The following article is written with vegetarians, vegans and those with dietary restrictions in mind but can be applied to any lifestyle.
By Elisa Cottarelli | Team Megs Menopause
The advice is clear: getting the right nutrients during the menopause is so important.
That said, having dietary restrictions (whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, lactose-intolerant, or have allergies) can make it extra hard to keep up with the nutrients you need. Yes, you can take supplements, but they always say that food is the best source for your nutrients! So, let’s break down some common food restrictions and the best alternatives.
- Oily fish (like salmon, mackerel, and sardines)
The easiest source of omega-3 is oily fish, like salmon, mackerel, and sardines which isn’t good news for vegetarians and vegans! While it may not seem obvious, there are plenty of sources of omega-3. And it’s one of the most important nutrients for you, especially for hot flushes and heart health (and, some studies show, even vaginal dryness).
- Soybeans: you can eat them alone (cooked, for example, with lemon juice and herbs sprinkled on top), or mixed in a main dish (like with quinoa and couscous). You can even make hummus with it!
- Walnuts: a great option for anyone else needing their omega-3. Walnuts are an amazing source, and are so easy to consume. Throw them in your salad, in any baked good, or just eat as a snack on the go.
- Chia and flaxseeds: they may be small, but they’re very potent! Chia and flaxseeds may take a bit of creativity and skill (making your own protein bar or jam, for example), but it’s a great superfood. For an easy option, throw it in next time you make a smoothie.
Calcium should definitely be part of your diet, given the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease. But dairy (milk, yoghurt, and cheese) are the most common sources of it. Lactose-intolerance can make it difficult to get the right amount of calcium. But, as it is a vital part of your diet, why not try these alternatives?
- White and Black beans: 100 grams of black beans contains more calcium than 100 grams of milk. They are also a great source of fibre and magnesium. Cook them with rice, turn them into a crisp dip, or have them as a side dish.
- Almonds: in just a couple of handful of almonds, you can already get about 10% of your daily recommended dose of calcium. Almonds are the most nutritionally packed nut, containing potassium, vitamin E, and iron as well, so they are worth adding in.
- Kale: it’s a superfood for a reason. Kale is packed with calcium and antioxidants, and it’s great to cook with. From smoothies to salads to sandwiches, there are many ways to get your daily dose of kale in. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, try making your very own homemade kale-pesto sauce!
- Meats and Poultries
Whether it’s for health, religious, or environmental reasons, many meats and poultries end up being dietary restrictions which can be difficult if you need to get your protein in. Muscle-strength is very important not just to keep you strong and active overall, but also for your bones and joints. If you cut out meats and poultries, you’ll need to be sure you’re getting your protein in somehow.
- Lentils: this plant-based protein is full of fibre, magnesium, potassium, iron, and folate too, so it’s definitely not one to miss. If you’re looking for something more than a plain old lentil soup, consider throwing it in a casserole, a shepherd’s pie, or a couscous salad!
- Oats: the healthiest grain on the planet! Oats not only contain calcium, but vitamin E, antioxidants, and glutamine, which can help regenerate muscle fibres. They’re very versatile (you can make baked goods with them, pancakes, smoothies, breads – any great snack). Be on your guard against pre-packaged sugar-filled oat/granola mixes though!
- Quinoa: one cooked cup is about 8-9 grams of protein, so using it as your main grain base for dinner or in a light salad for lunch is a perfect way to get your protein in. It’s cheap, it’s tasty, and it goes well with many herbs, spices, and flavours!
A little-known common allergy is eggs! Eggs are a great source for many nutrients, especially vitamin Bs! Yet, the difficulty with vitamin Bs is that they’re most easily found in foods that vegetarians and vegans can’t eat either, creating a bit of trickiness at the dinner table. Fortunately, there are some lesser known sources for vitamin Bs that are just as great!
- Sweet potatoes: besides fibre and potassium, sweet potatoes are great for vitamin B6, which can help with your mood swings, stress, and irritability! Make sweet potato fries, make a sweet potato puree, or have them simply baked and stuffed as you like (keep it healthy though).
- Fortified breakfast cereals: if you can’t eat eggs because of allergies, you can consider meats and poultries as a great vitamin B source (particularly vitamin B12). But for vegans and vegetarians, getting vitamin B12 is extra hard, since it’s not typically found in plant-based foods. If you’re not trying to take a supplement pill every day, look for foods fortified with B12 – typically, breakfast cereals!
- Wheat or Gluten intolerance
Wheat and/or gluten intolerance can be an absolute pain, but the good news is, their substitutes are usually healthier and more nutritious. For menopausal women, even if you’re not intolerant to either of these, it might be worth making the switch if you’re struggling with digestive issues, since these alternatives are much easier for your body to digest.
- Lettuce and leafy green wraps: replace your classic hamburger bun by going naked! Lettuce (or other leafy greens) are being used more and more in burger joints as a healthy replacement for the typical burger bun. This simple, low-carb switch is great for wheat or gluten intolerance, especially if you pick a more nutritious replacement (some people even go the extra length and choose to use sliced aubergine or portobello mushrooms)!
- Butternut squash flatbread: need a bit of bread at the table and want something a bit more exciting than gluten-free bread? Make butternut squash flatbread! There are plenty of recipes for it and it’s absolutely mouth-watering, not to mention it’s high in potassium, vitamin E, vitamin A, thiamine, and magnesium.
- Rice cakes: yes, on their own they may seem incredibly boring and bland. But take that with a grain of salt (maybe literally)! Anything you can put on a bagel or a sandwich, you can put on a rice cake, and it’s a lot easier to digest. If you make it from scratch, you can add all sorts of vegetables (courgettes work well, for example) and help get those micronutrients in.
Chances are, if you are intolerant to a food group or have any kind of food restriction for whatever reason, you’ve probably figured out how to get around it. But the fact of the matter is, your body needs a lot more nutrition than you might have thought, so putting in that extra effort to get key nutrients like omega-3, calcium, vitamin Bs, magnesium, protein, and fibre is extra important! Apart from HRT, diet is the number one way to help alleviate your symptoms (not to mention managing you weight) so it’s definitely time to rethink your daily diet habits!