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Menopause is a natural phase of every woman’s life, but the side effects of fluctuating hormones feel anything but normal. Additionally, hormonal changes in menopause may increase the risk of serious diseases, including osteoporosis, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Eat your way to hormone health with these seven foods that balance mood, ease hot flashes and insomnia, fight cancer, and protect your heart and bones.
Buckwheat. Whole grains are excellent sources of complex carbs, essential for the production of tryptophan, an amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter linked with memory and mood. Studies also show that carbohydrates can relieve depression and elevate mood. Buckwheat is a healthy choice; it’s gluten-free and rich in B vitamins, which also impact mood. Try this: Stir-fry cooked buckwheat with eggs, green onions, carrots, ginger and tamari for a twist on fried rice; toss cooked buckwheat with chopped parsley, red onions, Kalamata olives, feta cheese and olive oil; soak uncooked buckwheat, chia seeds and coconut milk overnight, then serve with berries and honey as a fast breakfast (like overnight oats).
Collard greens. Calcium is essential during menopause; osteoporosis affects one out of three postmenopausal women, and for those women, the lifetime risk of fractures is higher than the risk of breast cancer. One cup of cooked collards has nearly as much calcium as a cup of whole milk, and some studies suggest the absorption of calcium from vegetables is nearly twice as high as from dairy. Plus, collards contain vitamin K and magnesium, also critical for bone health. Try this: Sauté shredded collards, chickpeas and garlic in olive oil and harissa; tear collard leaves into chip-sized pieces, toss with olive oil and sea salt, and roast until crispy; massage thinly sliced collard leaves with olive oil and vinegar then toss with radishes, sweet onions and crumbled feta cheese.
Sardines. Like salmon, tuna and other fatty fish, sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce the frequency of hot flashes and reduce the risk of osteoporosis and breast cancer. Omega-3 fats also reduce triglyceride levels and protect the heart – especially important for women receiving hormone therapy, which can increase triglyceride levels. And if you eat canned sardines with bones, you’ll also be getting calcium. Try this: Mix canned sardines with bread crumbs, minced onions, chopped parsley and eggs, form into patties and cook in olive oil; in a food processor, combine smoked sardines, yogurt, smoked paprika and black pepper, process until just smooth and serve with vegetables for dipping; spread mashed avocado on toast, layer with grilled onions and sardines and sprinkle with parsley.
Flaxseeds. Flaxseeds are the richest source of lignans, phytoestrogens that are structurally similar to estrogens and may reduce breast cancer risk. Flax has also been shown to reduce night sweats and hot flashes and improve quality of life during menopause. In research published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, 40 grams per day of flaxseed had effects similar to hormone replacement therapy for decreasing mild menopausal symptoms. Try this: Beat ground flaxseeds with buckwheat flour, honey and eggs and make silver-dollar pancakes; blend ground flax with sunflower seeds, basil, garlic, arugula and lemon for a nut-free pesto; mix flaxseeds with chia seeds, coconut milk and coconut sugar then top with cacao nibs and toasted coconut chips.
Tempeh. Like flax, soy contains phytoestrogens that mimic the actions of estrogen and can relieve symptoms of menopause. Findings on the effects of isoflavones – phytoestrogens in soy – are mixed, but some studies show a benefit on hot flash frequency and/or severity, and in one study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, soy reduced hot flashes by 45%. Populations with a high soy consumption also have a significant reduction in breast cancer incidence, and isoflavones may have protective effects on cardiovascular and bone health. Because soy can be hard to digest, stick to tempeh; because it’s fermented, it’s easier to digest and it has increased antioxidant capacity. Try this: Simmer crumbled tempeh with onions, peppers, tomato sauce and seasonings for a vegan sloppy joe; marinate tempeh cubes in tamari, olive oil and garlic powder then bake until crispy for grain-free croutons.
Tomato sauce. Tomato sauce is a concentrated source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. Additionally, some studies show lycopene can reduce the risk of osteoporosis. While tomatoes in general are high in lycopene, cooking them breaks down cell walls and makes the lycopene more available; adding olive oil further increases bioavailability. Try this: Simmer tomato sauce with minced onion, garlic, Kalamata olives, capers and anchovies for a fast puttanesca sauce; heat tomato sauce and chopped spinach in a shallow pan, crack in eggs, simmer until whites set, and serve hot with shaved Parmesan cheese.
Black beans. Black beans and other legumes are loaded with fiber, which help protect against breast cancer after menopause. They’re also rich in B vitamins, important for mood, and magnesium, which protects bone health, improves sleep and may relieve anxiety and depression. And black beans have higher levels of antioxidants than other beans; they’re especially rich in anthocyanins, which have been shown to protect against heart disease after menopause. Try this: Cook black beans with shredded sweet potatoes, chopped kale and cumin for an easy breakfast hash; purée black beans with tahini, olive oil and garlic then stir in finely minced jalapeño peppers for a spicy hummus.