MyMT™ Blog

How the Mediterranean Diet reduces inflammation that can change our heart health during menopause.

When there’s so many different diets in the world today, it’s hard to determine which one is ‘best’. I still remember my confusion with understanding what and how to eat as I moved into my 50’s. But carrying an additional 15kg of weight that wasn’t shifting with the popular Keto and Paleo diets that abound today left me frustrated and confused. I now understand why.

Following the women’s healthy ageing research was life-changing, not only for me, but for the 2000+ women who join me on the MyMT™ 12 week programmes. Whether they want weight loss or not, they soon learn that the diet that matters for our improved health as we age, is simple the Meditteranean Diet which I’ve adapted to better suit our hormonal changes as we move into post-menopause. A year ago almost to the day, I was telling women about this at my live-event in Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s such a shame I can’t get back there this month as I had intended to do, but don’t forget that during lockdown, I’ve put my Masterclass on Menopause online for you to listen to when you get time. When I was there I met up with Helene. I’m so proud of what she’s achieved from coming on the Transform Me weight loss programme. 

For women aged between 50 and 65 years old, weight gain is one of their main health concerns. But so too, are other aspects of our changing health – sore joints, cardiac palpitations, insomnia, hot flushes and feeling bloated and ‘heavy’. What many don’t understand is that the hormonal changes across our transition through menopause substanitally contributes to increased weight and for many women, obesity. I was heading that way too. The problem is also that weight gain around our abdominal region impacts negatively on our health – especially our cardiovascular health. 

Understanding that menopause leads to inflammatory changes which affects our cardiovascular health was the turning point for me. Many of the women I interviewed reflected that whilst they were doing a lot of exercise, this wasn’t assisting with their weight management in menopause. As such, I became fascinated with understanding how nutrition helps our weight loss at this time of life.  

There is an extensive body of evidence that relates our diet to our health. Many of us know this already. But too often we are drawn into ways of eating that may not suit our changing hormonal environment. That’s why connecting the dots between menopause, inflammation, cardiovascular disease and healthy ageing was the ‘game-changer’ not only for my own health, but for women who needed to lose weight and change their health during or after their menopause transition. 

When we eat the right diet to help us reduce inflammation, we also improve bio-markers such as blood pressure, liver health, blood sugars and our inflammatory marker, known as C-reactive Protein (C-rP). This is a measurement of inflamamtion building up in the body.

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, nuts, and low-fat dairy products protects against the development and progression of cardio-vascular disease. For women going into and through menopause, who are already overweight, then it’s important to focus on cardiovascular health.

I love the photo at the top of the article, that I took at the Saturday market in Chamonix in France in Feburary. How that seems a long time ago now! The rows of beautiful lemons and olives were offset by the beautfiul green vegetables and yes, even the cheeses caught my attention.

When I was struggling with my own symptoms in menopause and couldn’t fit my clothes or move as freely as I used to, nor did my knees like skiing at the time, I had no idea that I needed to follow a Mediterranean Diet approach to my eating. Cooking for a busy, sporting family meant that my meals were full of animal proteins and fats. I now better understand that the load on my liver of these types of fats, were not suitable. When our liver has to process so many saturated fats, beautiful nutrients struggle to be readily absorbed. If you want to lose weight, then the health of your liver is crucial to your success … as is sleeping all night. 

The traditional Mediterranean diet, whose principal source of fat is olive oil, encompasses anti-inflammatory nutrients. That’s why several studies have established the beneficial role of this diet in reducing cardio-vascular disease, metabolic disorders, and even several types of cancer. But how this happens is what also fascinates me too. Because if we are going to change our health, reduce our inflammation and lose our menopause weight, then as teach women on the programmes, it’s also about understanding ‘how it works’. Especially if we’re going to ‘stick with it’.

That’s why I love a study that explores what the Mediterranean Diet achieves in helping to improve our health – and knowing this should help us to adhere to it and not get swayed by all the different diets that abound in popular media and the fitness and dieting industries.

When we adhere to this type of diet for at least 6-12 months, we help to prevent our platelets and red blood cells from aggregating (clumping). This is important to help reduce blood pressure and prevent clots forming in our blood. With a Mediterranean Diet we help to reduce inflammation in our blood vessels too. 

A higher reduction in the concentrations of proinflammatory markers was observed in those who showed a higher degree of adherence to the traditional Mediterranean diet.’   [Chrysohoou, C., Demosthenes B., et al (2004)]

The Mediterranean diet is low in saturated fats but high in plant-based monounsaturated fat, mainly from olive oil. I’ve written about the powerful compounds in olive oil which help to reduce our joint inflammation that occur as we move through menopause. [Click HERE].  The Mediterranean diet is also high in complex carbohydrates, from legumes and high in fiber, mostly from vegetables and fruits. 

One of the hallmark foods of the Mediterranean Diet, is the humble tomato. Over the period of lockdown here in New Zealand, I made sure that I always had a large bowl of tomatoes on the kitchen bench. Tomatoes, the second most produced and consumed vegetable in a typical Mediterranean Diet, are a rich source of lycopene, beta-carotene, folate, potassium, vitamin C, flavonoids, and vitamin E. All important nutrients for heart health. Lycopene is a chemical that gives a tomato its red color and is also a powerful antioxidant – a type of substance that helps keep cells from becoming damaged. In the MyMT™ recipe book which is part of all my 12 week programmes, I have a Mediterranean inspired Italian Tomato Sauce which is well loved by the ladies on my progammes. 

Although it’s fine to use canned tomatoes and tomato paste in cooking, don’t forget that the processing of tomatoes may significantly affect the bioavailability of these nutrients. Homogenization, heat treatment, and the incorporation of oil in processed tomato products leads to increased lycopene bioavailability, while some of the same processes cause significant loss of other nutrients. 

If you are struggling with your mid-life weight, health or symptoms, then come on board if you can into my 12 week online programmes (please use the promo code ATHOME20 for NZ$100 savings until the end of June, 2020). Or as a starting point, you can purchase my online Masterclass on Menopause. This is only NZ$15/ AUS$14 or UK£10. During lockdown I put my live-event into an online format for you and took 50% off the usual cost of a ticket. I hope you can join me in this powerful 2 hour webinar. The great news is that now you can watch it anytime, anywhere and even pause it whenever you like and go and make yourself a cuppa too. 

Dr Wendy Sweet (PhD)/ Women’s Healthy Ageing Researcher & Founder of MyMT/ Member: Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine. 

References:

Chacin-Suarez, A., & Medina-Inojosa, J. (2020). Microvascular and Small-Vessel Disease: An unrecognized connection in women with modern coronary disease. Journal of Women’s Health, 29 (6), 1-2.

Chrysohoou, C., Demosthenes B., et al (2004). Adherence to the Mediterranean
Diet Attenuates Inflammation and Coagulation Process in Healthy Adults.  Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 44, (1), 1-7. 

Willcox J., Catignani G., Lazarus S. (2003). Tomatoes and cardiovascular health. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 43(1):1-18. doi:10.1080/10408690390826437

“If you have ever wondered if there was a clear easy plan to follow to sleep all night, reduce hot flushes and prevent or reduce your weight gain during menopause, then ‘welcome’ – you’re in the right place now.”

Discover how either of my two Menopause Transformation programmes might help you too or take my Symptoms Quiz below… 

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