Should You Be Eating Phytoestrogen Foods During Menopause?
Most women are not super excited to reach their menopausal phase.
And why is that?
Well, we are all quite familiar with how many uncomfortable and frustrating symptoms come along with this phase of life:
- Hot flashes
- Poor sleep
- Lowered libido
- Vaginal dryness
- Mood swings
- Anxiety and depression
- Weight gain
- Drier skin
- And more
None of these things are anything to look forward to.
So most women end up dreading those few years that come to every female somewhere around her 40s and 50s.
But the good news is there are many different options you have for dealing with these symptoms so they do not wreck your life. In fact, menopause can end up being something you don’t need to dread.
This includes starting a regular, exercise regimen; taking all natural supplements like vitex, black cohosh, and St. John’s wort; seeking talk therapy; and even leaving wet washcloths in a lunch box near your bed for those night sweats.
Another option that is widely discussed is eating phytoestrogen foods. And that’s exactly what I’m here to talk about with you today.
What are phytoestrogens? Are they safe? Should you be eating them too? We’re going to go through each of those questions so you can decide if this is a choice you want to make for your menopause symptoms.
What Are Phytoestrogen Foods?
Understanding phytoestrogens is all about understanding estrogen.
Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone and it plays a role in all of the major reproductive times in a woman’s life: puberty, menstrual cycles, fertility, pregnancy, and menopause.
Phytoestrogens, which can also be called dietary estrogens because they are mostly foods and herbs, are plant compounds that have some similarities to estrogen.
So when they are taken (normally, eaten), they actually act as if they were more estrogen in your body. Of course, phytoestrogens aren’t truly estrogen, they just act like it. And it is a weaker estrogen effect than your actual estrogen.
This can be a good thing. And it can be a bad thing. Here’s why…
Phytoestrogen and a Woman’s Hormones
During many times of a woman’s life, phytoestrogen foods are highly discouraged.
Since your body is producing enough estrogen (and even sometimes already too much estrogen) during your younger years, adding this extra dietary estrogen can be a real problem
In fact, too much estrogen can actually cause things like polycystic ovary syndrome and infertility.
But then during menopause, a woman’s estrogen plummets (along with other hormones like progesterone). All those uncomfortable menopause symptoms come from the lowering of your sex hormones.
So the idea is that eating these phytoestrogens can be a good alternative to taking hormone replacement (HRT). Since HRT has been shown to possibly lead to heart disease and stroke, many women want to look for more natural options
But Do Phytoestrogens Actually Help Menopausal Women?
In theory it all makes sense, right?
Lack of estrogen gives you uncomfortable menopause symptoms, so taking phytoestrogens can help you feel better.
And science supports that in many ways.
In 2015, researchers looked at over 540 studies relevant to the connection between phytoestrogens and menopause. The scientific analysis concluded: “Phytoestrogens appear to reduce the frequency of hot flushes in menopausal women, without serious side-effects.”
One study even showed that phytoestrogen along with vitamin D can really help prevent bone loss – a very common symptom of menopause.
Will phytoestrogens help every single menopause symptom? No. But it can help some.
The Phytoestrogen Controversy
Don’t think there aren’t any “cons” after our list of “pros.” There are.
Since phytoestrogen foods aren’t prescription medications, there is no way you can overdo it, right?
Well. Not so fast.
Some studies have shown that phytoestrogens can prevent cancers; others have shown it may actually “feed” breast, bladder, and endometrial cancers. It’s a very complicated science, and even sources like WebMD cannot give you a definitive answer.
That is why it is so very important to discuss this with your doctor.
As you will see, many of these foods are super healthy foods you are already eating. Your doctor will most likely encourage you to keep eating them or even eat more of them, but not to take concentrated soy isoflavone supplements.
Top Phytoestrogen Foods To Try
If you are interested in seeing how phytoestrogens can potentially help your menopausal symptoms, here are a large variety of foods rich in this dietary estrogen.
1. Soy Products
Without a doubt, soy is the go-to of phytoestrogen foods. These are the foods that young woman and all men should avoid or limit, but they have been shown to help menopause symptoms in older women.
Common soy products include:
- Soy milk
- Soy yogurt
- Soy protein powder
- Soy veggie burger
- Soy sauce
There are so many ways to start incorporating these foods into your regular diet. Soymilk can replace regular milk. You can add soy protein powder to your smoothies. You can use tofu in place of meat in your dinner recipes. And the list goes on and on…
Since soy is so often genetically modified, try to find a brand that is non-GMO.
You’ve probably already heard that flaxseed is a super food. They are filled with good omega-3 fats and plenty of antioxidants, but they are also extremely high in phytoestrogens.
My favorite way to get flaxseeds is in a morning smoothie bowl. I like to blend some frozen berries, ½ of a banana, a scoop of protein powder, and a handful of spinach with non-dairy milk (you could choose soy, if you want to boost your phytoestrogens).
Make the mixture a little thicker than you would a normal smoothie you would drink out of a cup. Then pour it into a bowl and top it with flaxseeds, coconut shavings, a few dark chocolate chips, and nuts.
3. Sesame Seeds
The nice thing about sesame seeds is that are not only high in phytoestrogens, but also in bone-building materials like calcium. This is so important for women in menopause.
Not sure exactly how to use sesame seeds in your weekly cooking? Here are a few options:
- Roast them and then sprinkle them on any homemade salad concoction
- Toss them into any veggie stir-fry
- Start using sesame oil
- Eat hummus – sesame seeds are normally one of the main ingredients!
- Find a sesame milk (like almond milk) at your local health food store or you can make it at home. Here’s how to make a banana sesame milk for breakfast:
Mung bean sprouts, soybean sprouts, and alfalfa sprouts are all high in phytoestrogens. Many people may have sprouts when they are ordering from a restaurant, but few actually use them in home cooking.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Add alfalfa sprouts to any sandwich instead of lettuce
- Add any sprouts to your tuna or chicken salad
- Add mung bean sprouts or soybean sprouts to an Asian stir-fry
- Try this unique, yet delicious recipe for garlic sprouts and a poached egg:
5. Beans and Lentils
The wonderful thing about beans and lentils ending up on our list is that you really should be eating them anyway. They are both wonderful sources of plant-based protein and fiber. They can help you stay fuller longer, which means they are great choices for helping to maintain a healthy weight.
And they have phytoestrogens.
Beans are in many different recipes you are probably already familiar with, but here are a few ways I like to include lentils into my week:
- Making a lentil soup is delicious and comforting
- Tossing lentils into a salad helps add an extra texture and makes the meal more filling
- Dal is a traditional Indian dish made with lentils; it is absolutely delicious as a main course or side dish. Chef Nigella Lawson shared her Masoor Dal recipe with the New York Times. It’s a fairly easy dish to get you into cooking Indian cuisine at home.
Nuts aren’t as high on the phytoestrogen list as many of these other foods, but it is still a valid choice. Especially when you consider how important than are for overall health and weight management.
Of course, you can just eat a handful of nuts as a snack. But you can also get creative. I put them on top of my oatmeal and put them in salads. I even use almond meal (finely ground almonds) as an alternative to flour for baking and even breading meat.
7. Red Clover
The last phytoestrogen on our list isn’t a “food” per se, but an herb. The flower of the red clover plant can be used for all sorts of medicinal purposes like indigestion, asthma, and lowering your cholesterol.
But it is perhaps most known for the way it can help female reproductive ailments like symptoms of PMS and symptoms of menopause. When it comes to menopause, the drink has the particular reputation of managing hot flashes… which should come as no surprise to us since we know phytoestrogens have that power.
One of the most popular ways to consume red clover is through tea. You can buy the tea already pre-packaged or you can brew your own. Here’s a video giving you instruction:
Talk To Your Doctor About Phytoestrogens and Menopause
At the end of the day, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about these dietary choices – especially since there is a bit of controversy of phytoestrogens.
If you just eat a well-rounded diet and get some of these foods in your meal planning cycle, you probably don’t need to consult your doctor first. But if you are planning on upping these foods, or really boosting your soy intake, that’s the time to get the big OK from your medical professional.
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