Nutrition and Menopause

Seems there’s a diet for every cause these days; gluten free, Paleo, low fat, low carb, cleansing or green, vegan or vegetarian, sugar free, libido enhancing and even an orgasm or testosterone enhancing diet plan… but is there an ideal menopause diet?

The menopausal transition is often accompanied by diminished metabolism due to declining lean body mass (muscle), increased central fat, around the middle, “the dreaded muffin top” and difficulty maintaining or losing weight. Often, menopausal women will complain of lower energy levels due to sleep interruption and stress: these only worsen the issue. The risk of risk of medical conditions such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes can also increase. For some, even sexual drive libido can plummet.


What’s a menopausal woman to do?


The Mediterranean diet has fallen into favor as an optimal plan to manage these pesky issues.


For starters, research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease since it is associated with a lower level of (LDL) “bad cholesterol” which is associated with plaque in your arteries. The Mediterranean diet is also associated with a reduced incidence of cancer including breast cancer.


The Mediterranean diet is based on the following:

  • Eating primarily plant-based foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Use olive oil instead of butter
  • Add flavor with herbs and spices instead of salt
  • Limit red meat to no more than a few times a month
  • Eat fish and poultry at least twice a week
  • Consume dairy and eggs in moderation
  • Drinking red wine in moderation, if alcohol is desired
  • Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed meat, refined grains, refined oils and other highly processed foods.
  • Include plenty of physical exercise


What about vaginal and urinary health?  


With hormonal changes of menopause comes associated vaginal pH and genital tissue changes due to diminished estrogen levels. Vaginal yeast or bacterial infections might be more common due to changes in the vaginal pH. Minimizing sugar and alcohol intake as well as insuring adequate vitamin D intake may help prevent these. Hydration remains a key factor to help prevent dryness. For some, cranberry juice or oral supplements might help prevent urinary tract infections for those prone to such.


Awareness of bone health should start well before menopause, to prevent osteoporosis later on. The Institute of Medicine, recommends a total daily calcium intake of 1300mg for girls aged 9-18, 1000mg for women aged 19-50 and 1200mg for women 51 and older. Calcium rich foods include dairy, almonds and salmon. A typical serving has approximately 300mg of calcium.


It is recommended that dietary sources of calcium are preferred rather than supplementation, but for those who have limited calcium in diet, due to lactose intolerance for example, supplements taken in divided 600mg doses throughout the day, are recommended. Excessive supplemental calcium can increase risk of kidney stones and other health problems.


Vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium and keep bones strong. Fortified dairy products provide dietary D but the main source is sunlight. Since many of us slather with sunscreen in warm sunny climates or for those who live in the Northeast with limited sun exposure, supplemental vitamin D 1000IU/day might be helpful. It is always advisable to have your vitamin D level checked.


Finally, are there truly dietary aphrodisiacs to enhance libido?


While there are no guarantees, arginine, an amino acid found in many foods and supplements claims to enhance blood flow to the genitals and increase sex drive. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine and serotonin, chemicals that promote a general feeling of “well-being”, but randomized clinical trials proving their efficacy are lacking. Oysters contain zinc and omega-3 fatty acids, which improve nervous system function in general and salmon and walnuts contain omega 3 fatty acids needed for the production of sex hormones.


Let’s face it though; there is no magic bullet when it comes to aphrodisiacs.


Bottom line: Maintaining a healthy weight and the enhanced self-esteem that goes along with, are probably the best aphrodisiacs of all. Feeling bloated, overweight and unhealthy is a sure buzzkill in the bedroom.



Dr. Michael Krychman

Alyssa Dweck, MS MD FACOG