You might be surprised to hear that women outside of western countries experience less symptoms of menopause. It’s true! In places like Japan menopause is not treated as the end of the young and fertile years but rather as a gentle transformation towards maturity and with it comes an increase in respect and honor. Simply by having this stress-free attitude, women coast through perimenopause and menopause cool as cucumbers.
But we don’t live there…we are over here in Canada and the United States just trying not to melt with another “tropical moment”.
Yes, for most of us, menopause is not only the end of menstruation but also the beginning of a whole host of uncomfortable and irritating symptoms. It is a hormonal roller coaster ride! But with a little understanding of which hormones are rolling (twisting, turning, loop-de-looping), symptoms can be controlled and minimized - without turning to HRT (hormone replacement therapy)!
Hormones In Flux
There are several obvious hormones at play in the menopausal years, known as the primary sex hormones: estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. They all play a part in regulating the menstrual cycle, plus a whole lot more. There are also several other lesser known hormones that interact with the primary sex hormones during menopause and increase the all too familiar symptoms like hot flashes, weight gain and brain fog. These are cortisol, leptin and growth hormone.
During the childbearing years, estrogen rises in the first half of the menstrual cycle and peaks at ovulation. When perimenopause hits estrogen levels naturally decrease as the body no longer requires estrogen in the same amount. This is not to say estrogen is not needed! Estrogen is needed to keep the skin smooth and moist, and the body’s internal thermostat operating properly. It is also needed for proper bone formation. So, declining estrogen is a contributing factor to changes in skin (inside and out), hot flashes, and osteoporosis. A lesser known fact is that decreased estrogen is a contributing factor to abdominal fat, which tends to increase in our 40s and 50s.
During the second half of the menstrual cycle, progesterone rises as the body prepares a comfortable place for the baby to grow and peaks with ovulation. It continues to rise if conception happens, but if normal menses happens, progesterone levels come down. I was curious to know if progesterone is needed once menstruation ceases. Turns out progesterone levels, though low post menopause, have a calming effect on the brain and helps with mood swings and anxiety.
In women, testosterone is responsible for maintaining a healthy libido. It is also linked to energy and vitality. During fertile years, testosterone levels increase dramatically during ovulation and again right before we get our periods. Without the usual monthly rhythm, testosterone levels fall and your sex life might suffer as a result.
Estrogen naturally regulates cortisol; the stress hormone, so when estrogen begins to drop during the menopausal years, the adrenal glands can’t keep up and cortisol levels are no longer regulated. Moodiness, irritability and anxiety may result when the adrenal glands have been coping with long-term stress; this causes cortisol to decrease and epinephrine (a.k.a. adrenaline) to increase. If your adrenals are functioning optimally symptoms of menopause will be greatly reduced if not non-existent. The key is to support the adrenals first – that means REDUCE stress.
This hormone controls how much fat you are carrying as well as how much you desire to eat. It is closely linked to estrogen and it also decreases during menopause. Usually leptin has the ability to shut down your appetite and increase your calorie-burning ability. When levels decrease so does your ability to feel satiated and weight gain may follow.
While sleeping, a hormone know as growth hormone (GH), is busy at work helping form healthy bones, skin and hair, it is also regulating the body’s proportions of fat and lean muscle mass. When menopause related insomnia hits, GH can be compromised. This leads to menopause symptoms of abdominal fat, vaginal dryness and thinning hair. Aiming to be asleep by 10pm will ensure that GH has a chance to be activated.
7 Hormone Balancing Foods
1. Flaxseeds. Flaxseeds contain a compound called phytoestrogens, a dietary estrogen that mimics estrogen by binding to the same sites. This is important when naturally occurring estrogens start to drop in menopause. Flaxseeds must be ground to have an optimal effect, as the body is not actually able to break down the hard seed shell, and it needs to be refrigerated to protect the fragile oils. TIP: Try sprinkling ground flaxseed on top of cereal in the morning.
2. Coconut Oil. You might be wondering why an oil would make the list of hormone balancing foods. It is actually a healthy type of saturated fat that boosts hormone production. Every cell of steroid hormones, like estrogen and progesterone, use fat as a component in its membrane – meaning that fat is essential to healthy hormones. TIP: Look for a label that has “organic” and “unrefined” listed. I like Spectrum Naturals brand Virgin Coconut Oil.
3. Broccoli. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, like cauliflower and cabbage, contain glucosinolates that modulate estrogens by reducing testosterone. This modulation has been shown to have anti-cancer effects, especially breast cancer. TIP: Sometimes raw cruciferous vegetables can be hard to digest and can interfere with thyroid function. To avoid this problem just steam your broccoli for about 5 minutes, or until still bright green.
4. Swiss Chard. Swiss chard falls into the “leafy green” category, which means it is high in both calcium and magnesium. Magnesium promotes better sleep, which is beneficial for growth hormones to function properly. Restful sleep is also wonderful for providing energy to drained adrenal glands. TIP: Add finely chopped Swiss chard to an oiled pan with garlic before pouring in some scrambled egg for an easy dinner omelette.
5. Salmon. The omega 3 oils in cold-water fish have so much going for them! They are key to brain function, which helps with memory loss and fuzzy thinking. They also contain vitamin D – which boosts happiness. Lastly they contain CoQ10, an enzyme whose synthesis declines with age. CoQ10 supports detoxification, eases depression and fatigue and supports adrenal glands. TIP: See www.seachoice.org for your best bet when it comes to fish.
6. A Variety Of Seeds (Sesame, Sunflower & Pumpkin). The reason I say you should have a variety of seeds is because they are all slightly different yet have similar characteristics. Sunflower seeds are high in vitamin E – which can reduce hot flashes. Sesame seeds are high in CoQ10. Pumpkin seeds are high in zinc, a mineral and antioxidant that is key to maintaining moist skin. They are all high in fiber, which is key to getting old estrogen out of the body so that there is a better balance of hormones. TIP: Try to incorporate seeds everyday by sprinkling them on your salad or snacking on them throughout the day.
7. Maca. I saved the best for last: Maca! This little known Peruvian root powder has the ability to adapt to the body’s needs for different hormones. This means that if you are low in estrogen, Maca will jumpstart estrogen production or if your libido is lacking, you will see an increase in testosterone production. With continued use (1-3 teaspoons daily), for up to 3 months in a row, Maca will improve symptoms of menopause: hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia, fatigue, breast tenderness, brain fog and low sex drive. Sounds too good to be true? Try it out for yourself to see if it works for you. TIP: It is available at most health food stores; the “Nativas Naturals” brand is my favorite.
In good health,
Cheryl Wahl, RHN, CPCC, Personal Trainer
5 Flat Belly Foods
Are you at your thinnest when you wake up in the morning and your roundest at night? You might just be bloated! For years I thought that was just the natural rhythm of life. My theory was that when you wake up, your stomach has emptied out overnight and is therefore flat, and then over the course of the day you are filling up your belly and the subsequent result is a rounded abdomen, coupled with some potential pain and gas.
The truth of the matter is that it isn’t necessarily the fact that you are ingesting copious amounts of food throughout the day, it is more about the type of food and how it is ingested that matters. This simple guide of 5 Flat Belly Foods can help you reduce swelling, inflammation and the need to undo that top button on your pants!
Right away we have to figure out some of the reasons why bloating occurs in our bodies. The first thing that comes to mind is air – not necessarily flatulence – gas is generally the end product. Air can be incorporated in many ways. Fizzy drinks, chewing gum and gulping down food are all culprits in increasing digestive pressure.
The next big problem is slow digestion. Food that sticks around longer than 24 hours in the digestive tract will definitely cause bloating, discomfort and possibly constipation. It can be caused by large meals, not enough fiber or foods that are high in fat and animal protein.
Lastly, comes food intolerances. Our body, especially as it ages, makes less enzymes, bile and stomach acid – this makes it harder to digest certain foods causing our system to become intolerant to them, making it harder to digest and increasing the bloat.
Did you know that there are foods that cause systemic inflammation by damaging the lining of our intestines? This creates problems for the delicate ecosystem that resides there – causing an imbalance of “good” to “bad” bacteria. It is the wastes from the “bad” bacteria that causes bloating from inflammation.
Tips For Improving Digestion And Avoiding The Bloat:
1. Avoid drinking large amounts of ice cold water with meals. Too much water will dilute your stomach acid and reduce the effectiveness of enzymes as well as decrease the output of bile, as a result, your digestion will suffer.
2. Go for a walk after big meals. This will help get things moving both on a physical level and on a digestive level.
3. Eat smaller meals more often. This will help control blood sugar and manage your hunger, causing less cravings for “inflammatory foods” like fries and burgers.
4. Take your time to thoroughly chew. Chewing is an essential step in breaking down food, activating enzymes and reducing the burden on the stomach and intestines. Large particles of food that make it to the gut feed the “bad” bacteria!
Top 5 Foods To Avoid For A Flat Belly:
1. Fried foods. Because fats are harder to breakdown, they overwhelm the stomach and cause oxidative stress. Fried foods tend to linger in the digestive tract.
2. Eating fruit at the end of a meal. Fruits, especially melon, are difficult to digest when they are piled on top of a large meal. When they just sit there they begin to ferment and cause gas and bloating.
3. Dairy foods. Humans are the only mammals that consume milk after weaning – so it shouldn’t be a surprise that for most of us our ability to breakdown milk ended when we weaned. Lactose intolerance is a main culprit behind a muffin top. And studies have shown that milk consumption among men can increase their risk of prostate cancer.
4. Red meat. This super dense animal protein doesn’t need to be completely removed from the plate, the plate just needs to be reimagined. Meat should make up ¼ of the plate with vegetables and grains making up the other ¾.
5. Wheat. By now everyone has heard of a gluten free diet – one thing you might not know is that by cutting out wheat – especially white flour – you reduce inflammation.
Top 5 Foods To Consume For A Flat Belly:
1. Cod. A staple cold water fish from the North Atlantic, cod is bursting with omega 3 essential fatty acids. Omega 3 reduces inflammation in a complicated sequence of events brought on by a group of hormone-like compounds called prostaglandins. They also promote a healthy balance of intestinal bacteria. TIP: Small cold water fish can be eaten up to 5 times a week.
2. Pineapple. The wonderful thing about pineapple is that it actually boosts the amount of enzymes that are available to aid in breaking down protein. Bromelain, the enzyme that is most dense in the pineapple core, can help reduce indigestion, cutting down on gas and bloating. TIP: Because the core of the pineapple is too tough to chew, it can be chopped up and blended into smoothies.
3. Chia. Chia is very high in fiber and omega 3 making it awesome for digestion. This little wonder seed actually balances blood sugar – this means that you will feel fuller longer and end up eating less on a daily basis. Balanced blood sugar is excellent for fighting insulin resistance, which has been linked to an increase in abdominal fat. TIP: Chia needs to be hydrated before you eat them or they will remove water from the digestive tract actually slowing digestion, alternatively, make sure to keep up with your daily intake of water.
4. Quinoa. Even though quinoa is versatile enough to act as a grain it is actually a seed – this means that it is gluten free, reducing the risk of irritating the intestines. The high amount of fiber in the quinoa seed is also very useful to regulate bowel movements. A quick transit time reduces bloating and keeps the belly nice and flat. TIP: To make fluffy quinoa: for every 1 cup of the seed use 1 ¾ cups of water and cook on stovetop like rice.
5. Spinach. High in antioxidants, fiber and anti-inflammatory carotenoids, vitamin E and K. Spinach falls into the category with other dark leafy greens like kale and chard, but is a lot easier on the digestive process. TIP: Spinach is especially easy to digest when it is lightly sautéed in olive oil. Squeeze some lemon on top to help with nutrient absorption.
By consuming foods that are anti-inflammatory, enzyme rich, high in fiber and omega 3 you will:
In good health,
Cheryl Wahl, RHN, CPCC, Personal Trainer
The Best Potluck Meals
Summer sun, a picnic table, friends and food...that is what comes to mind when I think of potlucks. The other thing that comes to mind is the dreaded, “WHAT AM I GOING TO BRING!?!” Don’t panic – here is your guide to stress free, delicious potluck favorites, with a healthful twist.
Usually at an outdoor potluck, either the host will provide the mains – burgers, wings, shish kabobs - or if it is at a park you are looking at BYOB – bring your own BBQ items. So what is left? SALADS, SALADS, SALADS!
Old Fashioned Potato Salad
Put away the mayonnaise and the hard-boiled eggs! A potato salad recipe can be edited to omit these high-fat add-ons. If you are used to the zing that mayo can impart, try to boil your potatoes with about a tablespoon of pickle juice in the water. If you are wanting the creaminess of mayo you can use plain organic yogurt in its place. Be sure to add lots of fresh herbs like dill and basil for a flavor burst.
Sweet Potato Salad
Although still considered a potato salad, this one is bursting with anti-oxidants and vitamins. Sweet potatoes are highest in beta-carotene which gets converted into vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A promotes glowing summer skin while at the same time reducing the harsh effects of the sun. To make this potato salad, steam two large sweet potatoes for about 7 minutes until still firm but cooked through. Cut into cubes and toss with raisins, pecans and a vinaigrette made from maple syrup, apple cider vinegar and a little bit of olive oil.
Rice Noodle & Roasted Veggie Pasta Salad
This one is really simple – only three steps.
1. Cook 2 cups of rice fusilli according to the package instructions. When done cooking rinse thoroughly with cold water and set aside.
2. In a medium roasting pan toss together with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and ¼ teaspoon of sea salt: 8 whole garlic cloves, 2 carrots (peeled and thinly sliced), 1 red pepper (coarsely chopped) and a zucchini (cut into ½-inch rounds). Roast in the oven at 350 degrees F, tossing every 15 minutes for 30-45 minutes or until soft.
3. Combine pasta, veggies, 2 more tablespoons of olive oil and the juice from ½ a lemon. Season with more sea salt and chili flakes. Garnish with some olives.
Rainbow Quinoa Salad
By now everyone has heard of this healthy ancient grain – but in reality it isn’t a grain at all – it is a seed. It is gluten-free, fat-free and has a nice nutty flavor. Did you also know that it is very high in protein? This little wonder is also great as a salad base too! Cooked quinoa is especially nice with grated fresh beet, fresh lemon and dill. For a more robust flavor add some crumbled goat or feta cheese and arugula.
Make it a greek salad by mixing in cucumber, tomatoes, peppers and feta. Drizzle on some olive oil, lemon juice and oregano.
Kale Caesar Salad
This is a yummy adaptation to the traditional Caesar salad, but can be served on a hot day without spoiling because it doesn’t have raw eggs or wilty lettuce. Instead it is packed full of heart-boosting kale topped with a snappy dressing. For the dressing you will need:
· ¼ cup tahini
· ¼ cup water
· 1 small garlic clove, chopped finely
· Juice of ½ a lemon
· 2 tbsp of parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast
· 1 tsp of mustard seeds
· Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
Combine the dressing in a food processor until smooth. Top torn kale leaves with dressing, red onion, tomato and sunflower seeds.
Fire Pit Corn
For the simplest solution to a last minute potluck invite, a sure hit is corn on the cob! Select corncobs with a fresh green husk. Soak the cobs in salted water for about an hour. Place on hot coals in the fire pit for 15-30 minutes, turning them occasionally to ensure thorough cooking. Allow to cool for a couple minutes, as they will be extremely hot and steamy. Have a nice log of grass fed butter to roll them around in and a sprinkling of sea salt to finish them off. Add a squeeze of lime for a refreshing twist.
With these quick recipes under your belt you are sure to wow your friends when you tell them how easy and healthy they are.
Cheryl Wahl, RHN, CPCC, Personal Trainer
Birthday Food Swaps
What is a birthday party without the snack buffet and epic birthday cake? A salad bar perhaps, or maybe something equally delicious. I am saying that it is okay to replace the high-fat and sugar-laden treats at a birthday party, just don’t tell anyone. Well at least until after they gobble them up. It is key to create a buffet that is colorful and appealing to kids and adults, having fruits, veggies and flowers...eating begins with the eyes. Let’s compare some traditional birthday treats with a more healthful option.
1. Ripple chips with French onion dip vs. flavored kale chips: Regular salted chips have 10 g of fat, 180 mg of sodium, while kale chips have 3.5 g of fat, 35 mg of sodium, 70% of daily vitamin A content and 60 calories per serving (approx 1 oz.). It is important to check the label on the kale chips, as they are not all created equal. If you feel adventurous, check out this website for some home made varieties.
2. Cheese platter with crackers vs. roasted veggies and chevre, with gluten free crackers: What's easier than platters with tidbits of cheese and meats. 1 oz of regular cheddar has 10 g of fat, 179 mg of sodium and 119 calories. The same amount of brie has 9 g of fat, 170 mg of sodium and 110 calories. I am suggesting chèvre (goat cheese) instead with some nice roasted veggies like asparagus and red peppers on rice crackers. Local chevre has 5 g of fat, 10 mg of sodium and approximately 80 calories.
3. Potato salad vs. sweet potato and broccoli salad: I am going to assume that both these salads are made at home. Even with fresh ingredients there is a big difference. The creamy potato salad has 20 g of fat, 1300 mg of sodium for a total of 358 calories. I did find it interesting that it would have 42% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C though. For the sweet potato and broccoli salad there are 4.5 g of fat, 350 mg of sodium and about 30 calories. And 110% of daily vitamin C PLUS 475% of daily vitamin A!
4. Chocolate layer cake with chocolate ganache vs. individual mini cheesecake cupcakes: You can’t have a proper birthday party without a cake. I thought about recommending artfully cut watermelon in the shape of a cake – but that is not very realistic. For a regular 1 inch piece of chocolate cake there is 23 g of fat, 50 mg of sodium and 280 calories. In the mini cupcake there is 7 grams of fat, 24 mg of sodium and only 120 calories (and they are gluten free to boot!). Lots of easy recipes are available on the Internet or head over to my recipe page for a great Easy Cherry Mini Cheesecakes.
With a little extra planning, and to the delight of your guests, you can have all the flavors of a traditional birthday with half the fat, salt and calories.
Cheryl Wahl, RHN, CPCC, Personal Trainer
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