The menopause is linked to so many uncomfortable symptoms and we know that diet can help to reduce them and ease the transition.
Today, I would like to shine the spotlight on protein
Are you getting enough? Or perhaps too much?
Find out how much you need and what the best sources are.
Firstly, what is protein?
Protein is found throughout our body. It is in muscle, skin, hair and practically every other body part or tissue.
It is made from over 20 building blocks called amino acids. We don’t store amino acids: Our bodies make them either from scratch or by modifying others.
Out of the twenty or so, nine amino acids are“essential”. This means that we cannot make them, and we must get them from food. Proteins that contain all nine amino acids are called complete. Meat is an example of a complete protein. In contrast, not all plant proteins are complete. Therefore, if you are vegetarian, it’s important to get a good variety of different proteins in your diet throughout the day.
The role of protein is wide ranging:
- It is the building block of our body – it makes new cells and repairs those that are damaged.
- Along with fat, vitamins and minerals, protein makes our hormones, stores them, transports them and detoxifies them.
- Protein has a role in repairing and strengthening our bones and muscles.
- It helps to boost our metabolism.
- Haemoglobin is made of protein and this carries oxygen in our blood.
- The plasma in our blood contains lipoproteins and these helps to eliminate the bad cholesterol from our bodies.
- Proteins make enzymes which digest, breakdown and absorb nutrients from the food we eat.
- Neurotransmitters which are used by our nervous system to transmit messages are made of protein.
- Protein can help to slow down the release of sugar into the blood. This reduces blood sugar highs and lows and an increase in insulin. This in turn helps us to feel fuller for longer and is an important component in the diet when trying to lose weight
But why is protein especially important for women transitioning through the menopause?
Firstly, we know that during the lead up to the menopause, our sex hormones start to fluctuate and eventually decline. We also know that these hormones are made from protein (and fat). Therefore, if our diet is lacking in protein, it will become even more difficult to make these hormones and keep them in balance. As if on cue – a raft of unwanted symptoms!
Here are some examples:
Melatonin is a hormone that helps us to sleep. It is also a very powerful antioxidant and research has shown that it has a role in preventing certain cancers, heart disease and diabetes.
Melatonin is made from the amino acid tryptophan which we get from meat. Our body converts it to serotonin (happy hormone) and then melatonin. So, without adequate sources of tryptophan, we may struggle with our mood and sleep.
Secondly, as we get older, we start to lose muscle mass and our bone strength weakens. Our risk of osteoporosis increases. This is due in part to declining oestrogen levels. A diet rich in good quality protein helps to combat these unwanted side effects. It will promote muscle repair and growth.
Good sources of protein include lean, good quality meats, plenty of fish and eggs.
If you are vegetarian or vegan include nuts, seeds, pulses and grains.
How much protein do I need?
Due to muscle loss that occurs during the menopause transition, make sure that you are getting the following amounts of protein in your diet daily:
1-1.2 grams per kg of body weight per day
So, if you weigh 60 kilos, you will need to eat 60- 72 grams per day.
To give you some examples.
A grilled chicken breast – 35 grams of protein
A 170 gram steak – 42 grams of protein
A hard-boiled egg – 6 grams of protein
A cup of milk – 8 grams of protein
½ cup of lentils – 7-10 grams of protein
1 ½ cups of tofu – 30 grams of protein
The best way to eat protein is to include it in every meal and spaced evenly throughout the day. So, don’t skip this important macronutrient at breakfast! Protein (and healthy fat) in your breakfast will keep your blood sugars balanced and keep you fuller for longer.
But do be careful that you don’t overdo the protein as any excess to your requirements will be stored as fat and not muscle.
What are the best protein sources for the menopause?
When it comes to choosing protein in your diet, do think about the source. If you typically choose animal protein, experiment with more plant-based products. These will bring all the additional benefits of fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and reduce your intake of saturated fats.
And remember that when you eat a food, it doesn’t just contain one macronutrient. So, for example:
A piece of steak is a great source of protein, but is also high in saturated fat.
A piece of salmon steak has a similar amount of protein but is very low in saturated fat. Win win!
And a cup of lentils is a good source of protein with the additional benefit of bringing lot of fibre into your diet.
If possible, try and choose organic animal produce, i.e., grass fed and organic meat, fish, dairy and eggs. These will be less inflammatory in the body and contain more nutrients.
Try and make sure that 1/4 of your plate is made up of protein to maximise hormone boosting nutrients. Other proportions should be as follows: 1/8 complex carbs, 1/8 healthy fat 1/ 2 veggies.
So, the bottom line is this:
If you eat a balanced diet, it is difficult to be deficient in protein. But do keep an eye on the protein sources you choose and the quantities as it is an important element in helping you to shape a menopausal friendly diet. And remember that it helps maintain muscle mass, aids bone health, keeps cravings at bay and has a fundamental role in the production and function of your hormones.
If you would like to learn more about a healthy diet during your menopause, download my free starter kit here: