Menopause Mondays: Eat Your Way to Holiday Happiness

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With Thanksgiving under our belts (literally) and December holidays around the corner, you may be considering putting your meals on hold for a month to compensate. Don’t be silly! All you have to do to eat your way to holiday happiness is reach for the right things. Lauray MacElhern, Managing Director at the UC San Diego Center for Integrative Medicine, gave us an expert’s list of foods to avoid and foods to devour this holiday season.

Celebratory eating is one of life’s great pleasures. Fortunately, choosing the right kinds of foods to gorge on can keep your energy level high without the discomfort, regret, and ill health effects of a bulging waistline. Here are the top 3 foods to indulge in and top 3 foods to avoid. Let’s start with the bad news.

To Avoid (like your worst sumo):

#1 – Cheese. Oh, I know you love cheese. We all do—it’s practically a drug (google “casomorphins”). Loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol, there’s hardly a worse dietary choice than cheese. Pull it off the top of whatever it has its greasy hands on. Imagine the feeling of the grease on your skin—kind of gross, right? That’s what greasy stuff is like on the inside too. Try instead a delicious cashew cream recipe instead (blend 1 cup cashews with 2 cups water, add salt to taste, and experiment with spices such as garlic, oregano, smoked paprika, or cilantro)—it still has some fat, so enjoy in moderation…perhaps poured over your next holiday green beans before baking?

#2 – Meat is the other poor dietary choice for your health, your waistline, your bones, and your hormones. High in cholesterol, saturated fat and devoid of fiber, meat products also tend to cause the body to lose calcium, increasing bone loss and risk of fracture in postmenopausal women. Researchers believe that these characteristics in meat may explain why its consumption associated with obesity, hypertension, poor kidney function, and higher risks of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Start your New Year’s resolution early: Give a healthy vegetarian diet a chance during the holiday season and see if you reach your health goals before 2012. Believe me—a low-fat, plant-based diet is so much easier (and more fun!) than portion control.

#3 – Added fats. Oils, butter, and any fried foods. Women on higher-fat diets have measurably more estrogen circulating their bodies than do women who consume low-fat diets. At menopause, women who have been eating high-fat diets seem to have a more precipitous drop in estrogen levels than women who consume low-fat, high-fiber diets due to their lower levels of estrogen both before and after menopause. The resulting symptoms are much milder or even nonexistent for women following the low-fat, high-fiber dietary pattern. A key way to eliminate oil is removing it from cooking. Try out an oil-free sauté by using seasoned water, vegetable broth, or mirin instead of oil.

To Indulge (finally, the good part!):

#1 – Beans. Beans got a bad reputation as a musical fruit. The truth is, beans are high in fiber, and most of us just do not get enough of the stuff in our diets! Fiber helps us feel full, which naturally prevents over-eating, and cleans our insides. Anyone who regularly eats beans will tell you that beans are not the enemy of your social life. Start eating them regularly today, and every day, so that you can enjoy them with friends anytime. Beans are also high in calcium and protein, as well as numerous other phytonutrients that are certain to keep you feeling healthy and satisfied. Here’s a quick and easy recipe: Make a bean salad by tossing three types of beans with your favorite low-fat dressing, and some chopped veggies (carrots, green onion, bell pepper, and celery perhaps?).

#2 – Greens. Green leafy vegetables are loaded with calcium, in a more absorbable form than cow’s milk. There are so many varieties from which to choose: Bok choy, collard greens, swiss chard, kale (lacinato, red, green)… pick one or two that look interesting and give them a try. Try a greens sauté using mirin and salt instead of oil, with a dash of sesame seeds on top!

#3 – Whole foods. Take a look at your next meal and ask yourself—is this whole, or is it processed parts? If you can answer yes to the former, you’ll be in good shape for making the best possible dietary choices. Some examples to test yourself…which of the following is whole: white rice vs. brown rice? Orange juice vs. an orange? An olive vs. olive oil?

The essence of healthy eating is a whole-food, plant-based, low-fat, high-fiber diet. As we age, these dietary choices become even more important—for optimal functioning of the brain, immune and endocrine (hormone!) systems, as well as maintaining a healthy weight, which is a key ingredient for chronic disease prevention. A great source for more health-promoting holiday recipes is www.NutritionMD.org.

You heard it from the best—you can enjoy the holidays without having to worry about whether elastic waistbands are in style or not, even if you are in perimenopause and menopause! If you would like to hear more about nutrition and cooking, integrative medicine, or receive Lauray’s weekly email tips on self-care for healthy, conscious living, email her at LMacElhern@ucsd.edu. A huge thank you for such great tips to Lauray from our stomachs and our waistlines!

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After struggling with her own severe menopause symptoms and doing years of research, Ellen resolved to share what she learned from experts and her own trial and error. Her goal was to replace the confusion, embarrassment, and symptoms millions of women go through–before, during, and after menopause–with the medically sound solutions she discovered. Her passion to become a “sister” and confidant to all women fueled Ellen’s first book, Shmirshky: the pursuit of hormone happiness. As a result of the overwhelming response from her burgeoning audiences and followers’ requests for empowering information they could trust, Ellen’s weekly blog, Menopause MondaysTM, was born.

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