I know myself that confusion abounds about ‘what to eat’ to manage menopause symptoms and despite lecturing in nutrition for years at university level, I used to feel the same.
But with the menopause transition known to bring inflammatory changes to our blood vessels, it made sense to explore the nutritional and heart-health science in relation to women’s health and ageing.
This research led me towards better understanding the traditional diet consumed by older women living in Okinawa (a sorthern island in Japan). Their way of eating is anchored in root vegetables (principally sweet potatoes), green and yellow vegetables, soybean-based foods, and medicinal plants.
Marine foods, lean meats, fruit, medicinal garnishes and spices, tea, alcohol are also moderately consumed.
Many characteristics of the traditional Okinawan diet are shared with other healthy dietary patterns, especially that of the traditional Mediterranean diet – a diet known for it’s benefits to women’s cardiovascular and metabolic health and improved health as they age. [Willcox et al, 2014].
That’s why I want to encourage you to help your midlife clients to turn their attention to the heart-healthy and blood pressure reducing benefits of root vegetables and other foods that are rich in potassium.
There is so much emphasis on calcium for bone health as we move through menopause and into the next phase of our lives. And whilst bone health deserves our attention, the other fundamental aspect of our health is to also improve cardiac health and manage the risk of hypertension (high blood pressure).
Hypertension is known to be influenced by lifestyle factors, including insomnia, low levels of exercise, overweight status and a diet high in processed foods which are also high in sodium. [Tasic et al, 2022]
This is where foods that are higher in potassium come in and it’s why I always have both sweet potatoes and raisins in my pantry.
Are Rasisins Healthy for your Clients?
There’s a common perception that raisins are unhealthy – that’s because they are around 60% sugar, predominantly fructose and glucose. However, relatively new research suggests that they are a lot healthier than we think (Olmo-Cunillera, Escobar-Avello et al., 2019).
I used to feel guilty about eating raisins, but now my post-exercise urge to grab a handful of raisins makes sense.
After a bout of heavier exercise, I craved their sweetness. Most importantly though, after exercise, an elevated blood pressure needs foods such as raisins, which are high in potassium, to assist post-exercise recovery.
Whilst backpackers and hikers appreciate the high-energy, low-fat convenience of dried fruits such as raisins, I bet that your clients aren’t very focused on having ½ cup of raisins as they move through menopause.
But a new review of the power of raisins to keep us healthy as we age, suggests that your clients should pack them into their lunchbox too.
“It has been demonstrated that raisins possess a low-to-moderate glycemic index, which makes them a healthy snack. They seem to contribute to a better diet quality and may reduce appetite.
Their antioxidant capacity has been correlated to the phenolic content and this may be involved in the improvement of cardiovascular health. In addition, raisins maintain a good oral health due to their antibacterial activity, low adherence to teeth and an optimum oral pH. Raisin consumption also seems to be favorable for colon function. Moreover, gut microbiota could be affected by the prebiotic content of raisins.” [Olmo-Cunillera, Escobar-Avello et al., 2019].
If your clients have high blood pressure and they are moving through menopause, then raisins (organic preferably) and sweet potatoes are two important foods for them to include in their diet. Both foods are potassium-rich.
Potassium is a powerful mineral which packs a punch when it comes to lowering our blood pressure as we age.
If your clients are sulfite-sensitive however, then they do need to stay clear of the golden seedless raisins however, because during processing, golden raisins (sultanas) are exposed to sulfite (sulphur dioxide), which prevents them from unwanted bacteria and yeasts.
If you’ve listened to my Masterclass on Menopause, then I explain that cardiac health is the number one health concern of women as they age and oestrogen declines.
Yet, as I’ve mentioned to Practitioners on my education courses, the conversations about this from a lifestyle perspective, seem to be missing.
However, helping your clients to add potassium-rich foods into their diet to help prevent hypertension is just one focus that I have in the MyMT™ Food Guide in both my online programmes too. Health Practitioner, Wendy Gordon from Melbourne, has not only completed one of these programmes, but she has gone on to undertake the Practitioner training too.
Potassium is a shortfall nutrient that is not typically found in fortified foods or commonly consumed as dietary supplements. It doesn’t get a lot of mention in dietary conversations for our menopause transition, but it should.
However, a word of caution that if you are on antihypertensives or other cardiac medications, then please check with your Doctor about the amount of potassium-rich foods that are recommended for you.
Potassium is present in all body tissues and is required for normal cell function because of its role in maintaining intracellular fluid volume and the movement of ions across the membranes.
It has a strong relationship with sodium, the main regulator of extracellular fluid volume, including our plasma volume.
If your clients are complaining about feeling bloated and ‘heavy’ and they are retaining water, then keep an eye on their potassium intake as their levels of progesterone decline during menopause. Declining levels of the hormone, progesterone, impacts fluid balance.
When women eat more foods (including raisins and sweet potatoes), that are higher in potassium, then this allows the kidneys to excrete more sodium in the urine. This is what helps to lower their blood pressure and reduces their risk for heart disease.
With many processed foods containing too much salt, balancing potassium and sodium is fundamental to our health as we age in order to help maintain a healthy blood pressure.
Just ¼ cup of raisins contains 270 milligrams of potassium.
Women need around 2,400 milligrams of potassium daily, so having foods that they can snack on is one way to ensure that potassium intake remains high, especially when they are busy.
Other Potassium-Rich Foods:
Sweet potatoes contain about 475 milligrams of potassium per 1/2 cup and adding a banana to morning oats is another way to get potassium as is increasing citrus fruit intake. [Duarte, Fernandes et al, 2016].
Evidence from trials on blood pressure suggests 3600–3800 mg/day of potassium from fruits and vegetables may be reasonable for heart and bone health.
This is still 1000 mg higher than the current average consumption of potassium in the modern western diet.
Improving the potassium: sodium intake ratio has a stronger advantage to heart health than either dietary constituent in isolation. For women in menopause, research suggests that this may be true for bone health also, because both sodium and potassium have opposing actions on calcium excretion. (Weaver, 2013).
But there’s also more to foods such as raisins as a heart-healthy snack.
Raisins are also high in fibre and contain non-haem iron. This is the type of iron that isn’t in red meat, so if your clients are moving towards a plant-based diet during menopause, then raisins are a great source of iron.
Iron is essential for the creation of haemoglobin in red blood cells and it helps red blood cells to transport oxygen. If your clients are in peri-menopause and still menstruating, and/or they are doing higher intensity exercise, then please get them to get their iron levels checked. As I say to my own clients, “Any heart palpitations and/ or increased anxiety, may be due to low iron, especially if women are vegetarian.”
I know myself how we can get so caught up with all the various dieting and exercise regimes these days, but many of these are not evidenced against our changing heart and metabolic health as we move through our menopause years.
Focusing on cardiac health is crucial, especially for those women with stressful lives or if they aren’t sleeping. Not sleeping increases the brain, heart and liver need for glucose. Hence, helping clients to resolve sleep and allowing them to snack on raisins may help them to reduce their blood pressure prior to bedtime.
Insomnia is well known to increase the risk of hypertension. This happens becuase the blood pressure stays elevated, without following the dip that it should take when women are asleep. [Jarrin, Alvaro et al., 2018].
Incorporating foods into our diet that help the body to ‘age-well’ is an important focus for your midlife and older clients.
If you need support with knowing the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of how to adjust your client’s lifestyle during and after their menopause transition, then don’t forget that you can also join me on my 12 week programmes if you can.
Dr Wendy Sweet (PhD)
For any course enquiries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Anderson, J., Weiter, K., Christian, A., Ritchey, M. & Harold E. Bays (2014). Raisins compared with other snack effects on glycemia and blood pressure: A randomized, controlled trial. Postgraduate Medicine, 126:1, 37-43, DOI: 10.3810/pgm.2014.01.2723
Duarte, A., Fernandes, J., Bernardes, J. & Miguel, G. (2016). Citrus as a component of the Mediterranean Diet. Journal of Spatial and Organizational Dynamics, Cinturs – Research Centre for Tourism, Sustainability and Well-being, University of Algarve, vol. 4(4), 289-304.
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