8 diet changes for women after 40
Good news! Aging does not have to equal weight gain. Women do tend to put on a pound a year in their 40s and 50s, but it’s more likely due to a drop in activity rather than hormones.
However, hormonal changes can shift your body composition, so any pounds you do gain tend to land in your middle.
Find out how to stay slim, reduce menopausal symptoms, and cut the health risks that can rise after menopause.
--By Rachel Meltzer Warren, MS, RD
Heart disease risk is likely to rise after menopause, so you should try to eat at least two servings of fish per week (preferably those with healthy fats like salmon or trout).
“Women may want to give [fish oil] supplements a try if having two servings of fish a week is problematic,” says JoAnn Manson, MD, chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston.
Preliminary research suggests that fish oil may also help prevent breast cancer.
Aim for two servings of fish a week—and talk to your doctor about whether or not you should try a supplement.
If you’re overweight you can minimize menopausal symptoms and reduce the long-term risks of declining hormones by losing weight, says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale University School of Medicine, in New Haven, Conn.
Slimming down not only reduces the risks of heart disease and breast cancer, both of which go up after menopause, says Dr. Minkin, but new research shows that it may also help obese or overweight women cut down on hot flashes.
Bone up on calcium
Your calcium needs go up after age 50, from 1,000 milligrams per day to 1,200 mg. “With less estrogen on board, your bones don’t absorb calcium as well,” says Dr. Minkin.
If you have a cup of low-fat milk, one latte, and one 8-ounce yogurt, you’re getting around 1,100 mg calcium. This means you need to take only an additional 100 mg of supplements a day—less than one caplet’s worth—to make up the difference.
If you're eating dairy, choose low-fat products. These have roughly the same amount of calcium as their full-fat counterparts, but with fewer calories.
"About 100% of my patients going through menopause complain of bloating," says Dr. Minkin. Although the reasons aren’t clear, fluctuating hormones during perimenopause may play a role.
Dr. Minkin recommends cutting the amount of salt and processed carbohydrates in your diet, as they can make you retain water. But don't skimp on whole grains, which are rich in heart-healthy fiber, as well as fruits and vegetables.
If healthy food, such as apples and broccoli, make you feel bloated, Dr. Minkin suggests taking Mylanta or Gas-X to combat gas buildup.
Rethink that drink
Red wine gets a lot of press for its impact on heart health, but for menopausal women the drawbacks of alcohol might outweigh the benefits.
“One drink a day has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer,” says Dr. Manson. “So while it has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, it really is a trade-off for women.”
If you enjoy a glass of Pinot, try watering it down with seltzer to make a spritzer (you’ll cut calories too). Also keep in mind that red wine and other drinks may bring on hot flashes as a result of the increase in blood-vessel dilation caused by alcohol.
Say yes to soy
Soy contains plant estrogens, so many women think it can increase their breast cancer risk, says Dr. Minkin. However, there is little data to support this. The misconception likely comes from studies of high-dose soy supplements, which may stimulate the growth of estrogen-sensitive tumors.
Soy foods like tofu, soy nuts, and soy milk may offer relief from mild hot flashes and are not thought to increase breast cancer risk. “Women in Japan have the highest soy intake and the lowest risk of breast cancer, but Japanese women who move to the U.S. and eat less soy have a higher risk,” adds Dr. Minkin.
Try iced herbal tea
A warm cup of joe might be as much a part of your a.m. routine as brushing your teeth. Still, starting your day with a piping-hot drink may not be the best idea during menopause.
“In general, warm beverages seem to trigger hot flashes,” says Dr. Manson. “And the caffeine in coffee and tea could also be having an effect.”
Cover your bases by swapping your morning cup with something cool and decaffeinated—like a a decaf iced coffee.
Find a diet that fits
If you need to shed pounds, weight loss is no different during menopause than before it. “If you take in less calories than you burn for a long period of time, you’re going to lose weight,” says Dr. Minkin.
Any balanced diet that cuts calories—and that you can stick with in the long run—will do the job.
However, one study found that postmenopausal women who were on a diet that was low in fat and high in carbohydrates from vegetables, fruits, and grain were less likely to gain weight than women who ate more fat.