Menopause meals

Maryon Stewart explains the importance that phytoestrogens play during the menopause

A wealth of research in recent years has shown that a regular intake of plant estrogens – known as phytoestrogens – throughout the day can play a useful part in a menopause control programme in a similar way to HRT. In fact, although phytoestrogens are only about 1/1000th as potent as animal-based estrogen, they are fast becoming known as great hormone regulators owing to their balancing effects on estrogen levels.

Here’s how they work. When estrogen is in oversupply in the body, as can happen in women of reproductive age, phytoestrogens play musical chairs with estrogen, competing for the receptor sites in cells (receptors are structures found on the surfaces of cells that allow hormones and other chemicals into cells, rather like a key in a lock). Some of the phytoestrogens inevitably displace estrogen and, being so much weaker in effect, can help reduce the cancer-promoting effects of the hormone. On the other hand, as estrogen levels start to drop around the time of the menopause and beyond, phytoestrogens can give your levels a natural boost.

The natural menopause plan diet

Research shows that a diet rich in phytoestrogens combined with supplements and relaxation can alleviate menopausal symptoms, improve cognitive function, restore memory and protect against heart disease. Phytoestrogens may also help to prevent osteoporosis. A study of 650 women aged between 19 and 86 found that postmenopausal women with the highest intake of dietary isoflavones had significantly higher bone mineral density in their spines and hips than those with the lowest intakes (after adjusting other factors such as age, height, weight, years since the menopause, smoking, and daily calcium intake).

Two particular forms of phytoestrogen are useful in controlling menopausal symptoms. They are: isoflavones, found in soy products and red clover; and lignans found in flaxseeds. Other sources of isoflavones and lignans are shown in the box below.

Adding phytoestrogen to your daily diet

To alleviate menopausal symptoms, you should aim to eat 100mg of isoflavones each day. The best way to get enough is to consume phytoestrogen-rich foods little and often throughout the day, as isoflavones appear to leave the body quite quickly. Foods rich in phytoestrogens, such as soy yogurts and milk, are widely available. Here are a few examples of how you can include phytoestrogens in your daily diet.

  • A sandwich made with two slices of soy and flaxseed bread. Phytoestrogen content: 22mg
  • 125g/4½oz/½ cup portion of whipped soy dessert. Phytoestrogen content: 20mg
  • 125g/4½oz/½ cup portion of soy yogurt. Phytoestrogen content: 10mg
  • A 250ml/9fl oz glass of soy fruit shake. Phytoestrogen content: 20mg
  • A 250ml/9fl oz glass of soy milk. Phytoestrogen content: 20mg
  • 100g/3½oz tofu. Phytoestrogen content: 25mg
  • A slice of soy and flaxseed fruit loaf. Phytoestrogen content: 10mg

Good sources of phytoestrogens

Isoflavones

  • soy milk
  • soy beans
  • tofu
  • soy flour
  • soy nuts
  • beans and lentils
  • chickpeas
  • mung beans
  • alfalfa
  • red clover

Lignans

  • flaxseeds
  • sesame seeds
  • sunflower seeds
  • pumpkin seeds
  • almonds
  • green and yellow vegetables

Extracted from The Natural Menopause Plan by Maryon Stewart© 2017 published by Nourish Books, London. Paperback: £12.99.

Read previous Your Food articles here...

Read articles from our latest issue here...

A top buttonTop