Nutrition for the Mature Woman

By Emily Reilly

Emily Reilly Nutritionist eXtreme Fitness CampsFor many women, as they reach the end of their thirties and early forties the begin to notice the beginning stages of perimenapause. Perimenopause—from the Greek words peri (“near”), men (“month”) and pauein (“to cease”)—describes the natural hormonal transition that occurs during the years leading up to menopause and ending 12 months after a woman’s final period (Mayo Clinic 2008). Many women notice the first signs of change in their 40s, but others experience symptoms as early as their mid-30s (Mayo Clinic 2008). In the United States, the average age of menopause is 51 (Mayo Clinic 2009).

The hormonal downshifting of progesterone and erratic fluctuation of estrogen (usually estrogen rises and falls with a regular “monthly” cycle) can cause a myriad of symptoms. While progesterone and estrogen primarily regulate menstrual cycles they also effect; mood, blood pressure, sleep appetite, body temperature, and heart rate through a feedback loop between the hypothalamus and pituitary glands. Women may also experience hot flashes, mood swings, urinary symptoms, irritability and decreased sex drive, in conjunction with additional fat storage. Depending on an individual’s symptoms and diagnosis, a complete blood test to check hormone levels can be very beneficial.

The stress on a woman’s system during these hormonal changes results into an increase in the levels a fat storing hormone called cortisol. Higher cortisol leads to fluid retention as well as an increase in appetite and thus allowing a woman’s body to become more efficient at storing fat, especially in the abdomen, thighs and waistline.

Nutrition Strategies

Responding to these changes with healthy nutrition choices can assist making a smooth transition and allow you to explore your life to the fullest and reduce the physical and mental effects of perimenopause and menopause.

  1. Less Calories: As you get older, your muscle mass decreases and your metabolism slows down, so that means you don’t need as many calories as when you were younger. That’s why women often gain weight during the menopausal years. Actually, your metabolism starts to slow down around the age of 40, so if you don’t adjust your caloric intake down, you’re probably going to gain weight. But, if you increase your exercise and build muscle, you can increase your daily caloric expenditure and avoid menopausal weight gain.
  1. More Calcium is essential for healthy bones and teeth, along with normal functioning of muscles, nerves and properly clotting bloodfunction. A calcium deficiency can lead to osteoporosis or osteopenia.Because your risk of osteoporosis goes up after menopause, you’ll need more calcium. Younger women need about 1,000 milligrams per day, but after age 50 that goes up to 1,200 milligrams per day. Most of us know that dairy is a good source of calcium, but those products can be high in both natural and added fats and sugars. Look to leafy greens, some fish, nuts, and seeds. Calcium is also one of the most popular dietary supplements.
  1. More Vitamin D is essential for absorbing and using calcium. So, it makes sense that if you need more calcium, you also need more vitamin D. The thing about vitamin D is that you don’t find in it many foods other than fortified foods like milk and cereal, salmon, egg yolks, nutritional yeast almonds, and some mushrooms. Going outside for a few minutes of sun exposure on your face and arms or legs a few days each week, your body should make enough vitamin D. If you live in a cloudy or more polar region of the world you may need Vitamin D supplements. You can discuss your personal requirements with your healthcare provider
  1. Less Iron: Your body needs iron to build healthy red blood cells so they can carry plenty of oxygen to all parts of your body. Your muscles need iron as well. If you don’t get enough iron, you can lead to feeling weak and tired due to iron-deficiency anemia. Most younger women need about 18 milligrams of iron each day, but once you stop having menstrual periods, you only need about eight milligrams per day. Iron-rich foods include red meat, oysters, organ meat, legumes, nuts, and leafy greens. Iron is also available in supplement form.
  1. Pay attention Fiber: Try to consume 21g of fiber/day for the healthy functioning of your digestive tract and easier control of cholesterol. You can find fiber in legumes (navy beans, pinto beans, soy beans, lentils, etc.), fruits both dried and fresh*, vegetables, whole grains, oatmeal, brown rice, popcorn, and nuts. *If you are consuming dried fruits be aware that they also have high sugar levels.
  1. More Vitamin B-6, or pyridoxine, is required for protein and glucose metabolism, and you need vitamin B-6 to metabolize protein, glucose and to red blood cells that carries oxygen to all the parts of your body. Vitamin B-6 is found in foods of both plant and animal origin, including fish, meat, fruits, legumes, and many vegetables. As long as you eat a balanced diet, you should get plenty of vitamin B-6 and supplements aren’t needed.
  1. Pay attention to the types of fat you are ingesting: consider Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids Present in Some oily fish (i.e., salmon & tuna) and vegetable oils (like flax and hemp) are also useful in keeping muscles supple, while helping the digestive system as well as their positive effects of regulating ovarian hormones by impacting prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that control virtually every bodily function.