Night sweats: check. Mood swings: check. Vaginal dryness: check. Excited that you’re perimenopausal…ughhhhhh, definitely not check.
If you’re experiencing menopausal symptoms but still having periods, welcome to the club.
Simply put, perimenopause means “around the time of menopause” and refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, which can last anywhere from a few months to 10 years. Many of the changes you experience during this time are a result of a steady decline in hormone production.
The good news is there are nutritional choices you can make that will help you manage the annoying symptoms of perimenopause.
Why nutrition matters during perimenopause
If you’re experiencing night sweats, headaches, vaginal dryness, difficulty sleeping and/or mood swings, you might be wondering if there is anything you can do to feel “normal” again. While there’s no guaranteed way to zap all these symptoms, you can ease some of them with the foods you eat.
“Perimenopause is an important time for women to get into a healthy routine,” Rachel Daniels, a registered dietitian and director of nutrition at Virtual Health Partners, tells SheKnows. Eating well and staying active during perimenopause can help to reduce symptoms, strengthen your body and maintain your health.
Foods to eat for symptom management
All those sweets you reach for during your period are only going to make the symptoms of perimenopause worse. That’s why Daniels says that when it comes to symptom management, it’a a good idea to lay off the sweets, wine and coffee — especially if you’re prone to hot flashes or hormonal mood changes.
“Sugar, alcohol and caffeine can exacerbate these symptoms,” Daniels explains. She also says that some women find spicy foods can trigger hot flashes too. These can impact sleep quality, which is already a problem for many women during perimenopause. Plus, avoiding these foods helps to manage moods and fight fatigue, belly bloat and weight gain.
Since everyone has unique triggers, Daniels recommends tracking symptoms and foods eaten in a food journal. This can be helpful to pinpoint what specifically is impacting you.
Foods to help maintain bone health
Maintaining bone health is a priority for women, regardless of age or stage in your life. But during perimenopause, this focus becomes even more important as your body begins to experience a decline in estrogen, which can increase the risk of osteoporosis. “Since our bones can no longer hold on to calcium as efficiently, it is essential to add extra calcium to the diet,” Daniels explains.
She recommends calcium-rich foods such as yogurt, milk other dairy products; fortified nut milks; canned fish; greens; orange juice; and fortified grains/cereals. Additionally, you should also increase your vitamin D intake through food and sun. But speak with your doctor before adding calcium and/or vitamin D supplements to your daily routine.
Foods to help nourish your body during perimenopause
Nutrition in the form of whole foods such as quality protein, vegetables, fruits, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats will help keep blood sugars level and your body nourished. Dr. Carrie Burrows, a nutrition scientist, has her clients who are going through perimenopause stick to eating “real” food.
“We want to reduce any potential inflammation, so I advise them to stay away from packaged foods and stick with nourishing whole foods, such as leafy greens, protein, healthy fats (coconut oil, avocado, etc.), omega-3-rich foods (salmon, chia seeds, flax) and calcium- and vitamin D-rich foods (spinach, greens, almonds, eggs, mushrooms),” she tells SheKnows.
Eating enough protein will also help you feel better during this transition. Daniels says to distribute protein throughout the day, paying special attention to what you’re eating. For example, if you’re used to eating an English muffin for breakfast and a basic salad for lunch, she suggests adding some cottage cheese or an egg to your bread and some chicken or beans to your salad to boost protein intake. This is also a good time to focus on fiber, which can be found in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
If you’re experiencing milder symptoms, there’s a good chance you will be able to manage any discomfort with just a few of these dietary changes. But if you find you are unable to get relief on your own, it may be time to visit your doctor to talk about options that are individualized to your own needs.