Did you know the food you eat is key to your journey through pre-, peri-, meno- and post-menopause?
It can play a role in whether you experience weight gain and digestive issues such as gas, bloating and constipation. Indeed, the ‘wrong’ foods can even trigger hot flushes, mood swings and insomnia.
Why we love oats
Plain wholegrain rolled oats(1) – not the processed kind – are an amazing gut and cardiovascular-loving addition to a healthy menopause diet. They’re high in protein, help keep energy and blood sugar levels stable plus keep you fuller for longer(2).
In addition, oats are a good source of soluble fibre which means they feed good gut bacteria and support a healthy colon. As well as this they’re packed with antioxidants and the all-important B vitamins.
All of these factors are key to minimising menopause triggers and weight gain not to mention overall health.
NB: An important word on carbohydrates
A healthy diet includes all three macronutrients in appropriate amounts: protein, fat and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates give us energy and if our bodies don’t get enough the body will look to protein as an energy source. Consequently, it may ‘steal’ protein required for muscle and bones – not ideal for midlife women at risk of sarcopenia and osteoporosis.
To be clear, when we suggest avoiding carbohydrates we’re talking about the refined and processed varieties such as white flours and pasta. Oats are an unrefined carbohydrate and an excellent food choice for most people.
These are fantastic because you can make a big batch for the week and store it in the fridge. Make them plain and add toppings later or include things like chia and flaxseeds in your basic oats mixture.
Overnight oats are endlessly customisable and the perfect accompaniment to other menopause-magical foods like nuts and seeds (good fats, proteins, omega-3 essential fatty acids) and fruit like bananas, berries and kiwifruit (antioxidants and fibre).
Mix them up in a big bowl and serve in traditional bowls each day or transfer them to individual glasses or jars.
(If you wish to make a single serving simply quarter the amounts.)
- 2 C old fashioned whole grain rolled oats
- 2 C almond/oat/soy milk (or your milk of choice)
- 1 C coconut yoghurt if you’d like it extra creamy (or Greek yoghurt if you’re not sensitive to dairy)
- ¼ tsp cinnamon (great for metabolism)
- A dash of natural vanilla extract
- A pinch of sea salt
- ¼ C chia seeds – they will drink up liquid so gauge your needs ( gut-loving fibre, omega 3, protein)
- ¼ pumpkin/sunflower/hemp and or flax seeds (zinc, protein, omega 3)
- ¼ C coconut flakes
- 2-3 chopped apricots/dates or figs
Toppings to try:
- Coconut Flakes
- Brazil nuts (chopped)
Tip: 1-2 Brazil nuts supply you with your daily requirement for selenium which is essential for thyroid health – vital in midlife.
- Use a large bowl and add all of the main ingredients to it.
- Either leave in the bowl or transfer to individual bowls and glasses.
- Cover and leave on the counter or put in the fridge overnight.
- If you’ve used the bowl, spoon them into bowls or glasses when you’re ready to eat.
- Top with your garnish of choice.
NB: Oats contain avenin which is a protein that acts similar to gluten. Avenin is generally well tolerated even in people who have gluten intolerance or coeliac disease. If you are a coeliac check with your doctor.
How menopause affects the digestive tract
The main job of our miraculous digestive system – along with the microbiome – is to process the food we put in our bodies. It breaks down what we eat so we can absorb nutrients. Meanwhile, the fibre in food moves it through our gut and helps us excrete what we don’t need.
All in all, it’s a pretty incredible system. However, it’s known(3) that as estrogen levels alter and cortisol increases during menopause the natural rhythm can be disrupted. As well as this, stomach acid (HCL) and microbiota may reduce.
This is why some women become more sensitive to certain foods. Dairy, gluten, refined carbohydrates and/or meat can become difficult to digest even if you’ve always had an iron tummy! These sensitivities can be big contributors to unwelcome digestive issues like bloating, flatulence, constipation and – yes – weight gain.
Cortisol – why our stress hormone impacts our gut health at menopause
One of estrogen’s roles is to regulate cortisol, the hormone our adrenal glands release when we’re stressed. This is why we can often feel like we can’t cope with as many challenges when estrogen diminishes during menopause.
Cortisol’s job is to influence how we respond to stress – both good and bad stressors. However, when it perceives too much stress it sends us into survival mode – historically, it was designed to do this when our lives were under threat in the wild. Even though life in the 21st century throws out different scenarios the stress response doesn’t differentiate.
As a result, it puts us into fight or flight mode and increases the amount of glucose in our bloodstream. This is to give our brains more clarity and our bodies the energy to run for our lives. In addition, cortisol tells the body to de-prioritise what it doesn’t feel is necessary for our survival i.e. it may suppress our reproductive system and downregulate digestive processes.
Subsequently, this can lead to digestive imbalances and slow GI motility meaning food takes longer to travel through the gastrointestinal tract.
What can you do?
Minimise stress as much as (humanly) possible and follow the PPFF rule.
PPFF stands for phytoestrogens, protein, (healthy) fat and fibre. Ensure you get plenty of these daily and you’ll be ahead of the menopause game.
- Read more about PPFF in 5 Ways Your Diet Should Change As You Enter Perimenopause.
- Get your copy of our FREE phytoestrogens food list here.
- Consider giving your digestive system a helping hand with Happy Go Tummy™ which is a combination pre- and probiotic.
Please note: Certain medical conditions such as liver and bowel disease, diverticulitis and some cancers can manifest in a similar way to menopausal digestive issues. If you are having frequent and persistent problems it’s important that you see your GP or gastroenterologist.
- Rasane P, Jha A, Sabikhi L, Kumar A, Unnikrishnan VS. Nutritional advantages of oats and opportunities for its processing as value added foods – a review. J Food Sci Technol. 2015 Feb;52(2):662-75. doi: 10.1007/s13197-013-1072-1. Epub 2013 Jun 25. PMID: 25694675; PMCID: PMC4325078.
- Rebello CJ, Johnson WD, Martin CK, Han H, Chu YF, Bordenave N, van Klinken BJ, O’Shea M, Greenway FL. Instant Oatmeal Increases Satiety and Reduces Energy Intake Compared to a Ready-to-Eat Oat-Based Breakfast Cereal: A Randomized Crossover Trial. J Am Coll Nutr. 2016;35(1):41-9. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2015.1032442. Epub 2015 Aug 14. PMID: 26273900; PMCID: PMC4674378.
- Becker SL, Manson JE. Menopause, the gut microbiome, and weight gain: correlation or causation? Menopause. 2020 Nov 23;28(3):327-331. doi: 10.1097/GME.0000000000001702. PMID: 33235036.
Photo by Melissa Belanger from Unplash