On your journey through menopause, you may have noticed that a shift in hormones has you feeling uncomfortable. At this stage of life, some women start experiencing some bloating, gas, constipation, or irritable bowel symptoms or these symptoms begin to worsen.
You may wonder if you’re eating the right foods to support your body.
You are probably aware of the importance of adding protein to the plate for building bone, muscle, and other tissues. For women in the menopause years, getting enough daily protein helps prevent muscle loss and strength associated with the natural decline in estrogen levels. Protein also helps balance blood sugar and is beneficial in maintaining a healthy weight.
Like protein, fibre is an essential nutrient at every age. It is especially beneficial during the menopause transition years when we are at an increased risk for developing chronic disease and weight gain.
Fibre is a nutrient that is often forgotten when it should be our primary focus.
Even on a highly-processed diet of convenience foods, most people get an adequate amount of protein in their diet. Unfortunately, in today’s modern world, it’s easy to become fibre deficient.
Fibre is a non-digestible complex carbohydrate. It is found only in whole plant foods. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes such as beans, lentils, peas and soybeans are all fibre sources.
There are two basic categories of fibre: soluble and insoluble.
-absorbed in the body
-acts like a sponge soaking up water to form a gel in the gastrointestinal tract
-makes stool softer and easier to pass
-slows down the passage of food, creating a feeling of satiety
-not absorbed in the body
-acts like a scrub brush to help clear toxins from intestines
-produces bulk in stool
-helps maintain transit time through the gastrointestinal tract
It is worth noting that the terms “soluble” and “insoluble” refer to isolated types of fibre and not whole foods. Most whole plant foods contain a good mix of soluble and insoluble fibre.
Consuming a concentrated fibre, such as wheat bran, rather than relying on a variety of whole plant foods, may lead to issues down the road. As well, some fibre supplements contain only one type of fibre and your body needs both.
It may be necessary for some women to supplement their diet with a powdered form of fibre. There are many brands on the market. It is always best to consult a holistic nutritionist to help you choose the right supplement for you and your body.
“FIBRE IS THE FIRST, AND POTENTIALLY THE MOST POWERFUL SOLUTION TO RESTORING HEALTH TO YOUR GUT MICROBIOTA, AND FROM THERE YOUR OVERALL HEALTH” ~ Will Bulsiewicz, MD, MSCI.
The benefits of eating fibre extend beyond the creation of a perfect stool.
When the fibre we consume reaches our colon, it is fermented or broken down by our friendly gut bacteria. This process creates special by-products or healing compounds called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs come with a myriad of benefits, making them a vital nutrient for intestinal health.
Our friendly gut bacteria needs to be nourished with fibre-rich foods or “prebiotics” to unleash SCFAs. If our healthy bacteria are not nourished, then pathogenic bacteria can take over and multiply in the colon.
An imbalance in our gut bacteria in favour of the bad can lead to many health issues. This harmful bacteria produce toxins that damage our gut lining and leak into our bloodstream, causing inflammation wherever it goes.
Digestive issues like gas, bloating, IBS, IBD, SIBO and gluten intolerance are signs of a distressed gut with an imbalance in bacteria.
"YOU ARE ONLY AS HEALTHY AS YOUR GOOD GUT BACTERIA." ~ Robynn Chutkan, MD, FASGE
Short-chain fatty acids act as a protective barrier to keep our gut healthy. They encourage the growth of healthy bacteria and they will even help repair a damaged gut. For this to happen, we need to feed our beneficial bacteria with a good variety of plants - they thrive on it.
Gut health is important for women in midlife.
A gut that is balanced and full of healthy bacteria promotes overall wellness and a better perimenopause and postmenopause experience.
“DURING MENOPAUSE, POOR GUT HEALTH CAN CONTRIBUTE TO A FURTHER LOSS OF OESTROGEN AND MAKE MENOPAUSE SYMPTOMS SUCH AS DISRUPTED SLEEP AND HOT FLUSHES WORSE AND MORE FREQUENT." ~Nicola Gates, Clinical Neuropsychologist, PhD.
Gut bacteria secrete an enzyme that activates estrogen so it can do what it’s supposed to do throughout the body. When our microbiota is healthy and the gut is working just right, estrogen levels are balanced. If not, too little or too much enzyme is secreted and the result is estrogen dominance or estrogen deficiency. An imbalance in estrogen levels leads to uncomfortable menopausal issues and increases the risk of certain diseases.
A HIGH-FIBRE DIET HAS MANY BENEFITS
A high-fibre diet supports gastrointestinal health, cardiovascular health, blood sugar management and weight management.
- prevents estrogen dominance by removing excess estrogen from the body
- removes fat from the colon wall and unwanted metals and toxins from the body
- relieves diarrhea by absorbing water and making stools bulkier
- relieves constipation, reducing the risk of polyps and colon cancer
- protects against diverticulosis, hemorrhoids, and inflammatory bowel diseases
-curbs symptoms of IBS
-stabilizes blood sugar allowing the body to release it into the bloodstream more gradually
-helps to make you feel fuller for longer and suppresses appetite by reducing the hormone ghrelin (the hormone that makes us feel hungry)
-keeps cholesterol and triglyceride levels in check and helps to lower blood pressure
Consuming a high-fibre diet can help reduce our risk of developing chronic diseases associated with ageing like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and certain cancers.
HOW MUCH FIBRE DO WE NEED?
Many experts in the field of menopause recommend eating 30 grams of fibre daily or more. In her book “The Hormone Cure,” Sara Gottfried, MD, writes that “regardless of age, I recommend that you consume 35 to 45 grams of fiber per day as part of a healthy food plan.”
Prioritizing plants on your plate leads to better health and the best version of you. Plants are the only source of fibre and they come loaded with vitamins, minerals, healthy fat and even protein.
Need help adding more fibre to your diet?
Check out my READY-MADE MEAL PLANS to help you amp up your fibre.
Each plan includes recipes with photos, a shopping list and a prep guide to help get you started. I offer customized meal plans as well.
TO LEARN MORE
Will Bulsiewicz, MD, MSCI. Fiber-Fueled
Robynne Chutkan, MD, FASGE. The Microbiome Solution
Michael Greger, MD, FACLM. How Not to Diet
Sara Gottfried, MD. The Hormone Cure
Christiane Northrup, MD. The Wisdom of Menopause
Phyllis A. Balch, CNC. Prescription for Dietary Wellness
Nicola Gates, MD. The Feel Good Guide to Menopause
Brenda Davis, RD and Vesanto Melina, MS, RD. Becoming Vegan