Gentle Nutrition & Peri-Menopause Part 2
Balancing blood glucose levels and supporting gut health
Food and Eating for Self-Care
In part 1 we looked at a brief introduction to the physiology and symptoms of the peri-menopausal transition with lots of varied resource options. I know from working with clients experiencing their peri-menopausal transition that food, nutrition, eating and body image are high on their list of care-taking.
In my clinical practice I place focus on the various aspects that food and eating can offer us. Food is not simply nutrients on our plate. Food is deeply embedded in our social lives, a multitude of celebrations, playing an important and honoured place in diverse cultures, and can offer a wonderful opportunity for creativity. If available, when we can make food choices from a place of nourishment and care, we begin to soften some of the edges that diet-culture have conditioned many of us to believe- and move to a more harmonious relationship with food, eating and our body.
A Gentle Word on Dieting
Due to our body's adaptations during the peri-menopausal life phase, body weight, composition and shape may change. Studies show that body dissatisfaction is the number one reason folks ensue dieting behaviours. It is also evident that active pursuit of weight loss, particularly through calorie and food group restriction, has a 95% failure rate with further negative consequences to metabolic health, preoccupation with food and continued body dissatisfaction.
Yes, supporting adequate nutrition intake can help our physiology, however any recipe I offer considers the many aspects of food; choice alternatives, nutrition, accessibility, opportunity for creativity and the pleasures of eating.
Balancing Blood Sugar Levels
When we eat carbohydrates, they are digested into glucose* and absorbed into our blood stream through the digestive system. Some carbohydrates are absorbed very quickly such as table sugar, white flour foods, or carbohydrate foods without their fibre intact (eg: white rice, some commercial breakfast cereals, fruit juice). Ideally, we want our blood sugar levels to raise and fall slowly without large spikes and drops.
High fibre containing foods take longer to break down and hence slow the absorption of glucose into the blood stream. I go through this in lots more detail in nutrition consultations. In peri-menopause, due to the hormone fluctuations, our body's ability to manage blood glucose levels can change. It is therefore of value to find delicious and accessible ways to slow the release of glucose into the blood.
*often referred to as blood sugar
As part of your meal or snack, choose some fibre-containing foods such as oatcakes and humous with olives with your handful of crisps.
Adding a portion of protein can also help to slow the rate of blood glucose levels rising. A handful of nuts like walnuts or almonds with some chocolate can be a perfect combo to provide you with energy, convenience and joy!
Avoid leaving large gaps of time between meals or skipping meals
Aim to eat sweet foods after your main meal as opposed to on an empty stomach. This is not so much a rule as it is an option. As our digestive system is busy breaking down our larger meal, it slows any subsequent absorption of food down, delaying the release of further glucose into the blood stream.
If you enjoy and are able to go for a walk, using our muscles after we eat can support healthy blood glucose levels. Going for a gentle 15 minute walk after meals can also help with bloating, and may provide a nice opportunity to connect with a walking parter.
Supporting our Gut Health
Peri-menopausal hormone fluctuations and decline can contribute to gut symptoms. Upper gastric symptoms such as reflux and heartburn may be evident due to changes in upper gastric motility. It has been shown that the post-menopausal gut microbiome differs to the pre-menopausal microbiome. These gut microbial changes can contribute to a host of different symptoms. Folks often experience slower bowel habits* with constipation or may find their IBS symptoms are more easily triggered. Bloating may also affect body image which may cause certain food or meal restrictions that could further amplify symptoms.
*If you experience ongoing changes in your bowel habits, unexplained bloating, any blood or mucous in your stool, it is wise to get things checked out with your GP.
Aim to eat enough food during the day to support gut motility (the movement of food down the digestive tract). Our digestive tract is a muscle. When we don't use our muscles regularly they can weaken- our digestive system is no different.
Aim to chew your food well. This will help prepare the stomach for food arriving and ensue healthy levels of stomach acid ready to further breakdown the food we have chewed.
Drink water to hydrate outside of meal times
Herbal teas can ease digestive discomfort, such as fennel and peppermint.
Find delicious ways to add colour and variety to your meals and snacks for plenty of fibre and gut supportive polyphenols*:
*Polyphenols are plant compounds shown to be highly beneficial for healthy balance of friendly gut bacteria
Adding chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, mint or rosemary to roasted/boiled baby potatoes
Choosing red and yellow peppers to your fajitas
Try red cabbage, thinly sliced with apple, parsley, grated carrots and some mayonnaise
Add blueberries to Greek yogurt with hemp seeds and some honey
Slice banana to your peanut butter on toast and top with pumpkin seeds and chocolate chips
Combine an oven tray with roughly chopped red and white onions, carrots, sweet potato, drizzled with olive oil and fresh or dried herbs such as thyme. Roast in oven for 30-40minutes.
I hope this offers you some ideas on how to add different food to your dietary intake. That is what positive nutrition is about- what can we add, as opposed to what to avoid. And of course there are times when symptoms are more complex, that taking a closer look at specific dietary intake is warranted. If you feel you may need support, please consider getting in touch for a discovery call.
In part 3 we will explore ways we can help nourish our bones, mind our beautiful brains and support heart and cardiovascular health.