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The best perimenopause diet for balancing menopause hormones, inhibiting menopause and weight gain, and protecting your heart, bones and thyroid is not low-fat, or low-calorie.
Many perimenopause symptoms are due to shifting hormone levels. This is natural, but our diets have drifted more and more away from original human nutrition toward the land of convenience “foods” and artificially flavored substances that are called food, but don't really resemble it anymore. Returning to the diets of our ancestors will help to balance our hormones and slow the arrival of the lifestyle diseases of aging: heart disease, obesity, cancer, and osteoporosis, to name a few.
What is a Healthy Perimenopause Diet?
I have been researching diets and health since my twenties. I began because I wanted more energy, and I found a book on how to have more energy through nutrition. I was fascinated and continued my research as I got older. I studied herbal medicine in my early forties at the Pacific School for Herbal Medicine. It was my work in the herbal world that led me to Dr. Weston A. Price and his research into healthy diets. Dr. Price's work is the foundation for a new traditional food movement. It is similar to the paleo diet, but has some important differences. I will not go into the details of either diet here. What I will give you is some important first steps for a perimenopause diet to begin regaining your health, energy, body, brain and quality of life.
The basics of a diet for perimenopause health
Fats to Eat, Fats to Avoid: Hormone Imbalance is Partially Due to a Lack of Healthy Fats in a Perimenopause Diet
The right fats are not only healthy, they are critical for hormone balance, healthy weight and protection from heart disease and osteoporosis. The right fats are mostly saturated fats and mono-unsaturated fats. Sound crazy? Read on.
There are more and more sources for this information, but let me give you a couple:
“'Conventional wisdom holds that the more fat you eat, the more likely you are to become obese. However, the evidence does not support the conventional wisdom...' He [Dr. Frank Hu, Harvard School of Public Health] cited 16 long-term studies (6 to 18 months in duration) that showed 'no evidence that a low-fat diet is beneficial.'” (Enig & Fallon, 2005, p. 12)
Some people are now advising that fats are not the problem we used to think they were, but they still recommend avoiding saturated fats. This is not good advice, as it turns out:
“Ever since Ancel Keys accused saturated fat of causing heart disease, doctors have been suspicious of it. It's taken decades, and numerous clinical trials, for medical researchers to realize that the concern over SaFA [saturated fatty acids] was misplaced...A recent meta-analysis of epidemiological and prospective cohort studies concluded: 'There is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD [coronary heart disease] or CVD [cardiovascular disease].'” (Jaminet & Jaminet, 2010, p. 82)
“...the work of Bernard Hennig, published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2001, indicates that an excess of Omega-6 fatty acids (from commercial vegetable oils) contributes to pathological changes in the cells lining the arteries, and hence to heart disease. There is also much research demonstrating that the trans fats in many manufactured foods (the same foods people eat to avoid saturated fats) contribute to a wide range of illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, and obesity.”
This is a small sampling of the information now available that says all fats are not bad, especially saturated fats. But are they good for you?
“What Dr. Price's work teaches us is that the absolute fundamental requirement of healthy diets cannot be found in pasta, nor vegetable juices, nor oat bran, nor olive oil, but only in certain types of animal fats. These fats come from animals who consume green, growing organisms (such as grass and plankton)...Even worse, most people avoid these foods today because medical spokesmen claim they cause cancer, heart disease, or weight gain, even though a number of highly qualified scientists have admirably refuted these charges. Suffice it to say that the patient who is afraid of consuming foods containing animal fats and cholesterol will make no headway in his efforts to improve his diet as these foods are absolutely vital for good health.” (Cowan, 2004, p. 13).
Benefits of Healthy Fats
Healthy traditional fats (cod liver oil, coconut oil, butter, egg yolks and meat fats), according to Enig & Fallon (2005), are critical to healthy brains, bones, livers, hearts, lungs, kidneys, and hormones.
Which carbohydrates and proteins to eat, and which to eliminate in a perimenopause diet
Carbohydrates need to be whole foods. This would include potatoes and sweet potatoes, and whole grains, such as quinoa, brown rice, millet and other whole grains. Bread, pasta, cereal, and crackers are refined carbohydrates and need to be limited. Proteins are best with the fat left on, and range free as well as grass-fed. Wild fish has a better fat profile than farmed fish.
The amounts of each macronutrient to include in your perimenopause diet
Here is what I am doing, and it is working. I am eating 20% carbs, 65% fat and 15% protein. This is the ratio recommended in the Perfect Health Diet. This is the first time I have been successful in losing weight, with no cravings, no hunger, and no stalls (weeks without weight loss or a ½ pound of weight loss), in ten years.
I don't recommend this for everyone. Some people may need more carbohydrates. You probably already know which is better for you, and if you don't, keep track of your food intake along with how you feel for a few days.
Inhibiting Menopause and Weight Gain with a Perimenopause Diet
Most women will gain 10-15 pounds between the beginning of perimenopause and shortly after menopause. If you are thin, this is a good thing. It will protect your bones.
If you are overweight, (if you have a BMI over 25), now is the time to finally get to your healthy weight. It will only get harder from here on out, and the health consequences of not doing it are deadly.
In addition to following the recommendations above, you must do two things:
Two foods you must drastically reduce in a perimenopause diet
Fructose, high-fructose-corn-syrup and sugars that contain fructose (white sugar is 50% glucose and 50% fructose). This includes fruits. One serving a day is all you need. Fruit juices do not contain enough fiber to be healthy, so it's best to eliminate them.
Polyunsaturated fats, especially those high in Omega 6 fatty acids. This includes all vegetable oils and any convenience foods containing them (salad dressings, crackers, tortilla chips, potato chips, and just about any other processed food you can think of). These fats occur naturally in chicken, eggs and many other foods. Eating them in processed foods gives you too much, and is a cause of weight gain as well as an inability to lose weight.
Thyroid and Perimenopause
This is a time when many women begin having thyroid issues, although they may not know it. Your thyroid needs vitamin A to function well. Vitamin A is only found in animal foods. Many women cannot convert beta-carotene to vitamin A, which means if they are limiting animal foods, they could be low in vitamin A. To read more, see thyroid and menopause.
The perimenopause diet also works well as a menopause diet and beyond. I wish I had known in perimenopause what I know today about nutrition, but now that I do know, I plan to turn back the age clock a little every day.
Cowan, T., Fallon, S., McMillan, J. (2004). The Fourfold Path to Healing. Washington, D.C.: New Trends Publishing.
Enig, M., Fallon, S. (2005). Eat Fat Lose Fat. New York, NY: Penguin Group 2005
Jaminet, P., Jaminet, S. (2010). Perfect Health Diet. Cambridge, MA: Yin Yang Press. 2010