Despite the global crisis with Covid19, it hasn’t escaped me that this week is a celebration of extraordinary women who have helped to change history. International Women’s Day was on Sunday, March 8th and whilst I think that it is a wonderful gesture, it doesn’t necessarily capture ordinary women who make a difference to and influence people’s lives every day. And yes, that’s you!
Throughout our lives we are influenced by others. I can recount numerous women whom I’ve worked with or read about who have had a positive influence on my life, but the ones that come to mind most readily during this celebration of extraordinary women this week, are the ones who have helped me to help you. By that I mean, women scientists and researchers and pioneers, who have challenged my thinking and my way of being and how I live my life and how and why I have designed the MyMT programmes.
In my coaching group this week, I’ve been acknowledging women scientists who have made a difference to how we can and should live our lives as we move through menopause and beyond. It took me a long time to sift through the ton of information, [dear I say confusing information!] about food. There are so many diets that are being promoted these days but very few of them have the research behind them that is specific to women going into and through menopause.
For example, many diets are low in carbohydrates, but mid-life women need carbs for the energy they need to get through their day. In fact, people who have followed very low carbohydrate diets for a length of time, often find that their weight plateaus off and they begin to feel tired more easily. There is a reason for this. When carbohydrates are low, then muscles run out of glucose and have to then call on storage reserves (called glycogen) in muscles and the liver. Then, when you add strenuous exercise to the mix, this type of exercise which requires fats and carbohydrates to fuel performance. So, in the long term, exercisers on a low carbohydrate diet, eventually become fatigued and possibly lose interest in exercise.
One gram of carbohydrate stored in muscles or the liver, binds 4 grams of water. So when you use up your reserves of stored carbohydrate, you also lose water. Losing 500 grams of stored glycogen on a low carbohydrate diet, leads to the loss of 2 kg of water, hence on the scales, you might see around 2.5 kg of weight lost. But none of it is fat. When you go back to normal eating, the carbohydrate reserves build up along with the water.
As such, some women wonder why their weight fluctuates and why they might feel bloated as well as get cravings for sugar. Especially if they are still menstruating in peri-menopause or have a busy job which makes them feel stressed. All of these factors increase the brain’s drive for sugar/ glucose. When the brain is deprived of glucose, then that’s when we grab the nearest chocolate bar and are at risk for even more exhaustion and/ or over-eating. I think we’ve all been there haven’t we?
Which is why, women on the MyMT programmes know to have carbohydrates in their day to day food intake. But it’s not just any carbs.
And I have Professor Jennie Brand-Miller from the University of Sydney to thank for helping me to help you understand that the type of carbs we eat during our menopause transition and into our years beyond, are important. These ‘carbs’ are called Low Glycemic Carbs or Low GI carbs.
For over 25 years, Professor Brand-Miller has been a world-authority on carbohydrates. Along with her team from the University of Sydney in Australia, she pioneered the concept that different carbohydrate foods have dramatically different effects on blood glucose levels. With the rise in population obesity and Type 2 diabetes over the past three decades, understanding blood sugar control has important implications for weight management and appetite control. It’s also important for athletes and exercisers who need adequate energy levels for training and competing. New studies have also confirmed that low GI foods are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. And for women in menopause, low GI foods also help to keep hot flushes under control too.
What is the Glycemix Index?
The glycemic index (GI) is a physiologically based measure of carbohydrate quality. Professor Jennie Brand-Miller and her team have spent years analysing different types of carbohydrates to see the immediate effect on blood glucose levels. Each carbohydrate has then been given a rating.
Carbohydrates that break down quickly during digestion are rated with a high GI value. This means that their blood glucose response is fast and high.
Carbohydrates which break down slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the blood stream have a low GI value.
One of the greatest mistakes made in diets today, is that carbohydrates need to be avoided. But the confusion results because the term ”carbs’ is used for processed foods and foods high in sugar, so yes, we have to try and remove these sources of carbohydrates, however, fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates too. So, are grains. You must understand that carbohydrates are not created equal and the differ in type and amounts that you need. Herein lies the confusion – you must choose the right kind of carbohydrate for your lifestyle and your stage of life and for the amount of exercise or activity you are doing too.
For busy women with a lot going on in their lives and who are going into menopause, then it’s fruits, vegetables and grains that are important to our health and to help manage our weight and reduce hot flushes and give us energy. These are the ‘carbs’ that we need. If we exercise, then carbs are even more important than protein. Protein is for building and repair, carbohydrates and fats help our energy levels. With the emphasis on high protein diets these days, it’s important that you understand that carbohydrates are more important as we move through menopause.
If these carbohydrates are low glycemic index carbs, then this helps to promote weight control, reduce fatigue, increase satiety (fullness) and provide the body with a rich supply of micro-nutrients. When you are looking for Low GI foods, then you want to select carbs that have a rating value under 50. [Image Source: University of Sydney]
My 5 Favourite Low GI Foods:
1. Apples – GI Rating 38. An apple a day really does keep the Doctor away and the hot flushes too .. they are rich in Vitamin C and fibre and have one of the lowest GI ratings for fruit because they are high in pectin which lowers their GI. [In comparison, a banana has a rating of 52 and kiwifruit has a rating of 58].
3. Oats or Porridge – GI Rating 42. Compare this to Kellogs Rice Bubbles which has a rating of 87 and you know what breakfast cereal is going to give you lovely sustained energy throughout your busy morning don’t you? Add some stewed apples to porridge and you have a lovely Low GI start to your day.
4. Carrots and Chickpeas – GI Rating of 28. Chickpeas make up hummus and I try to have this fabulous low GI food every day. Dipping carrot sticks in hummus is a great afternoon snack. Protein -starch interactions contribute to their lower GI. Carrots are crunchy too which helps to stimulate saliva production and many women find that they get dry mouth in menopause, because saliva production is reduced as we lose oestrogen.
5. Dark Chocolate – GI Rating of 44. You don’t need this every day, but for a sweet treat that doesn’t spike your blood sugar, then yes, the darker the chocolate, the lower the GI rating. Good to know with Easter on it’s way. 🙂
Never before has there been so much confusion about food! Which is why I have researched the types of food that we all need to support our health as we age, to lose our menopause weight and to reduce our symptoms. It’s not about Keto or Paleo diets, it’s about food that gives us wonderful nutrients to reduce inflammation and food that gives us energy to live our lives the way that we should be living in our 50’s and beyond. Our generation knows that diets don’t work into the long term, so my focus in the MyMT™ programmes, is to give women food information and recipes that suit our changing hormones as we progress into our biological ageing.
If your health has changed or you feel that your symptoms and weight are holding you back from living the life that you want to live, then I hope when you get time, you can join me for your menopause transformation. Developed from scientific studies on women’s healthy ageing, there isn’t another programme like this around.
I know this, because when my own symptoms and weight was getting me down and menopause supplements and HRT wasn’t working into the long-term, I looked too.
Dr Wendy Sweet, PhD/ MyMT Creator & Coach/ Member: Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine.
Atkinson, S., Foster-Powell, K. & Brand-Miller, J. (2008). International Tables of Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Values: 2008. Diabetes Care 31, 2281–2283.
Brand-Miller, J. Foster-Powell, K. & Colagiuri, S. (2002). The Glucose Revolution. University of Sydney: Hodder Print.