Over the past week since my last newsletter to you, my facebook feed has been replete with adverts about menopause. I’m always intrigued by these because invariably, when I look into them, I find that what they are selling are supplements. In my late 40’s and early 50’s, I was one of those women taking supplements and HRT as well. I was spending hundreds of dollars every time I went to the pharmacy or health shop because I was told I needed ‘this and that’.
Not one person asked me about my diet.
When I also began to research how much our gut health changes as we move through menopause and into post-menopause, it also became clear that all of those supplements are artificial man-made products that our gut and it’s ageing micro-villi and lowered digestive enzymes, may have problems breaking down and metabolising. If you continually feel bloated and you are on a large number of menopause-related supplements, my comment might resonate with you as well.
There are so many diets and supplements 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. Every time you go into your supplements shop, then please remind yourself that selling supplements is a multi-billion dollar industry globally. And yes, I take some myself, but the supplements I now take are nothing to do with menopause, but all to do with ageing research. As I keep reminding you, menopause is your biological gateway to your ageing.
I’m grateful for health-science, especially healthy ageing and longevity science. And I’m grateful to the scientists who have helped me pull together the menopause jigsaw so that I can use my knowledge to help others – and there are no borders to menopause. Over the past few days, women from Hungary, Canada, Denmark, the Cook Islands, America, New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom have joined me either on my online Masterclass on Menopause or on my 12 week online programmes which differ whether weight loss is needed or not.
Throughout our lives we are influenced by others. One of the scientists who has helped me to help you, is Professor Jennifer Brand-Miller from the University of Sydney in Australia. Women on the MyMT™ programmes learn about her as well and why her research on carbohydrates is included in the MyMT™ Food Guide.
Over our lifetime, we need to eat differently depending on our age and stage. But food information has become so embedded in our psyche from the powerful influence of the modern food industry, the fitness and sporting industries and the dieting and media industries, that it’s no surprise that we all get a bit confused about food. I was confused too. For example, many diets are low in carbohydrates but they don’t dsitinguish between processed carbohydrates (man-made food) and fruits and vegetables which are ‘carbs’ too. If I see any diet that is promoting ‘low-carb’ I walk away from it, because as women transitioning menopause, we need fruit and vegetable carbohydrates to get through our 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, muscles run out of glucose and have to then call on storage reserves (called glycogen) in muscles and the liver.
For those women who are also participating in strenuous exercise, then if they are on a diet that is low in carbohydrates, they run the risk of crashing their energy levels and storing more fat, as their body goes into stress-mode because it doesn’t have the carbohydrates to fuel performance. So, in the long term, exercisers on a low carbohydrate diet, eventually become fatigued. During menopause, they can’t sleep, get more hot flushes and lose motivation to exercise. I get hundreds of emails from women experiencing these issues – many are on HRT and a Keto diet. They don’t understand that as busy, active women, they also need starch carbohydrates for their cardiac and muscle function as they age. The lower they go in carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables, the more they deplete their muscle, liver and brain stores of glucose. With all that they have got going on in their lives, they become exhausted.
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 emotional over-eating. We don’t need a pandemic for this effect – it’s menopause-related too.
This is why I love the work of Professor Jenny Brand-Miller.
For over 25 years, she has been a world-authority on carbohydrates and the Glycemic Index (GI). Along with her team from the University of Sydney in Australia, she pioneered the concept that different carbohydrate foods have dramatically different effects on energy levels because of the effect that certain carbohydrates have on our blood-sugar 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 carbohydrate foods with a low GI rating, 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 is often processed carbohdyrate foods such as snack bars. 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 they 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 (isn’t that most of us?) and who are going into peri-menopause or remain active in post-menopause, then it’s fruits, vegetables and grains that are important to our health. These foods are far more important than supplements to help manage our weight, 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 because they help to restore glucose back into muscles and our brain. 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]
That’s why, instead of spending lots of money on endless supplements and diets as you go into menopause, I want you to visit your local fruit and vegetable shop instead. If you buy these low GI foods instead, then you will also be helping to manage your weight, improve your energy and reduce your hot flushes too.
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].
2. Sweet Potato or Kumara – GI Rating 44
[this compares to a boiled potato which has GI rating of 88]. In New Zealand we call Sweet Potatoes, Kumara. Sweet potato belong to a different plant family to regular potato and come either as white, yellow or red in colour and are packed with antioxidants. Whilst the ‘sweetness’ comes from a high sucrose content, it is high in fibre which gives it a lower GI rating than regular potato varieties. When I researched women’s health as they age, especially cardiac health, I fond that women in the Okinawa longevity studies have sweet potato as their main carbohydrate – in fact over 50% of their daily diet is carbhydrate from sweet potatoes. This is my wonderful Low GI kumara, celery and apple salad which is in the MyMT™ Food Guide, which women receive as part of all of the 12 week programmes [Circuit Breaker for thinner/ leaner women; Transform Me for menopause weight loss or Rebuild My Fitness for those who want to get back into the right exercise for us as we age].
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 are high in protein and carbohydrates and hummus is made from chickpeas. 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.
Never before has there been so much confusion about food! Which is why I have researched the types of food that we need to support our health as we age, to lose our menopause weight and to reduce our symptoms. Food is more important than supplements and we must remember this. It concerns me to hear women spending so much money on supplements, many of which they have no idea what effect these are having on their symptom management or gut health. Wholefood gives us wonderful nutrients that our gut recognises and if you have gut health concerns or IBS which has arrived in your menopause transition, then please look at my Restoration Series for both GUT HEALTH
and JOINT HEALTH
(these learning modules are included in my 12 week programmes as well). Our generation is the first generation to go into menopause in the context of the multi-billion dollar supplement industry, but remember that supplements are just that – ‘supplemental to real food’.
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.
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.