I am often asked what diet plan is best for managing the short and long-term symptoms of menopause. So, I was excited when two of the best in the profession, both personal friends and colleagues, authored a new book, The Menopause Diet Plan, A Natural Guide to Managing Hormones, Health and Happiness available TODAY, September 8! I preordered my copy as soon as I heard about the book, but I reached out to the authors to answer some of your questions about menopause.
First, meet the authors. Elizabeth (Liz) Ward and I met years ago through volunteer work for our professional association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Liz writes an awesome blog, Better Is the New Perfect (there is a link on her website to sign up and receive an email when she publishes a post) and a top-notch recipe developer. She is the author of Expect the Best: Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, and After Pregnancy and is a mom of three daughters.
Liz introduced me to one of her best friends, Hillary Wright, who is a mom of three sons. Hillary is the Director for Nutrition Counseling for the Domar Center for Mind Body Health in Waltham, Massachusetts and she has a part time position as a Senior Nutritionist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Hillary has written two books, The PCOS Diet Plan: A Natural Approach to Health for Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and and The Prediabetes Diet Plan: How to Reverse Prediabetes and Prevent Diabetes through Healthy Eating and Exercise. They teamed up to write The Menopause Diet Plan.
Question: You’ve been friends for a long time, and you have authored other nutrition books. What made you decide to collaborate on this book and on this topic?
Ward starts the conversation: “We met in college and became friends, and we went to the same school for our graduate degrees. We share a lot in common on our outlook on women’s health. At this point in our lives and as we experienced perimenopause and menopause, it just seemed like the right time to work together. We both feel strongly about the importance of midlife nutrition and other beneficial lifestyle habits for women as they reach their 50s and beyond.”
Wright agrees: “As registered dietitians with expertise in women’s health – and good friends since college — Liz and I have often batted around ideas on how we might collaborate. When as we entered menopause it triggered many conversations about what we were experiencing, including what was “normal.” In the process of trying to educate ourselves we found that resources for this life phase were sorely lacking, and realized we’d finally landed on our collaboration idea. And it was a personal as well as professional decision.”
Question: Menopause has been medicalized as a disease therefore women seek treatment and often find lots of “cures.” How did you approach the topic of menopause and what one piece of advice would you give to women as they approach menopause?
“Menopause is often referred to as a “transition” for a reason, and the transition begins earlier than many women think,” says Wright. “Hormone fluctuations and accompanying symptoms roll out over a period of years, generally starting in the mid-40’s, so this is a great time to start talking to your health care providers about what is “normal,” and what to be on the lookout for. For example, one of the biggest concerns for women as they approach midlife is weight gain. Research shows most women start accruing a little extra fat starting in their 40’s, related to body composition changes and hormone shifts through the perimenopause years. This is the best time to pay attention to your eating and exercise habits to help curb the weight creep and decrease in fitness.”
Ward agrees. “There is no “cure” for menopause, but there are ways that women can help themselves feel better during perimenopause and after menopause occurs. My advice is to start talking openly about symptoms – to friends, to health care professionals, and to family – so that they better understand what is happening and what can be done to reduce symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, and weight gain. Think of the menopause transition as an opportunity to get educated about what’s happening in the body and how good nutrition, regular exercise, stress reduction and other lifestyle habits can help you feel your best.”
Question: There are real body composition changes that occur during menopause…how do you balance that fact with helping women who are fearful of gaining weight as they age?
Ward has empathy for women going through changes, and she reveals that she gained 10 pounds during perimenopause.” I don’t think any woman escapes some weight gain with the run up to menopause and in her later years. I understand the fear that a woman might have, but armed with the facts, it’s easier to understand why weight gain and body composition changes happen, and how to keep weight gain to a minimum. Weight control during midlife and beyond is not about taking drastic measures; it’s about learning how to eat better in a way that’s right for you. Focus on eating for health, not for the scale.”
“Hopefully, with age comes the wisdom that we can’t micromanage everything about our body,” adds Wright. “Weight gain around menopause is not solely related to declining estrogen; there are many other factors that affect body composition around midlife, some of which are controllable. Women often face many stresses and it is impossible to avoid the stress of demanding jobs, caring for kids still living at home, or the caregiving needs of aging parents, but we can decide take time out to eat healthfully, trade in some Netflix time for physical activity, or seek support around the things that are the biggest stressors. Some weight creep through these years may be the reality for most women, but prioritizing self-care can go far towards mediating how much weight is gained.”
Question: It seems that women seek relief for the acute effects of menopause (hot flashes, sleep issues) but might ignore the more consequential long-term health problems (increased heart disease risk, bone health, cognitive health). Can you give me the top line nutrition plan that will help with both short-term and long-term health issues?
“We developed The Menopause Diet Plan to address weight control; protect bone health, brain health, heart health; and to help women feel their best. Our eating plan uses the latest research to address the prevention of type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and more. It’s a plant-based (but not animal-free) way of eating that includes the nutrients you need to help prevent and manage long-term health issues,” says Ward. “In doing our research we were happy to learn that the same plant-based diet and lifestyle strategies that lower risk of many chronic diseases may also help manage menopausal symptoms,” adds Wright. “Studies show that, along with regular physical activity, eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, and limiting added sugars, alcohol, ultra-processed foods, and many animal foods, may improve sleep, curb hot flashes, and increase energy levels.”
Both Ward and Wright recognize that there are women who eat well and stay active yet still have hot flashes or suffer too many miserable sleepless nights. “But aiming for a diet that is high in fiber, encourages more plant-based proteins and healthy fats, and is loaded with disease -fighting anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants checks many boxes for avoiding long term health problems like heart disease and diabetes.” Another advantage of a plant-based diet is that high fiber foods are more filling which can curb the appetite and control excess calorie intake. “Our plan makes plant-based eating easy by offering simple suggestions to promote balance at meals, while also encouraging women to budget in small portions of their “foods for fun” so they don’t feel like they’re “dieting,” says Wright.
Question: Tell me about the recipes in the book…and thanks for sharing the recipe for Lazy Lentil Soup (I can attest is delicious!)
Ward, known as a creative recipe developer, says, “Recipes reinforce the concepts in The Menopause Diet Plan and they show readers how they can easily enjoy delicious and nutritious foods. The recipes are healthful…low in saturated fat, rich in plant foods, and free of added sugar. They are practical, everyday recipes that women can make for themselves and for their families because they are healthy and delicious.” Wright and Ward developed all of the recipes for the book and Wright adds they also include some family favorites that have passed the test with their husbands and kids.
Question: What do you do to eat well, move well, and be well?
Wright makes exercise a daily priority with outdoor activity her favorite (despite living in a cold Massachusetts climate). “Cycling and walking are my go-to activities and I also take strength training classes and yoga at a local gym.” She adds, I grew up in a house with two siblings with Type 1 diabetes so I fully attribute my healthy, plant-based eating habits to my mother who made it happen at the dinner table every night, and my mom and grandparents who taught me how to cook at a young age. It takes a village!”
Ward says she used to focus on aerobic exercise but has started to do more weight training to preserve muscle mass. “I work out 6 times a week, walk the dog every day, and generally try to stay active as much as possible. As for eating, I follow the principles in The Menopause Diet Plan – lots of plants, whole foods, and seafood. I also eat a treat (usually chocolate) every day. I don’t weigh what I did when I was 25, but I’m healthy and I’ll take it!”
The Menopause Diet Plan gets a 5-star rating in my book! I always enjoy books written by qualified health professionals based on science, not speculation. And, with 25 recipes and resources for more information, it is a woman’s guide to good health.
Lazy Lentil Soup
Makes 4 servings.
Lentils double as a vegetable and protein source, and using the canned kind gets this soup on the table in about 20 minutes. (Hint: make a double batch and freeze half!). Pair with yogurt and fruit for a complete meal.
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into ¼-inch pieces
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup cooked lentils, canned or fresh
1 15-ounce can no added salt fire-roasted tomatoes, not drained
1 ½ cups reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups, packed, raw baby spinach
½ teaspoon salt
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and carrots, and saute for about 5 minutes. Add the thyme and continue to cook until the carrots are fork-tender.
Add the lentils and broth and cook, covered, for about 10 minutes over medium heat. Add the spinach, salt, and black pepper. Stir until spinach is wilted. Serve warm.
Dr. Christine Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Along with Dr. Bob Murray, she is the author of Food & Fitness After 50.
Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved