By Lauren de Vere.
Going Vegan – To Help Ease Menopausal Symptoms.
I am Vegan and I am Menopausal. Not necessarily in that order, of course, but I wanted to be clear about these things so that you, in turn, are clear about the gist of this article.
In the media, much is made of the symptoms of the menopause and how they may or may not be alleviated. My view of it, up until this year, has always been that I would mentally and emotionally hug and embrace the menopause as and when it decided to turn up in my life.
I figured that if I welcomed the menopause in this way, then my body wouldn’t need to let me know that the menopause had arrived, and correspondingly I wouldn’t get any physical symptoms. Not for me would I need to receive hot sweats, mood swings, insomnia and other physical stuff just to underline to me that I was in the next phase of my womanly life. No siree.
Maybe that theory has largely worked for me, and maybe it hasn’t, and I only say that now as I have experienced a physical menopausal symptom in the last year. That symptom has been brain fog. So very annoying, especially when I have prided myself on having a certain command of the English language, only to find that words, names and places were eluding my mind and my lips.
In my darkest moments of this kind of amnesia, I even worried myself to distraction that I was on the rocky road to early onset Alzheimer’s, given that my mother has the disease. However, I’m extremely relieved to report that I think this isn’t the case. And why do I say that? Well, I have changed certain ways I live and breathe, and have now experienced a lifting of the brain fog, and am nigh on certain that these changes and resulting improvements are connected with one another.
The principal change that I brought about was to adopt a Vegan diet. At the time, this didn’t come about because I thought to myself that the brain fog could be helped by a change in my diet. I wish I could claim I was that clever. No, it was more to do with an inner conflict I was having about loving my cat Mr. Marvo and yet eating other animals on my dinner plate (see Me & Mr Marvo for further discussion!!).
The thing about having a Vegan diet is that the gateways to it are many and varied, including (as I did) not wanting to harm other creatures, to being concerned about the planet, to not wanting to impact negatively on the environment, to wanting to eat more healthily. Whichever gateway is initially gone through, what seems to happen is that all Vegans end up looking at other aspects of the diet. This is precisely how I’ve come to realise that a happy consequence of changing to a Vegan diet is that I’m now healthier.
The very nature of consciously changing my diet and requiring me to research how to do that has taught me so much about what my body needs from food and how to be better nourished. Given that I’m in better physical shape than before, I’m satisfied in my own much less brain foggy mind that my physical menopausal symptom has been largely cleared up courtesy of my Vegan diet.
So here are some tips/info/simple recipes that I’ve found useful and am delighted to pass on:
In the Western world at least, we’ve been made aware that protein is good for your body. However, an excess of protein in your diet can be just as harmful as not enough. If you eat more protein than your body requires, it will simply convert most of those calories to sugar and then fat. Other research shows that excess protein in your body can strain your kidneys. All of these effects are clearly not good.
Here’s a question for you – do you know how much protein you need to consume per day? I had no clue as to the answer to this question before I became a Vegan – and having asked that same question of friends and family, the answer doesn’t seem to be common knowledge. It’s kind of bizarre – we are aware that protein is a good thing for us, and yet we don’t know how much of it to have for a balanced and healthy diet.
The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) states that 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight should be consumed daily. This amounts to approximately 50 grams per day for the average sedentary woman.
Ok, so far so good, but what exactly can 50g of protein look like in the form of food? Throwing numbers at you is all very well, but not very relatable to a plate of food in front of us. Well, science has made it easy to quantify, so here’s what 50g of protein can look like in a Vegan diet:
8 cups of soy milk or
2 cups of lentils or
10 cups of cooked spinach or
6 cups of cooked quinoa or
200 almonds/34 cashews
I invite you to imagine now what that source of vegan protein food looks like in terms of size. It’s a lot, isn’t it? Feels chunky and substantial, doesn’t it? As a useful comparison, let’s now look at what will give you 50 g of protein in an omnivorous diet:
6 cups of cow’s milk or
6oz of roast turkey or chicken breast or pork chop (6oz is about the size and a half of a deck of cards) or
2 cups of greek yoghurt or
1 and a third cans of tuna or
2 cups of cottage cheese
By comparison, I think you’ll agree that for the correct daily amount of protein in our meals, an omnivorous plate of food would look kind of mean and stingy sitting next to a vegan plate of food.
All this leads me to 2 clear benefits of a vegan diet:
a) You get to eat more of a volume of food so that there’s a feeling of eating bounteously. Too often, women can have a tendency to ration themselves in all sorts of psychological ways, particularly when you’re experiencing the menopause, so a vegan diet can buck this negative trend
b) There is less risk of eating too much protein, so you get to avoid the health hazards linked with excess protein intake
All sounds good to me.
2 OPTIMUM HEALTH
The ugly truth about the meat industry is that the animals are given hormones to speed their growth. Naturally, this means that those same hormones will then go into your body if you eat said meat. This can disrupt the natural balance of your hormones, which is often at precarious and wavering levels anyway during the menopause.
A well-balanced vegan diet tends to be lower in calories and fat because fruits, vegetables and whole grains don’t have as many calories or fat content as meat and dairy products. This will therefore help you if you have the menopausal symptom of weight gain, a symptom that is quite common and can be frustrating, especially when you’re engaging in regular exercise and the weight still won’t drop off you.
Eating soy and soy foods on a regular basis may help alleviate menopausal symptoms because soy contains phytoestrogens which may be beneficial in reducing the severity of hot flushes. Eating soy has also been shown to help fight diseases women are at risk of developing during the menopause such as high cholesterol, osteoporosis, heart disease and certain cancers. (There are differing views on the safety of soy in relation to breast cancer. Here’s what Breastcancer.org has to say – ultimately that more research is needed. TMC note.)
3 EASY RESTORATIVE RECIPES
Not to put too fine a point on it, but a lack of estrogen levels during the menopause can make your bladder and pelvic floor muscles flabby and weak, and negatively affect the health of your urinary tract lining. This can cause those embarrassing urine leaks – well, someone has to mention this, so it may as well be me. Fear not, my lovelies, as this restorative recipe can help push back the notion of having to don grown up nappies for several decades yet!
BLADDER BUSTING SMOOTHIE
Smoothies are so simple and easy – all you need is a good blender – and it takes a couple of minutes to make. I nearly always have a smoothie for breakfast as it sets me up nicely for the day and hydrates me to boot.
1 cup of chopped pineapple
1 medium ripe banana
¾ cup of almond milk (By the by, using almond milk instead of cow’s milk means that your smoothie has more nutrients to improve skin, eye and bone health)
1 handful of mint leaves
2/4 ice cubes
Just place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Voila!
THE WISDOM OF SAGE
This idea takes a modern twist on that old wives’ tale of sage tea helping menopausal women with their hot and sweaty flushes.
12 fresh sage leaves
1 tablespoon of olive oil
In a saucepan, heat the olive oil over a medium heat and add the sage leaves and heat for 3 minutes or until the sage leaves are crisp and have infused their flavor into the oil.
You can then keep the sage oil in the fridge and use it anytime to drizzle over a bowl of hot soup, or a plate of salad leaves. Tasty.
CHEER FOR CHIA
Originally grown in Mexico, chia seeds were highly valued for their medicinal properties and nutritional value and were even used as currency!
Aztec warriors ate chia seeds to give them high energy and endurance. Apparently, just 1 spoonful of chia seeds could sustain them for 24 hours. Chia means “strength” in the Mayan language, and they were known as “runner’s food” because runners and warriors would use them as fuel while running long distances or during battle.
Incorporating these beauties into your diet will provide you with a powerful source of:-
a) Calcium – they have 5 times more calcium than cow’s milk
b) Omega-3 fatty acids for our brains and hearts to function well
c) Protein for a great source of energy
I add chia seeds to my morning smoothie. As they absorb water readily, I put some seeds in the blender the night before, together with some water. By soaking them beforehand, you “sprout” them and it releases the “enzyme inhibitors” that are used to protect the seed. This makes the seeds much easier to digest and your body can then access the dense nutrients inside the seeds.
Since chia seeds have a neutral flavor, you can surreptitiously add them to soup, porridge, salad dressings, cakes, breads, puddings etc. They are versatile little things.
My aim here was to demonstrate how a Vegan diet can help you not only to be a healthier little bunny, but also how it can help with some of those less pleasant menopausal symptoms. There can be a misconception that a Vegan diet is a sort of “take away from” diet – that somehow it restricts your enjoyment of eating and makes it trickier to include protein and calcium in your diet. My personal experience is that the reverse is true. Adopting a Vegan diet has added to my enjoyment of eating and an overall feeling of well being. It has also added to my enjoyment of being in my early fifties. And that’s surely a good thing.
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You may like this article also by Lauren Parents And Alzheimer’s – Who’s The Child Now?, and Food For Menopause Symptoms – This Can Help!, Healthy Habits In Midlife, A Balanced Diet: Low Carb, Low Fat Or Just Confused?! and In An Uncertain World, Eat More Vegetables!
Lauren de Vere was born in the era of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, mods & rockers and flower power. Maybe her beginnings in the midst of that cultural backdrop influenced the eclectic nature of her education and careers, and maybe it’s just who she is. Either way, she has had a broad experience of life. Lauren’s approach to life is that happiness comes from wrapping work snugly and compatibly around her personal life and not the other way round. This has resulted in work coming from different walks of life. She has been a manager and auditor in the business world, a partner in a firm of solicitors in the legal world, and an actress and writer in the arts world. Her bigger vision is to make things better by doing things differently, if she can. For example, she has done volunteer work in South Africa for a lion rehabilitation programme to help prevent their extinction, and been a carer for a quadriplegic young woman. She also now writes a blog as a forum for discussing Vegan issues.