Beating bloat, managing weight and fuelling body and mind
Many of us will find our body responds differently to food as we transition through menopause. Oestrogen receptors are everywhere - including our gut. And, as our hormone levels decrease, our stomach can struggle to produce the acid too. Low stomach acid causes food to be only partially digested - leading to food fermentation in the gut, which in turn can cause issues such as a disrupted gut microbiota (the good bacteria in the gut), gut inflammation and food intolerances. We may also find ourselves less able to utilize starches and sugars due to increased insulin resistance. The loss of muscle mass, as a result of decreased exercise can also mean we burn fewer calories, even at rest.
Symptoms can be broad-ranging but include bloating, weight gain around our middle, gas, changes in bowel movements and IBS-like symptoms.
And, as is so often the case in midlife, there is a cyclical impact to an unbalanced gut. A disturbed digestive system will further impact on your hormones. As a result of poor digestion, we struggle to absorb key nutrients that are the building blocks for hormone production, and less good bacteria in the gut will affect hormone metabolism too. Finally, we can not overstate the impact that our gut has on our brain and our happiness. When our digestion isn’t working as it should, we are more likely to feel low and to lose confidence.
So, what is the best way to feed our bodies in menopause?
- The most valuable thing we can do is to prioritise anti-inflammatory foods such as wild oily fish, nuts and seeds.
- And also look for healthy fats. Olive oil and coconut oil, nuts and seeds, avocado... these fats are the precursors for our hormones and make up healthy cell membranes.
- Up your intake of wholegrains, antioxidant-rich foods like berries, green tea and coca, and ensure a broad mix of vegetables on your plate.
Foods rich in probiotics such as dairy kefir, water kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi (even better if you can make your own) are the best natural probiotics you can aim for.
…..And remember that digestion starts in the brain and mouth, so eat mindfully and chew your food very well (aim for 15 chews per bite).
Look to add fresh ginger, fennel seeds and lemon to your dishes. In Fact a glass of lukewarm water with lemon first thing in the morning is a great way to improve digestion and energise your day.
- Hello slippery elm!: This natural prebiotic has fallen out of favour a little as the superfoods and herbs took centre stage! - but it can be incredibly effective at soothing our guts in midlife. Just make sure you’re buying the inner bark - there are a number of supplement brands using Siberian elm bark as a substitute (cheaper and more readily available). Source is critical.
Embrace yellow!: Turmeric is a wonderful, diverse herb. Known in traditional Eastern medicine as a warming herb or spice, it is a potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immune modulator. Due to its therapeutic properties, turmeric not only supports detoxification steps in the liver but can also help with several health conditions including gastrointestinal disorders (such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease – IBD, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome – IBS), and osteoarthritis. The main active constituent of turmeric and the one responsible for its vibrant yellow colour is called curcumin, and there is a growing body of clinical trial data showing its therapeutic applications.
Turmeric can protect the liver from oxidative stress by acting as a free radical scavenger. Free radical molecules – created by poor diet, pollution and tobacco smoke amongst others – cause oxidation and DNA damage that all affect the liver and the body.
Turmeric also helps your body to detoxify by helping your liver to eliminate toxins and excess substances produced by the body (including hormones). It can also help us in managing hot flushes and joint pain given its anti-inflammatory properties. And studies have shown that turmeric can also reduce symptoms of bloating and gas.
But perhaps one of its most important attributes in midlife is its ability to increase bile flow. Bile is a fluid that is naturally produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. We need bile to absorb good fats, hormone production and bowel movements.
When adding turmeric to your diet, bear in mind that curcumin has a low bioavailability, which means that it is poorly absorbed by the body. In order to boost absorption, mix turmeric with black pepper in a ratio of 10:1. Piperine, a constituent of black pepper, has been shown to increase curcumin absorption by 20 times. We like to add 1 teaspoon of black pepper to every 10 teaspoons of turmeric, mix well and store in an airtight jar away from light so it is ready to use in our cooking and our lattes!
- Supplements such as digestive enzymes and betaine-HCl may be worth exploring with your practitioner. Our own recipes are also designed with your digestion in mind. Peri-Boost directly targets blood sugar balance, bloating and weight maintenance - and has seen fantastic results in trials. And our newly launched Meno-Blend includes pre-biotics to further support digestion as oestrogen depletes.
The right mindset
In midlife, external stressors only deplete our bodies further. One of the most valuable things we can do is reframe our relationship with food. Try to view ‘good choices’ as acts of self care rather than punitive measures. The rule book about restriction has diminishing returns. Our bodies have earned the right to be nourished. That means eating well. And giving yourself time. But there are also a few techniques you can try to help your brain support your body’s nutritional needs;
- Plan what you’ll eat and when for 2 weeks; preparing a schedule, having to hand snacks that will enhance your energy levels, will help you choose well. And then evaluate progress. If you’re miserable, rethink. This has to be about pleasure and satiation as well as nourishment.
- Experiment with different protocols; we’re old enough and wise enough to know that all food plans restrict in some way! Whether they squeeze our eating into a window or advocate the removal of certain foods, or invite us to count calories or macros...some people find regimes helpful. Our advice? Be curious. But be rigorous in your evaluation too. What works for others, may not work for you. In our experience, TRE increasingly appears to be the most promising path to balancing weight, insulin and blood sugar levels in midlife. At its most basic, it means you fast from around 6pm-10am each day. There is also growing research to its potential in promoting longevity too. But - and this is a big ‘but’, there are concerns it can lead to an even more damaged attitude to food. Proceed with caution. And ideally with professional nutritional support.
Don’t punish yourself. Don’t get frustrated if every day isn’t a perfect blend of good proteins, vegetables and fats. Weight gain during menopause is not a sign of failure. It is a sign that your body is transitioning.
The bloating will pass. The weight fluctuation will settle. As you adapt your eating habits and your digestion calms, you’ll find yourself working out what you need. Listen to yourself. Listen to your body. And remember, you’re phenomenal.
With love, the MPowder Team.
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