoms of peri/menopause here.
As both estrogen and progesterone have anti-inflammatory effects on the body, a reduction in these hormones leads to a general increase in inflammation. This low grade inflammation contributes to some of the symptoms of menopause including lower energy, sore joints, and weight gain and also to the development of chronic disease such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
What are the best foods to eat during menopause?
Focusing on lean protein, a high fiber diet and making smart carbohydrates can support your body's functions during perimenopause.
Protein and menopause
During menopause, it is important to get adequate amounts of lean protein-rich foods. This is because there is a dramatic decline in muscle mass and strength during the 3 years around the time of the last period, but this decline begins approximately 8 years before the last period and continues at least for 4 years after (Greendale 2019).
Lean protein foods include fish, beans, lentils, nuts, chicken, and eggs. Protein helps build and preserve muscle mass which in turn can help maintain bone density. It also helps you feel fuller longer so that cravings for unhealthy snacks are reduced.
Avoid regular consumption of processed meats as they are carcinogens linked with bowel, rectal and stomach cancers (WHO 2023).
Phytoestrogens are a group of non-steroidal polyphenolic plant-based substances, commonly used for the treatment of menopause-related conditions. In one meta-study, phytoestrogens appear to reduce the frequency of hot flushes in menopausal women, without serious side-effects.
Foods that contain phytoestrogens include:
Soy beans, soy milk
Chickpeas, beans and lentils
Grapes, berries such as cranberries, strawberries and cranberries and plums
black and green tea
Antioxidants and fiber during perimenopause
Antioxidants and fiber are two important components of a healthy diet. Antioxidants help to protect cells from oxidative stress and free radicals, while.
Foods that contain antioxidants include: Berries Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower
Fiber helps with digestion, reducing the risk of constipation, heart disease and diabetes. There are 3 main types of fiber: fermentable fibers, viscous fibers and resistant starch.
Fermentable fibers are great for your gut health and feed lactobacillus and bifidobacteria and help them to thrive. They include:
β-glucans: Oats; barley
Pectin: Fruits (particularly citrus); root vegetables, jams, nuts, legumes
Inulin: chicory, wheat, onions, bananas, leeks, artichokes, and asparagus
FOS: onion, chicory, garlic, asparagus, banana, artichoke
GOS: legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and beans.
Viscous fibers form a thick gel when blended with water. Viscous fibers are abundant in legumes, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, oats and flax seeds. Eating these plant foods reduces cholesterol levels.
Resistant starch is not digested but is helpful for balancing your blood sugars and feeding and diversifying your gut microbiome. Resistant starches are found in:
cold cooked rice
sorghum and barley
beans and chickpeas
raw potato starch or cooked cold potatoes
Plant fibers contain an abundance of antioxidants and fibers so aiming for over 30 different plant fibers per day supports metabolic health as well as your gut health.
Increase your intake of healthy fats
The human body can use carbohydrates, fat, or protein to synthesize almost all fatty acids, except linoleic acid (Omega-6) and linolenic acid (Omega-3). These last fatty acids cannot be synthesized by the human body and referred to as essential fatty acids. Omega- 3 fatty acids exert anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective, and reduced insulin resistance, whereas Omega-6 fatty acids exert proinflammatory effects and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Research have shown diets rich in Omega-3 fatty acids were report to protect against obesity, metabolic syndrome and improved blood pressure with women who were postmenopausal. They also have able to promote healthy brain function and reduce the risk of neurological disorders.
In general, eating a diet rich in non-saturated fats, such as olive oil, avocados, nuts such as walnuts can help you manage your weight during menopause while also improving your overall health by building diversity in the gut microbiome through increased fiber intake. Included in a diet rich in healthy fats should include foods rich in Omega- 3. These include (*per 100mg):
Flax seeds (22813 mg)
Chia seeds (17830 mg)
Salmon (2501 mg)
Walnuts (9080 mg)
Firm Tofu (582 mg)
Oysters (1584 mg)
Navy (Haricot ) beans (117 mg)
Brussels Sprouts (173 mg)
Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is one type of whole food diet that confers anti-inflammatory benefits. More information on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet can be found here.
What foods should I eat on an ant-inflammatory diet?
On this diet, you should eat a variety of nutritious foods. During menopause, it is important to eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-rich foods. Some of the best foods to eat during menopause include:
Vegetables: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, spinach and other leafy greens. Carrots, pumpkin, kumara (sweet potato), capsicum,
Fruit: Cherries, apples, citrus fruits, apricots, plums, peaches, nectarines, pears, pomegranate, mango, banana, berries and grapes.
Lean proteins: Turkey breast and white fish such as cod or salmon.
Legumes: Beans (e.g., black beans), lentils (e.g., green lentils) and soy products (e.g., tofu).
Whole grains: Oats, buckwheat groats/kasha/buckwheat noodles/pasta made from buckwheat flour; quinoa; brown rice
What foods should be avoided on an anti-inflammatory diet for menopause?
On an anti-inflammatory diet for menopause, women should reduce processed and fried foods such as:
Candy and desserts.
They should also avoid refined flours and grains high in added sugar such as cookies or pastries. Sugary drinks and sodas should be avoided as well as oils that may be considered inflammatory such as canola or vegetable oil.
Food with artificial flavors colors preservatives high fructose corn syrup should also be avoided along with processed meats containing nitrates like sausages burgers salami. Fried foods should also be avoided along with alcohol.
Sugary drinks, fruit juices, sugar-sweetened beverages and energy drinks should be avoided on an anti-inflammatory diet for menopause.
Any added sugars should be limited to no more than 25 grams for women and 35 grams for men. Refined carbohydrates such as white pasta, white bread and rice should also be avoided. Wheat and gluten products such as pasta and bread should also be eliminated from the diet.
Excessive consumption of red and processed meat should be avoided. This includes animal products from grain-fed, conventionally-raised livestock and processed meats like bacon, deli meat, some sausages or charred/burned foods.
Oils that should be avoided on an anti-inflammatory diet for menopause include fat that have already been highly processed such as:
Corn oil and
Trans fats (those found in fried foods and processed foods).
The reason for limiting Omega-6 fats is that the body can convert it onto the building blocks that promote inflammation, blood clotting and the constriction of blood vessels. The interesting thing about Omega-6 fats is that the body can convert it into molecules that calm inflammation. When Omega-6 fat are consumed in their unprocessed form ,such as sunflower seed, walnuts, soybean seeds and pumpkin seeds the latter is more likely to happen.
What are the benefits of having an anti-inflammatory diet during menopause?
Avoiding processed foods, that contain trans fats, processed seed oils, refined sugars and flours and replacing these foods with whole foods, especially with a lot of plant diversity is great for every aspect of health during menopause. A whole foods diet contributes to anti inflammatory effects such as:
Lower risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes
Reduced inflammation and pain
Improved sleep and mood
More stable blood sugar levels, weight loss and muscle gain
Reduced risk of osteoporosis and cancer
Improved gut health
Increased energy levels
Reduced stress and anxiety
Reduced chronic inflammation
What is the best anti-inflammatory dietary style for menopause?
An anti-inflammatory diet that has ample excellent evidence at reducing risks of many chronic illness is a Mediterranean-style diet, which emphasizes whole foods such as non-starchy vegetables and fruits, fatty fish, berries, garlic nuts tomatoes olive oil. It includes dairy in moderate amounts and limited amounts of meat.
If your prefer a diet without animal protein then, a whole food plant-based diet is a great choice for you during menopause as it will supply you with plenty of phytoestrogens, anti-oxidants, fiber, plant-based proteins. Remember to ensure you find a good source of plant-based omega-3, which are in flax seeds or via algae supplement. Also you should supplement with vitamin B12.
There is also the Galveston Diet, which an online course that promotes healthy eating by maintaining a health body weight.
What else can I do to reduce my menopause symptoms?
Read more about lifestyle pillars of menopause here.
Read more about HRT here.
Where can I get started?
She practices Lifestyle Medicine and Integrative Medicine in New Zealand and Menopause health coaching internationally. She has a passion for supporting women adapt to their changing female physiology for optimum health and wellbeing.
Schedule a free health discovery call with her to learn more.
Chen MN, Lin CC, Liu CF. Efficacy of phytoestrogens for menopausal symptoms: a meta-analysis and systematic review. Climacteric. 2015;18(2):260-269.
Rana A, Samtiya M, Dhewa T, et al. Health benefits of polyphenols: A concise review. J Food Biochem. 2022;46(10):e14264.
Pahwa R, Goyal A, Jialal I. Chronic Inflammation. [Updated 2022 Aug 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/
Ko SH, Kim HS. Menopause-Associated Lipid Metabolic Disorders and Foods Beneficial for Postmenopausal Women. Nutrients. 2020 Jan 13;12(1):202.
Greendale GA, Sternfeld B, Huang M, et al. Changes in body composition and weight during the menopause transition. JCI Insight. 2019 Mar 7;4(5):e124865.