Has there been a point in your life whereby you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I wonder what is the best diet for my health?” As the first generation of women to come through a diverse array of diets over the past few decades, I’m sure that as I did, you may have arrived in your 50s feeling rather confused about the types of foods that you should be eating. I know from the thousands of women who have joined me on the MyMT™ programmes over the past few years, that we often don’t think about what our personal health needs are with our foods, especially when we are shopping and preparing foods for others.
Futhermore, for women aged between 50 and 65 years old, weight gain is one of their main health concerns. So, we tend to get caught up in a range of opinions and diets that may not suit our menopause changes – and I’m not just referring to our hormones, but to the changes that are occurring in organs such as our heart, muscles, liver, gut, fat cells (adipose tissue) and pancreas. All of these areas are changing as we age and as such, build up pockets of inflammation inside cells and tissues.
Understanding that menopause as a life-event, leads to inflammatory changes which affects women’s cardiovascular and muscular health was the turning point for taking back control of my own health and weight. Our type, timing and amount of food is now well established in public health science, as among the most important influences on health in modern societies. As David Katz, from the Prevention Research Centre at Yale University of Public Health states,
“Optimal eating is associated with increased life expentancy, dramatic reduction in lifestime risk of all chronic disease and amelioration of gene expression.” (Katz & Mellor, 2014, p.83).
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 in menopause, nor our ageing. 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 have joined me and 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.
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’.
The Mediterranean diet is low in saturated fats (animal 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 fibre, mostly from vegetables and fruits. While everyone needs carbohydrates, fat and protein, despite what we are told by fitness enthusiasts, if women are not athletes, then there is no real “magic” ratio that you should be striving for. In fact, more and more studies are now emphasising that it is the quality of the food you eat – partciularly emphasizing whole foods over processed food – that is more important than what type of diet it is.
In my programmes, I follow this approach. There is no calorie-counting nor ‘macro-counting’. My aim is to free women up from the constraints and anxiety of always counting! My focus is on eating high quality nutrients that are scientifically evidenced to reduce our symptoms and/or weight. These foods are the types of foods found in the Mediterranean Diet and are evidenced to have anti-inflammatory properties via the Dietary Inflammatory Index – a mathematical index of the a mathematical assessment of the potential inflammatory activities of the diet. I especially focus on the nutrients that are known to help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease – afterall, women’s heart health changes as we move through menopause into post-menopause.
The starting point for you to begin to turn around your health and focus on your future years ahead, is to change to the Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean Diet has the most evidence behind it for women’s healthy ageing. 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, which is known to contribute to the vascular stiffness associated with the ageing of our blood vessels.
‘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)]
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, and has a higher release when tomatoes are cooked. Lycopene is a nutrient that reduces damage in our cells. 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.
Diet is one of the most influential lifestyle factors contributing to the rise of inflammatory disorders and because menopause itself, is a vulnerable time for health changes, focusing on our nutrition is a change that we can all implement. This gets forgotten in the marketing of menopause remedies and medications. However, our food matters because research suggests that a potential mechanism underlying the association of diet, inflammation and cardiovascular disease can be identified in the gut microbiota.
I’ve talked about this in previous articles this year as well. Our diet shapes large bowel microbial ecology, and changes in the gut microbiota composition are associated with inflammation, including menopause-related depression. Numerous studies have indicated a remarkable role for diet, the gut microbiota, and their metabolites in several inflammatory disorders. (Gambardella & Santulli, 2016). It’s why I have an entire GUT HEALTH module as an optional module in my programmes. Your gut health matters in menopause.
Food is tied to inflammation in two ways.
- Your diet affects the species of digestive bacteria that grow in your gut (the microbiome) and the chemicals they produce during digestion. Depending on the species, these chemicals either promote or reverse inflammation.
- Your diet also affects inflammation through its relationship with weight gain and obesity. An anti-inflammatory diet, which is rich in plant whole-foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrains and low in processed foods, is one that promotes overall health and a healthy weight.
In contrast, foods which promote inflammation (pro-inflammatory diet) include foods that have low nutrient content, as well as refined foods such as high sugar, high fat and high salt foods. These types of foods trigger chronic inflammation and also promote weight gain, which can also induce inflammation. So, it’s not just what you eat that can influence inflammation, it’s what you don’t eat as well.
If you consume a diet that is high in processed food, fats and sugars then you will be missing out on the power of phytochemicals – the minerals and vitamins in foods. I talk a lot about these in my programmes, especially the specific nutrients that are evidenced for women as they move through menopause – B vitamins, Vitamin C, magnesium, selenium, calcium, folate and of course, potassium for our ageing heart muscle which has to get us through our day – whether you are hiking for miles or you are active and busy.
As the year draws to an end, I hope that you can spend some time on the My Menopause Transformation website. Explore the Masterclass on Menopause, which I tell you about in the video below and of course, read the client success stories and look at the two different programmes – Circuit Breaker and Transform Me. These differ depending on whether women are wanting support with weight loss or not. If you are struggling to take back control of your health at this time of life, then I hope you can explore joining me on MyMT™ – 12 weeks just might change your life.
Gambardella, J., & Santulli, G. (2016). Integrating diet and inflammation to calculate cardiovascular risk. Atherosclerosis, 253, 258–261. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2016.08.041
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