Menopause can seem challenging, and managing a menopause diet plan in addition to dealing with symptoms may sound overwhelming. However, investing time in finding the right diet for menopause can make this change easier.
The “best” diet for menopause is one that works for you, and helps you make this stage of life more manageable. Keep reading to discover the best diet for menopause, including foods for certain symptoms.
What Is a Menopause Diet Plan?
A woman’s body goes through some serious shifts before, during, and after menopause. Defined as the time 12 months after your last period, menopause occurs around age 50. However, women can experience a variety of symptoms between peri- and post-menopause (the times before and after menopause).
Some common symptoms of menopause include:
• Fatigue or low energy
• Hot flashes and/or night sweats
• Increase in blood pressure
• Increase in body temperature
• Increase in body weight
• Mood swings
Health risks—like heart disease and insulin resistance—also often increase during this time as well. Insulin resistance can affect metabolism during menopause, which often results in weight gain.
Changing hormone levels can also be a threat to bone health, increasing the risk of osteoporosis—a decrease in bone mass that can increase the risk of fractures and falls.
Fortunately, a diet full of healthy foods can make a difference. Providing the body with plenty of nutrient-rich foods ensures that your body is receiving the vitamins and minerals it needs during this unique phase of life. Appropriate menopause meal plans address these nutrient needs, in addition to involving foods that manage potential symptoms.
In other words, food can be a friend or foe during menopause. Of course, in addition to a healthy diet plan, you’ll want to start or continue other health habits. For example, participating in regular physical activity, getting enough sleep, and managing stress are also key components to staying healthy as an aging woman.
Menopause Diet: Foods to Add
Eating a healthy diet during menopause is crucial to managing common symptoms. Don’t know where to start? Focus on the following areas to enrich your diet.
Fruits & Vegetables
Many fruits and vegetables are considered nutrient-rich. They are also generally low in sodium and naturally low in cholesterol. Vegetables, in particular, contain many compounds that can help reduce the severity of hot flashes and contribute to better bone health.
Struggling with a sweet tooth? Fruits provide natural sugars and can help curb cravings, especially when eaten as part of a snack with protein—like nut butter or baked into homemade granola bars. A 100% fruit juice can also be an option and may contribute to hydration levels, too.
When eating grains, opt for whole grains more often than not. In fact, a popular practice for health is to make at least half of your grains eaten during the day whole.
Refined grains, like white bread or white rice, remove certain vitamins and minerals during the manufacturing process. Even when nutrients are added back in before packaging, these nutrients may not be in their most natural or most bioavailable form. Choosing whole grains increases the likelihood that you’re getting enough fiber, protein, and other nutrients to fuel your day.
If you’re interested in maintaining a healthy weight through menopause, eating healthy fats can help. Foods like avocados, olive oil, nuts, and seeds can help you feel full while also contributing important nutrients to your diet.
Focusing on healthy fats can help you to eat a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet. Fats often get a bad rap, but healthy fats can actually help to support a healthy metabolism.
Maintaining muscle mass may also help you better manage the changes your body is going through. Lean protein and lean meats can help build up body muscle without causing a drastic increase in body weight. Plus, protein is another nutrient that helps to keep you feeling full!
Seek out sources of lean protein such as:
• Nuts and seeds
• Lean cuts of meat (i.e ground beef)
• Legumes (i.e. beans, lentils)
• Poultry (i.e. skinless chicken or turkey)
• Seafood (i.e. salmon, tuna)
• Tofu and other soy products
Other Vitamins and Minerals of Concern
It’s also important to get enough vitamin D and calcium to support healthy bone metabolism, and to decrease the risk of osteoporosis. Bone loss tends to increase for the first two years after menopause, and your doctor or dietitian may recommend supplements or certain medications to counteract this.
Some calcium-rich foods include:
• Cow’s milk
Diet Plans to Consider
One diet plan, in particular, can help with healthy habits and has been researched in relation to menopause. The Mediterranean diet may be able to address the above-listed menopausal concerns, including bone, metabolic, and cardiovascular diseases. Plus, it’s been associated with lowering blood pressure, fat mass, and cholesterol levels.
This is due to the fact that the Mediterranean diet contains many antioxidant-rich foods, which can help to protect your body from stress at the cellular level. The diet plan focuses on fueling foods for menopause—including lean proteins, whole grains, and plant-based meals—and is considered a good go-to meal plan for menopause or while experiencing hormone changes.
Eating patterns like intuitive eating may also be helpful for helping you tune into your body’s hunger cues. During this time of life, it’s especially important to listen to your body and embrace the changes it's going through (rather than working against them).
Menopause Diet: Foods to Limit
What foods are worth avoiding? Some of the following foods may aggravate symptoms.
Processed and Ultra-Processed Foods
As mentioned above, foods that go through a “refining” process often lose nutrients. During this time of life, it’s worth your time to seek out sources of food rich in vitamins and minerals. Processed foods rarely check all the boxes when it comes to nutrition.
While it’s okay to enjoy these foods occasionally, you may want to limit your intake of the following foods during this phase of life:
• Baked goods such as biscuits, pastries, and pies
• Common sweets, including cakes and cookies
• Fried foods
• Processed meats like bacon, sausage, and salami
If you regularly enjoy these foods, you can try making them homemade! Doing so allows you to have control over the ingredients and can make some of your favorite foods healthier.
Especially if you’re worried about rising body weight (or working towards weight loss), avoiding unhealthy fats can help. On a food label, you’ll often see these types of fats listed as saturated or trans fats.
In particular, red meat may be worth limiting during this time period. It can be enjoyed in moderation, however, it often contributes undesirable levels of cholesterol and saturated fat to the diet.
Added Salts and Sugars
An excess of sugar can also contribute to an increase in weight. Sugar-sweetened beverages are a common culprit when it comes to weight gain. Consider replacing your soda habit with plain or sparkling water (the “gold standard”) of hydration, fruit-infused water, or 100% fruit juice.
Too much salt in the diet can cause an increase in blood pressure. Since menopause can already be linked with rising blood pressure, it may be helpful to avoid seasoning food with salt. Instead, use tasty herbs and spices (fresh or ground), such as cilantro, ginger, or turmeric.
While exploring different foods and spices, you may want to limit your intake of spicy foods. Since menopause can be a time riddled with hot flashes, spicy foods may make hot flashes worse. Additionally, spicy seasonings (like cayenne) or peppers (like jalapeños) can raise your blood pressure or cause heartburn, especially if you’re not used to eating these spicy foods regularly.
When shopping for items like salsa or sauces, seek out “mild” heat levels or lower. Think of spicy foods as a “trigger” food that can cause a cascade of symptoms. If you accidentally ingest spicy foods, be sure to drink lots of water or a glass of milk to help flush the food out of your body.
Other Foods, Beverages, and Substances to Limit
Depending on your tolerance level, it may also be prudent to limit dairy products. Remember that you’ll need to replace the nutrients lost by “cutting out” these foods. Luckily, many non-dairy beverages like soy milk or almond milk, are fortified with calcium or vitamin D.
Stopping smoking and drinking in moderation may also help you to manage symptoms. Caffeine can also interfere with sleep and has been known to make hot flashes worse. It may be wise to limit your intake, especially when dealing with night sweats or other symptoms that keep you awake at night.
The Bottom Line on the Best Diet for Menopause
Diet can make or break your menopause experience, especially when it comes to symptoms. Certain foods—like spicy foods—can make bad symptoms worse, while other foods—like calcium-rich vegetables—can take you from surviving to thriving.
When in doubt, work with your doctor, dietitian, and other members of your healthcare team to find out what foods and supplements would be well-suited to your situation.
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