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Menopause Diet: Foods to Eat and Avoid to Feel Your Best

Written by Melissa Mitri, MS, RD

Reviewed by Anthony Dugarte, MD 

Last Updated on August 6, 2021

There are many ways to support your hormones by changing your diet during menopause. Our dietitian created a comprehensive guide to help you manage symptoms and encourage a smooth transition.

Menopause Diet: Foods to Eat and Avoid to Feel Your Best

Menopause is a natural transitional period in a woman’s life. It is a time that many women may be dreading due to fear of gaining weight or experiencing unpleasant symptoms. But it doesn’t have to be so difficult.

The definition of menopause is the time that marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle.

Menopause officially starts 12 months after a woman’s last period and continues through the perimenopause stage for several years after.

The average age for the onset of menopause is around 50 years old.

Hormone therapy may be the first thing that comes to mind in regards to easing uncomfortable symptoms and body changes. However, a healthy diet may also ease these symptoms.

Following a specific menopause diet can help you feel your best during these years of transition.

On a menopause diet, there are certain foods that help with menopause naturally and other foods that should be avoided. The goal is to reduce symptoms and help regulate hormone levels.

To understand how diet can play a role during menopause, it helps first to understand what is exactly happening in the body during this time.

What Exactly Happens During Menopause?

One of the biggest contributors to the start of menopause is declining estrogen levels. As women approach their 40’s and 50’s, estrogen levels gradually begin to decrease.

As estrogen levels decline, this can bring on many not-so-fun symptoms:

  • Irregular periods
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Hot flashes
  • Chills
  • Night sweats
  • Sleep problems
  • Mood changes or depression
  • Weight gain and slowed metabolism
  • Muscle loss
  • Increased risk for fractures

While these symptoms are surely uncomfortable, there are also potential increased health risks in post-menopause, the stage after menopause.

These risks include a heightened risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, and possibly diabetes if not controlled.

Every woman is different in their menopausal experience. Some women may experience several of these symptoms, while others may not have them at all.

If you experience any of these symptoms regularly, they can negatively impact your overall mood and quality of life.

While you should always speak to your doctor before making any changes, your diet is a great place to start improving your health and hormones. The Menopause Diet can offer a more natural approach to symptom management.

Best Foods for Menopause

Recent research demonstrates that certain dietary patterns can reduce menopausal symptoms.

The diet for menopause is an anti-inflammatory diet that not only emphasizes certain foods but also discourages others.

Fruits and Vegetables

Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is always a good idea during any stage of life.

In fact, the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines recommend filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables.

This is even more so during menopause, and there is research to back this up.

Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in calories but high in nutrients. With this, they can support a healthy weight and provide much-needed energy during a time of transition.

In 2012, a large study was conducted involving over 17,000 women. Those who ate more fruits, vegetables, and fiber experienced a 19% reduction in hot flashes compared to the control group.

Another more recent 2020 study found similar benefits, especially with leafy green vegetables such as kale and spinach, broccoli, and berries.

Both fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and antioxidants such as vitamin C and E.

A 2015 study showed that those with higher vitamin levels in their body had improved bone health as well as hot flashes.

Put It Into Action:

Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables and aim to get at least 5–9 servings per day to assure you’re getting in enough for the maximum benefit for the health of your hormones.

Whole Grains

Whole-grain foods are highly nutritious and provide essential nutrients for health, such as fiber and B-vitamins.

Since they are so nutrient-dense, they are also more filling than refined grains and can reduce the likelihood of overeating.

A large 2013 cohort study explored the relationship between the stage of menopause and the risk for type 2 diabetes.

Those who consumed more whole grains had a lower risk for diabetes. This result was even more profound in those who lost weight.

Another 2021 systematic review explored the relationship between whole grain consumption and menopause symptoms.

Those who consumed more fiber, including from whole grains, experienced fewer mood changes and less depression and sleep disturbances.

Put It Into Action:

Whole-grain foods include whole-wheat bread, quinoa, barley, brown rice, oats, and rye. Look for “whole grain” or “whole wheat” listed as the first ingredient on the nutrition label to ensure it’s a true whole grain product. Aim to make half your daily grains whole grains.

Healthy Fats

While fat is often seen as the bad guy, there are healthier types of fats that can nicely fit into a menopause diet.

The omega-3 fats, in particular, are on the list of foods to eat during menopause.

A small 2008 randomized controlled trial revealed those taking omega-3’s daily in the form of flaxseed had fewer hot flashes and a decreased severity of night sweats.

Put It Into Action:

The best omega-3 food sources include fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and anchovies, as well as seeds like flaxseed, chia seeds, and hemp seeds. Add 2–3 servings of foods high in omega-3s to your diet per week.

Dairy

One of the risks with declining estrogen levels through perimenopause is an increased risk of bone fractures.

Dairy products are the number one source of calcium and vitamin D, which can support bone health, according to a 2014 research review.

Furthermore, another 2017 study showed that women with the highest intakes of vitamin D and calcium had a 17% reduced risk of early menopause.

Early menopause has been associated with several potential increased health risks, and therefore delaying the age of onset may help reduce these risks.

Put It Into Action:

Good sources of dairy include low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt. Aim to eat 3 servings of low-fat dairy per day.

Lean Protein

Good quality protein sources help maintain and preserve muscle mass throughout the menopausal years.

As estrogen levels decline over time, this leads to a subsequent decline in muscle mass in women.

This decline in muscle mass is a primary reason why metabolism slows down, making it harder to lose weight during menopause.

If you’re not getting enough protein and are not doing strength training regularly, this can further reduce muscle mass.

Getting enough protein in the diet can improve metabolism and counteract some of these metabolic challenges.

Put It Into Action:

During menopause, the current guidelines are to get in at least 20–25 grams of high-quality protein per meal. Good protein sources include eggs, meat, fish, legumes, and dairy products.

Phytoestrogens

Phytoestrogens are compounds found in certain foods that mimic estrogen in our bodies.

They may benefit health during menopause, and therefore should be included on a menopause diet.

A 2015 meta-analysis including 15 randomized controlled trials found that phytoestrogens appear to reduce the frequency of hot flashes during menopause without serious side effects.

The thought is that phytoestrogens increase estrogen levels in the body. A 2009 research review on soy found that it may increase estradiol levels in postmenopausal women, which is the active form of estrogen.

Phytoestrogen-containing foods include soybeans, flax seeds, chickpeas, peanuts, berries, grapes, plums, green and black tea.

Additional soy-containing foods include miso, tempeh, tofu, edamame, soy milk, and soy yogurt.

While soy in moderation is likely safe, some are still concerned with soy’s potential relationship to breast cancer risk.

This is because phytoestrogens may be a risk factor for developing estrogen-positive breast cancer for those at risk. However, the research results on soy foods is mixed. Speak to your doctor about what is best for you.

Put It Into Action:

More research is still needed on the optimal amount, but most doctors recommend one serving per day or about 25 grams. This can come from 1 cup of soy milk, 1/2 cup of soybeans, or 1 tablespoon of flaxseeds.

Foods to Avoid During Menopause

Just like there are certain foods that are good for menopause, there are also foods you should avoid as much as possible.

Limiting these foods may help reduce menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and trouble sleeping.

Added Sugar and Refined Carbs

Too much sugar and processed carbs are not good for anyone, but even more so during menopause. This is because consuming too much can worsen your symptoms.

These types of foods tend to raise your blood sugar very quickly. Prolonged high blood sugar and insulin resistance has been associated with a higher frequency of hot flashes.

Put It Into Action:

Foods in this category include white bread, baked goods, crackers, and sweetened beverages. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting added sugars to 10% of your daily calories.

Alcohol

Menopause is a time of many transitions in a woman’s life, and with this comes new emotions, stresses, or more free time as a retiree or empty nester. This can lead to an increased desire to drink alcohol.

Studies in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women have seen an increased frequency of hot flashes with alcohol intake.

Put It Into Action:

Staying within the recommended guidelines of one alcoholic drink per day for women may help reduce your menopause symptoms. One standard drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.

Caffeine

Too much caffeine intake may increase hot flash frequency and severity.

In one 2010 study involving 196 menopausal women, those who consumed more caffeine experienced more severe hot flashes.

Another 2015 study found similar results, with increased frequency of hot flashes and night sweats with caffeine intake.

On the other hand, another 2011 cross-sectional study showed the opposite effect.

Even though the research is somewhat mixed, too much caffeine can negatively impact sleep.

This can be especially true at a time when night sweats and hormonal shifts are already keeping you up at night.

Put It Into Action:

It’s good practice to stay within the daily caffeine recommendation of 400 mg of caffeine per day or less.

High Salt Foods

Consuming too much sodium in your diet may also increase certain health risks associated with menopause.

This may be because too much sodium can decrease bone density. A large 2017 study in postmenopausal women found that higher sodium intake was associated with lower bone mass.

Decreased bone mass and density may increase the risk of fractures.

Another risk factor during menopause is high blood pressure. Declining estrogen levels increase the risk for high blood pressure, and excess salt intake can further increase this risk, according to a 2006 study.

Put It Into Action:

According to the most recent 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines, sticking to 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day or less is recommended. Most of our sodium intake comes from processed foods. Therefore eating more whole foods can significantly reduce the amount you take in.

Spicy Foods

While there is not as much research to prove a cause and effect, some women find that spicy foods trigger hot flashes.

For example, one 2013 study found an increased frequency of hot flashes reported in those eating more spicy foods.

Another 2014 study found that participants associated spicy foods with hot flashes as well as increased anxiety levels.

Put It Into Action:

Every woman is different, and it may not be necessary for all women to avoid spicy foods during menopause. Keeping track of your symptoms can help you determine what is best for you.

Menopause Diet Plan

Based on the best diet for menopause, we’ve provided a one-day sample meal plan to get you started. This particular plan is based on a 1,600-calorie diet.

Breakfast

Peanut Butter Smoothie:

  • 1 cup almond or soy milk
  • 1 scoop soy protein powder (chocolate or vanilla)
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 banana

Morning Snack

  • 1/2 cup whole-grain cereal
  • 3/4 cup low-fat milk or unsweetened soy milk

Lunch

  • Sandwich: 3 ounces sliced turkey breast on 2 slices whole-wheat bread. Add lettuce, tomato, onion, and 1 teaspoon mayonnaise (if desired)
  • 1 cup baby carrots

Afternoon Snack

  • 1/2 cup low-fat milk or unsweetened soy milk
  • Small apple or pear
  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts

Dinner

  • Stir-fry with tofu or chicken breast and lots of vegetables
  • 1/2 cup cooked brown rice

The Bottom Line

Menopause is associated with many changes for women. These changes are brought on by a gradual decrease in estrogen levels over time.

While some of these changes may seem inevitable, they can be delayed and improved with healthy diet habits.

Menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and mood changes can be alleviated by eating more whole, anti-inflammatory foods, and less processed foods.

In particular, a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, high-quality protein, and dairy products may reduce menopause symptoms.

Phytoestrogens and healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids from fish may also help.

Limiting added sugars, refined carbs, alcohol, caffeine, and high-sodium or spicy foods as well can reduce your symptoms further and enhance your quality of life during the perimenopause years.

Incorporating these simple tweaks into your diet may make this important transition in your life easier, so you can feel your absolute best.

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