Simple food swaps ‘could help women through the menopause’

Natural yoghurt, nuts, pulses, berries and leafy greens are good choices for helping keep the gut microbiome healthy, a study suggests.

23 March 2022

Simple food swaps could help women through the menopause and prevent weight gain, according to the world’s largest study of its kind.

Ditching white bread, pasta and rice – or simply eating them with fat or protein – could help lessen the blood sugar spike women experience after eating carbohydrate-rich meals.

Natural yoghurt, nuts, pulses, berries and leafy greens are also good choices for helping keep the gut microbiome healthy, the study suggests.

Experts from the nutrition company ZOE together with scientists from King’s College London, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Massachusetts General Hospital in the US looked at data for 1,002 pre-, peri- and post-menopausal women, who underwent a raft of tests and health checks.

They found that, among women of the same age, those who were post-menopausal experienced a bigger increase in blood sugar levels after eating a carbohydrate-rich meal – pushing up their risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Post-menopausal women were also found to have more weight around their stomachs, have higher levels of inflammation, higher cholesterol and higher blood pressure than pre-menopausal women.

Published as a pre-print in The Lancet medical journal, the study further found that post-menopausal women consumed more sugar and reported poorer sleep compared with pre-menopausal women, thereby increasing their risk of type 1 and type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

Dr Sarah Berry, senior author of the study, lead nutritional scientist at ZOE and associate professor in nutritional sciences at King’s College London, said: “Our research shows that menopause is a time of major metabolic upheaval, which can have significant impact on long-term health.”

She told the PA news agency that, based on the research, “modifying our diet could have a favourable impact on many of these unfavourable changes”.

She added: “What our research shows is, that even in an aged-matched group, if you are post-menopausal, you have an unfavourable increase in blood sugar after consuming a carbohydrate-rich meal. It’s an effect due to menopause.

“Therefore, women may wish to be more mindful about the type of carbohydrates they are consuming.

“This could mean moving away from highly-refined carbohydrates and processed foods that contain them – so thinking carefully about bakery, some confectionery goods, and some staples such as bread, pasta and rice.

“We’re not saying people shouldn’t consume these but, for example, if you consume them with a fat like olive oil, or a protein, that will help reduce the glycaemic response.

“So, you could eat these foods with protein or fat, or make swaps to wholegrain varieties. One change might be choosing rye bread, for example, rather than white or wholemeal.

“Or ask yourself if you’d be happy having pulses instead of rice? If not, then you could choose wholegrain rice.

“We can also promote a healthy microbiome through eating a variety of plant-based foods in the diet that are unprocessed.

“For example, you could include berries, leafy greens, nuts and pulses. Also, fermented foods such as Greek yoghurt, particularly the full fat and unsweetened variety.

“What this study shows is that we’re not a prisoner of the menopause – we can do something about it.”

The menopause is defined as the point in time when a woman has not had a period in 12 months. It usually occurs naturally and most often after the age of 45.

The gut microbiome is made up of trillions of micro-organisms including bacteria and fungi and is known to affect aspects of health such as the immune system and digestion.

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