Enjoy this guest post by Jackie Lynch. I have definitely found that eating well has helped immensely through the challenges of menopause. Here are some helpful hints to ease you into beating those menopause blues through diet. And be sure to check out her book and podcast – The Happy Menopause, links at the end of the post.
Good Mood Food to Beat the Menopause Blues
By Jackie Lynch, Registered Nutritional Therapist
Everyone tends to think about hot flushes as the main menopause symptom, but many women find that low mood and anxiety are more of a problem, which can come as an unwelcome surprise. Here are three ways that the right nutrition can help to calm your nerves, boost your mood and put the spring back in your step:
BOOST B VITAMINS
If you lack motivation and feel lethargic and a bit low, then B vitamins might be the issue, as they’re vital links in the chain reaction of energy production. They also play an essential role in converting nutrients into serotonin, the good mood neurotransmitter and work in synergy, targeting different areas. For example, a deficiency in thiamine (vitamin B1) can cause emotional disturbances, a lack of niacin (vitamin B3) has been directly associated with depression and low levels of vitamin B12 can lead to low mood, irritability, and poor memory.
Vegetables are a great source of many of the different B vitamins, but be careful how you cook them. B vitamins are water soluble, so all the goodness can end up in the water, if you boil them for too long. Try steaming or steam-frying to maintain vitamin levels. Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal sources, such as meat, fish or eggs, which is a consideration for vegans. Stress, alcohol and the oral contraceptive pill can all deplete B vitamins, so you may need to factor in an extra boost if any of these apply to you
Make sure that your 5-a-day is skewed 4:1 in favour of vegetables if you want to boost B vitamin levels. Whole grains such as brown rice are another excellent source. Egg yolk, meat and fish are all good sources of vitamin B3. Some foods, such as yeast extract spreads or certain breakfast cereals can be fortified with vitamin B12 for vegans who prefer not to take supplements.
Feeling jittery and anxious? Tense, nervous headache? Tight neck and shoulders? Sluggish bowel? All of these can really impact your mood, so it could be time to look at your magnesium levels. Magnesium regulates the nervous system and well as being responsible for muscle contraction and relaxation, so a deficiency can cause a range of symptoms from migraine (by constricting the blood vessels in the brain) to constipation by inhibiting peristalsis, the contraction of muscles that moves stools through the gut. Low levels of magnesium can also result in anxiety and panic attacks and can inhibit the production of serotonin.
Leafy green vegetables, almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds and pulses are all good sources of magnesium, as well as whole-grain foods. Another great way to boost your magnesium levels is to throw a couple of handfuls of Epsom Salts (magnesium sulphate) into the bath, as the magnesium will absorb through the skin relaxing your muscles and promoting a restful night’s sleep. It’s the perfect way to end a stressful day.
A daily dose of leafy green vegetables is the way to go, but if you get bored with eating your greens, you could try juicing spinach, kale or watercress with some apple to sweeten it, as it’s a good way to rack up the magnesium. A sprinkling of pumpkin seeds on your breakfast cereal, soup or salad is a smart move, or you could try a magnesium double-whammy of cashew butter on a brown rice cracker.
NOURISH YOUR NEUROTRANSMITTERS
Serotonin is not the only neurotransmitter that improves your mood and banishes the blues. Adrenaline, noradrenaline and dopamine all have the feel-good factor and help to improve motivation, concentration and memory, as well as contributing to stress management. Low levels of these neurotransmitters can leave you feeling lethargic, distracted and demotivated. The body uses amino acids which are found in protein foods to generate neurotransmitters, so it’s important to make sure that your diet contains adequate amounts of protein so that all the building blocks are there.
Good quality protein should form part of every meal or snack, but many of us tend to save it for the evening meal, which simply isn’t giving our body enough material to work with. Good sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs, lentils, chick peas (hummus), beans, dairy, quinoa nuts and seeds. Don’t neglect protein at breakfast time as it will help to kick-start your brain and make sure that a quarter of the overall meal at lunch and dinner consists of protein.
An egg is a great way to start the day, but not so practical if you’re rushing off to work. Try adding a tablespoon of mixed seeds, such as pumpkin, sunflower and flaxseed to your morning cereal or porridge for a good helping of protein, or have protein-rich peanut or almond butter with your toast. Make sure your lunchtime salad or soup includes plenty of lean meat, fish, lentils or beans, so that you’re not just eating vegetables. Snack on raw almonds or add a generous dollop of hummus to an oatcake, so that you’re not relying on dinner to be the only time you eat protein.
Jackie Lynch is a Registered Nutritional Therapist and author of The Happy Menopause: Smart Nutrition to Help You Flourish. She is also the host of the popular diet and lifestyle podcast The Happy Menopause. Follow her at @WellWellWellUK.