Let’s begin with the most important information: a plant-based diet is good to start at any time in life. But, if you haven’t been following a plant-based diet and have gone through menopause, now is the perfect time to begin. As overwhelming as diet and nutrition advice can be, we are starting to settle on some basic foundational evidence that eating plants are a good thing. Plants are so good, that they can ward off disease and improve mental and physical health.
What Does Plant-Based Mean?
The term plant-based can be very confusing to understand. The foundation of a plant-based diet focuses on foods derived primarily from plants. This diet does not mean that you are necessarily vegetarian or vegan and don’t eat meat. Let’s look at the characteristics of focusing on plants as the primary nutrition source.
All fruits and vegetables
Nuts and seeds
Legumes and beans
Is it possible to have an unhealthy plant-based diet? Yes, it is. If you include too many dairy products, sugar, saturated fats, and processed foods in your diet, that is unhealthy and counterproductive to your efforts.
Why is a Plant-Based Diet Good for You?
Perhaps we should start with why consuming too many animal products is bad for you. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research:
Major findings on cancer and animal foods
There is strong evidence that consuming:
Other research has shown a connection between meat and dairy consumption and increased inflammation. Chronic inflammation is linked to Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, fragility, and sarcopenia.
Does this mean you should stop eating meat products altogether? Many people have, but cutting down is a great way to start feeling better and reducing your risk. Choose grass-fed, organic, and non processed meat products. Also try to eat organic fruits and vegetables to avoid unnecessary exposure to pesticides and fungicides.
How Does a Plant-Based Diet Help with Post Menopause?
As you all know, menopause is the cessation of periods and the decline of estrogen and progesterone production by the ovaries. Symptoms can vary among individuals, but generally speaking, symptoms include hot flashes, fatigue, sleep disturbance, loss of libido, problems concentrating, osteoporosis, and increased heart disease risk.
The logical choice for some women is bio-identical hormone replacement. But hormone replacement without adopting healthy habits will not be as effective. You can’t expect to simply replace the lost hormones and regain your youth and vigor and lost the pounds you put on after menopause! Let’s take a look at the health benefits of a plant-based diet:
Lower blood pressure. High blood pressure is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Heart Health. The Journal of the American Heart Association found that eating a plant-based diet reduced cardiovascular disease incidence by 16 percent.
Weight Loss. Evidence shows that people lose weight on a plant-based diet. Whole grains and vegetables are lower on the glycemic index, which means they are digested more slowly. Not to mention the increased energy you will feel to burn off those pounds!
Longer Life. The Journal of the American Heart Association found that a plant-based diet reduces risk of mortality from all causes by 25 percent.
Decrease Risk of Cancer. Cancer is the second leading cause of death, but research suggests as many as a third of the cases could be prevented with diet and nutrition. Vegetarians are less likely to be overweight, which is a known risk factor for some cancers. And a plant-based diet is high in fiber, which is protective against breast and colorectal cancer.
Decrease Risk of Dementia and Cognitive Impairment. Fruits and vegetables are high in polyphenols, which may help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and help reverse cognitive decline.
Improve Cholesterol. High cholesterol can lead to fatty deposits in the blood, leading to heart attack, stroke, or heart disease. Moving towards a plant-based diet can lower cholesterol, and those on a vegan diet can decrease it even more.
How to Get Started
Now the hard part. If the concept of a plant-based diet is foreign to you, don’t worry. Everyone starts somewhere. The best approach is to take things slowly so that you don’t get frustrated and abandon your goals. Developing new habits takes time, but the good news is that you will start to feel better almost immediately. Here are some tips to get going and stay focused:
Have lots of vegetables in the kitchen and eat them. If you don’t have vegetables available, there is no way to eat them! Use a variety of colors when you choose. Kale, broccoli, swiss chard, and spinach are all excellent choices. Or leafy green salads with nuts.
Try whole grains for breakfast. Consider oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat, or barley with fruit and nuts.
Choose good fats. Healthy choices include olive oil, nuts, nut butters, seeds, and avocados.
Try hearty vegetable soups. Vegetable soups and chilis are super easy to make and filling. Put in lots of vegetables and beans.
Try healthy smoothies for a quick meal. Throw in veggies and plant-based protein powder, and fruit. Delicious and nutritious.
Eliminate “bad” foods from the kitchen. If there is unhealthy food in your kitchen, chances will get eaten. Simply remove the temptation.
Set reasonable goals. If completely plant based seems to be too challenging try to eat plant based 2 of the 3 meals for the day. Allowing one meal to be flexible.
The Harvard Medical School published this graph to give you a bird’s eye view of how to look at your meal planning.
Plant-Based Nutrition and Menopause
Menopause does not have to be an inevitable roller coaster ride. With individual hormone replacement and a move towards a plant-based diet, you will live longer, feel better and approach your fourth or fifth decade with renewed energy and health!