Carbohydrates and Menopause: What You Need to Know
Menopausal women need to eat carbohydrates. No matter which TikTok influencer tells you otherwise, carbohydrates, the primary fuel source for exercise and the preferred fuel source for our brains, are necessary for women of all ages. It is true that menopausal women need to be more aware of their carbohydrate intake quality and quantity (more on this later). But that doesn't mean they should stop eating carbs! In addition to being a fuel source for your muscles and brain, carbohydrates are good for your mood and mental health. Restricting carbohydrates, on the other hand, increases fatigue, provokes cravings that lead you to overeat less healthy foods, contributes to iron deficiency, reduces bone health, and increases inflammation - all things that menopausal women are already dealing with due to decreasing estrogen. Limiting carbohydrate consumption also reduces levels of kisspeptin, which increases appetite and decreases insulin sensitivity and also already is reduced in menopausal women.
Glucose is central to all metabolism. Every human cell type uses glucose as a source of energy and as a source of carbon for the synthesis of other compounds. During digestion, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose that is transported across the intestinal wall into the circulatory system to so that it can be transported throughout the body. Insulin, a hormone released in response to carbohydrate ingestion, promotes glucose uptake into cells and utilization as fuel, as well as glucose storage as fat and glycogen. When glucose levels are low, the liver breaks down stored glycogen into glucose for your body to use as energy. This system keeps your glucose level within a tight range. Menopausal women are more carbohydrate sensitive and insulin resistant which means glucose is not utilized by cells as efficiently and insulin has less effect on cells so circulating glucose may be higher, which can lead to diabetes). As a result, menopausal women need to be more aware of their carbohydrate intake quality and quantity than reproductive age women.
According to Dr. Stacy Sims, author of Next Level, women need 2-3.5 grams (higher end for active women) of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day. But all carbohydrates are not created equally. The healthiest carbohydrates come from unprocessed or minimally processed plant-based foods and are high in fiber (also a carbohydrate).
Aim to get most of your carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables. Five servings per day would be ideal. They can be added into your normal meals (for example, red peppers to your scrambled eggs, spinach to your spaghetti sauce, blueberries to your oatmeal).
Try to eat one serving of whole grain in every meal. Whole grains are rich in fiber and include barley, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, rye, rice, farro, wheat, and millet. Some options you might consider are starting the day with oatmeal, snacking on whole wheat crackers, and replacing white rice with quinoa.
Choose whole foods instead of juices (eat an orange instead of having orange juice) to increase your fiber consumption.
Starchy foods like tubers (sweet potatoes), beans, and other legumes are filling and nutritious complex carbohydrate options.
Time your intake of carbohydrates to correspond to your exercise schedule - have some carbs before, during, and after your workout - to maximize their benefit.
Eat carbohydrate foods along with protein and fat to reduce your glycemic response - that is, the rise in glucose and insulin after eating carbs.
Limit your simple carbohydrate (candy, cake, white rice & pasta) to times when you need a quick boost of energy and/or a treat.
Having a well-balanced diet is crucial during menopause when your body needs extra care. Women should aim for a diet that includes lean proteins, whole grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Although menopausal women don't manage glucose metabolism as well as reproductive age women, carbohydrates remain the primary energy source for all cells so eliminating or restricting them leads to fatigue, brain fog, nutrient deficiencies, and inflammation. Menopausal women should focus on eating whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables, high fiber foods, and limiting simple sugars found in sweets and white rice and pasta, timing carbohydrate consumption with exercise, and combining intake of carbohydrates with some fat and protein (for example, an apple with peanut butter for a snack, a piece of cheese with whole wheat crackers, or yogurt with berries and nuts.)
Make sure you visit your doctor regularly to ensure that your glucose levels are staying within the acceptable range.
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