As middle-aged women, writing a blog about healthy ageing, we have to face up to the fact that the menopause looms large on the horizon. We’re almost a year into Kale & Cocoa and, so far, we’ve skirted round the ‘M’ word. But feeling pretty ignorant on the subject, and inspired by Christa D’Souza’s great article in The Times this week (find it here http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/magazine/article4418090.ece but it costs) I’ve decided it’s time to talk about menopause.
Annabel and I spend a lot of time researching the articles we write for this blog. There’s a lot of science out there about the contribution good nutrition makes to healthy ageing – much of it contradictory. We’re always fascinated by the latest research and that inspires many of our articles. So when I started researching this article, the latest medical news was my first port of call. But interestingly – surprisingly? unsurprisingly? There seems to be little reported research, currently, on the menopause and nutrition. There are lots of general guidelines about healthy eating for the menopause (including much on how to reduce the dreaded ‘menopot’ belly) and much research into hormone replacement – particularly ‘bioidenticals’, the newest form of HRT. Possible links between hormone replacement and cancer risk are getting particular attention, But what to eat? And why? I expected to find rafts of research into nutrition and the menopause, but in fact there is very little recent information. No new academic studies into the impact of particular food stuffs on menopause symptoms, no peer-reviewed trials or research papers in obscure journals. The message from the world of academia seems to be ‘off you go ladies, you already know this stuff’. So, over the next year, we’ll be keeping tabs on what new research is coming through and see just how much research actually is going on in this area.
There is a lot of general advice to be found on the menopause and nutrition however, and several good books. One of the few studies published in the Lancet on this topic revealed that keeping Vitamin E levels topped up helps reduce the risk of heart attack among women with arteriosclerosis (fatty deposits in the arteries). And the vitamin has been shown in many studies to help reduce hot flushes. Our post on Vitamin E is here. Vitamin D (our posts here and here) is vital to help the body absorb the calcium needed to prevent post-menopausal osteoporosis and vitamin C helps stop the skin drying out. Phytoestrogens found in soya products help the body deal with its own dwindling oestrogen supply. I’m not a big fan of highly processed soya products like soya milk and meat replacements, but I do like tempeh (will be posting on that soon) and edamame (our speedy edamame salad recipe here) For a complete run down on good nutrition for the menopause, and other good advice, check out this article. http://www.womens-health-concern.org/help-and-advice/factsheets/focus-series/diet-nutrition-menopause/ And do try the dhal recipe below – it’s packed with lentils for vitamin D, spinach for iron, onions and garlic for phosphorous (good for calcium absorption). A dollop of plain yoghurt increases the calcium content, and brown rice adds fibre and B vitamins. Turmeric and coconut oil are both brain-boosting and anti-inflammatory. The sweet potato is high in tryptophan and potassium which can aid sleep and elevate mood – something all mid-lifers, whether menopausal or not, could do with!
This recipe is a mash-up of the one I cooked as a student (and have lived on ever since) and Anna Jones’ dhal in the wonderful A Modern Way To Eat.
DHAL WITH ROASTED SWEET POTATO – serves 4
For the dhal:
- 200g mung dal or red lentils (I have access to lots of Asian supermarkets so can track down mung dal quite easily, but red lentils are great too)
- 1 onion chopped
- 1 onion halved and finely sliced into semi circles
- 3 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp ginger pulp
- 1 tbs coconut oil
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 2 large handfuls of spinach
- Juice of a lemon
- Half a small bunch of coriander, chopped
For the sweet potato:
- 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
- 1 tbs coconut oil, melted
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- Cooked brown rice
- Plain yoghurt
- Half bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
- Mango chutney
Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
Rinse the lentils and put in a large saucepan with a litre of water, the chopped onion and one teaspoon of garam masala. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 30-40 mins, until soft but not mushy. Keep an eye in case it dries out and stir from time to time. You are after a consistency slightly thicker than soup.
Meanwhile, toss the sweet potato cubes in melted coconut oil, sprinkle over the seeds, and stir again. Roast in hot oven for 30-40mins until soft and browned on edges.
Fry the sliced onion in the other tablespoon of coconut oil, until golden and very soft. Stir in garlic and cook for another 3-4mins. Add 2 tsp garam masala, turmeric and ginger – cook for a minute more. Stir this mix into the lentils with the spinach and half the lemon juice. Season well, add more lemon juice to taste and the coriander. Serve, when the spinach has wilted, on a bed of brown rice. Top with the sweet potato cubes, the rest of the coriander, a dollop of yoghurt and mango chutney.