Sixty is the new 50 and 50 the new 40, so you can’t afford to be out of shape. Unfortunately, women tend to gain at least half a kilo every year after their menstrual cycle stops, by the time they reach their late 40s. The worst part is that most of the fat accumulate in the belly area.
Declining hormone levels are the main culprit. When estrogen levels drop, body fat gets redistributed from the hips, thighs, and buttocks to the abdomen. This leads to fat spilling over the top of one’s jeans – yes, the dreaded muffin top.
Doctors point out that the reduction in physical activity is also to blame. Middle-aged women tend to lead ‘slower’ lives than their younger counterparts while consuming the same or more calories.
Here are some ‘smart’ diet changes can help you stay trim – as well as beat menopausal symptoms and disease-risk.
The metabolism of middle-aged women is more than 20% slower than that of girls. This means food takes longer to convert into energy and is more likely to get stored as fat. So, eat small frequent meals at home and opt to get half your meal packed when dining out.
Steer clear of fatty foods like red meat, ice-cream, butter, and cookies. Fat should amount for just 25% of your total daily calories. Use healthy oils (olive, rice bran) for cooking instead of ghee or hydrogenated oils like palm oil.
Don’t sprinkle salt on your salad and use as little as possible in cooking. Salt and processed carbohydrates make you retain water and look more bloated. Reducing salt can lower blood pressure and heart disease risk, too.
Load up on calcium
Hormonal changes trigger loss of bone density after menopause putting women at risk for osteoporosis. So, calcium intake becomes even more important. Women over 50 are advised to consume 1,200 mg of calcium daily compared to 1,000 mg for menstruating women. Two to four portions of dairy products, including milk, yogurt and cheese would help you achieve this quota. But remember to pick low-fat versions to avoid weight gain. You also need substantial vitamin D intake to ensure calcium absorption so step out for a walk under the early morning sun or drink a cup of whole milk daily.
Red wine may be heart-healthy and have fewer calories than other drinks, but it’s best for menopausal women to indulge only on occasions. One drink a day ups the risk of breast cancer and may also induce more hot flashes as a result of the blood-vessel dilation caused by alcohol.
Eat at least two portions of fish per week. These are a lean source of protein and also good for your heart. Bake or grill, instead of frying, to ensure minimum calorie intake. If you are not keen on fish, try fish oil supplements under your doctor’s guidance as these could also lower your breast cancer risk.
Eat high-fiber foods like bran, brown rice, barley, quinoa and whole wheat pasta. You should also include five portions of fruits and vegetables, preferably deep-coloured ones (beetroot, spinach, carrot, and berries) which have high micronutrient content, in your daily diet. Adult women need about 21 grams of fiber daily.
Many believe that soy, which contains plant estrogens, increases breast cancer risk. But there is little research to support this. Experts say high doses of soy supplements can stimulate the growth of estrogen-sensitive tumors but foods like tofu, soy nuts, and soy milk are safe to consume. They are a good source of protein and also offer relief from mild hot flashes.