Recently, I had the opportunity to visit with my friend Leslie. We both laughed knowingly as she talked about the tug-of-war she wages with her husband over the thermostat when she’s experiencing those well-known “power surges” that can come with menopause. And we also both bemoaned the way that weight and inches seem to creep on at this age. However, I hadn’t thought about how the two – hot flashes and diet – might be linked.
However, it turns out that a recent study recommends that you head straight to the produce aisle at your supermarket or to a farmer’s market to arm yourself with some of the best weaponry. Yep, that means load up on lots of fruits and vegetables. This study, which is out of Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California Division of Research, found that menopausal women who lost weight through eating a low-fat diet that included lots of fruits and vegetables actually reduced or eliminated their hot flashes and night sweats.
The researchers analyzed records from more than 17,473 women between the ages of 50 and 79 who were involved in the Women’s Health Initiative Study. Their analysis split the group of women, who were experiencing menopausal symptoms but not taking hormone-replacement therapy, into two subgroups. One group of women consumed a low-fat diet that included a lot of whole grains, fruits and vegetables; during one year of the study, each member of this group lost at least 10 pounds or approximately 10 percent of their body weight. The control group, on the other hand, maintained their weight. The researchers found that the postmenopausal women who lost weight on the healthy diet were significantly more likely to see their hot flashes and night sweats stop than the women who remained at their regular weight.
But as Leslie and I noted, it’s not easy to keep the weight off while going through menopause. The Mayo Clinic cautions that women often gain the most weight of any time during their life during perimenopause. That’s thanks to hormonal changes that cause us to gain more weight around the abdomen, rather than the usual suspects (hips and thighs). And while menopause may not be directly tied to those hormonal changes, middle-age women tend to slack off on exercise, which can then lead to weight gain. Furthermore, we have to realize that muscle mass declines with age, which makes our body less efficient in burning calories. And to add to that conundrum, you’ll also gain weight if you continue to eat as you did when you were younger. And gaining weight when you’re middle-age or older can lead to more than just hot flashes; it also can increase your risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers.
The good news about fruits and vegetables is that many are ideal additions to a diet designed to help you lose weight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that to lose weight, you have to eat fewer calories than your body uses, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat less food. “You can create lower-calorie versions of some of your favorite dishes by substituting low-calorie fruits and vegetables in place of higher-calorie ingredients,” the CDC explained. For instance, you can use vegetables in place of an egg or half of the cheese in a breakfast omelet. A pasta dinner can have lower calories through substituting one cup of chopped vegetables for an equal amount of the pasta. The CDC reminds you that the key to using produce to lose weight is through substitution, instead of adding extras fruits and vegetables to your normal eating pattern without removing some other foods.