Protein: Is it the magic macro?

Protein is one of the three macronutrients that make up the foundation of a balanced diet. While all are essential, it is more special during menopause.

Menopause is a natural biological process that all women go through as they age. It marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years and comes with a variety of physical and hormonal changes. Maintaining a healthy diet during menopause is crucial to managing these symptoms and supporting overall well-being.

In this post, let’s explore why protein is essential for women going through menopause, the specific benefits it offers, and how to incorporate it into your diet effectively. A study completed by researchers at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre found that minor adjustments to the balance of macronutrients in a woman’s daily diet during the transition to menopause could lessen or even prevent weight gain and lean tissue loss.

Understanding Menopause

The hormonal changes during menopause, primarily the decline in estrogen, can trigger a host of symptoms, including:

  1. Hot flashes and night sweats.
  2. Mood swings and irritability.
  3. Sleep disturbances.
  4. Vaginal dryness and discomfort.
  5. Bone loss and increased risk of osteoporosis.
  6. Weight gain and changes in body composition.

These symptoms can impact a woman’s quality of life. Fortunately, diet and lifestyle choices can play a pivotal role in managing these challenges.

The Importance of Protein in Menopause

Protein is one of the three macronutrients, along with carbohydrates and fats, that make up the foundation of a balanced diet. While all macronutrients are essential, protein takes on a special significance during menopause for several reasons:

  1. Muscle Mass Preservation: As women age, there’s a natural tendency to lose muscle mass and gain fat, a process known as sarcopenia. Protein intake is crucial for preserving and even building lean muscle. Muscle helps burn calories, making it essential for weight management, which can become challenging during menopause.
  2. Bone Health: Menopause is associated with a decline in bone density due to reduced estrogen levels. Protein is not only vital for muscle but also for bone health. Collagen, for example, found in bones, skin, and connective tissues, relies on dietary protein for maintenance and repair. Adequate intake can help support bone strength and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
  3. Metabolism and Weight Management: Hormonal changes during menopause can lead to weight gain, especially around the middle!! Protein has a high thermic effect in that it requires more energy to metabolize compared to carbohydrates and fats. This can boost metabolism and help with weight management. It also helps to partner this with strength training.
  4. Hormone Regulation: Proteins are essential for the synthesis of various hormones and enzymes in the body. Ensuring an adequate intake can support hormonal balance, potentially alleviating some menopausal symptoms such as mood swings and sleep disturbances.
  5. Appetite Control: Protein is known for its ability to promote feelings of fullness and satiety. Including protein-rich foods in your meals and snacks can help control appetite and reduce the tendency to overeat, which can be particularly beneficial during menopause when cravings and emotional eating may increase.

How Much Do Women in Menopause Need?

The recommended daily protein intake varies based on factors such as age, activity level, and overall health. However, for women in menopause, a general guideline is to aim for 1.2 to 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight (in pounds) per day. This range can provide the necessary protein to support muscle mass, bone health, and overall well-being during this life stage.

It’s important to note that individual needs may vary, so it’s always a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider or registered dietitian for personalized recommendations.

Sources of Protein for Women in Menopause

Meeting your protein needs during menopause doesn’t have to be a challenge. There are plenty of different sources to choose from:

  1. Lean Meats: Chicken, turkey, lean beef, and pork are excellent sources of high-quality protein. Opt for lean cuts to keep saturated fat intake in check.
  2. Fatty Fish: Salmon, trout, mackerel, and sardines not only provide protein but also essential omega-3 fatty acids that support heart and brain health.
  3. Plant-Based Proteins: If you’re vegetarian or vegan, consider incorporating foods like tofu, tempeh, legumes (beans, lentils, and chickpeas), and quinoa into your diet.
  4. Dairy and Dairy Alternatives: Greek yoghurt, cottage cheese, and dairy-free alternatives like almond or soy yoghurt are rich in protein and calcium.
  5. Eggs: Eggs are a versatile source packed with essential amino acids and nutrients.
  6. Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, peanuts, chia seeds, and hemp seeds are great options for adding protein to snacks or meals.
  7. Protein Supplements: In some cases, supplements like whey or plant-based powders can be convenient for ensuring adequate intake.

Incorporating Protein into Your Diet

Now that you know why protein is essential during menopause and where to find it, let’s explore some practical ways to incorporate more of it into your daily diet:

  1. Start Your Day Right: Begin your morning with breakfast with things like scrambled eggs with vegetables, plain Greek yoghurt with berries and nuts, or a protein smoothie.
  2. Snack Smartly: Choose protein-rich snacks to keep your energy levels stable throughout the day. Options include a handful of nuts, a slice of cheese, or hummus with vegetable sticks.
  3. Protein-Packed Lunch: Include lean proteins in your lunch, such as grilled chicken or tofu in a salad, a turkey and avocado wrap, or a quinoa and vegetable stir-fry.
  4. Dinner Delights: Make dinner a meal with options like baked fish, lean beef or plant-based protein sources like lentil stew or chickpea curry.
  5. Balanced Plate: Aim to fill half your plate with vegetables, one-quarter with protein, and one-quarter with carbohydrates for balanced meals.
  6. Hydration Matters: Stay hydrated with plenty of water but also consider incorporating beverages like milk or a protein shake into your routine.
  7. Planning Ahead: Meal prepping can make it easier to ensure you get enough protein in your diet. Prepare dishes in advance for easy, healthy meals throughout the week.

What does 120 grams of protein look like?

We have already seen that we need to aim for protein 1.4 times our weight in pounds. So, if you’re a 185-pound woman who wants to weigh 165, you should eat between 90 and 120 grams per day. Always aim for the weight in pounds you want to reach, not the one you are at, if you want to lose weight. This is what 120 grams of protein looks like:

Food SourceApproximate Protein ContentQuantity Required for 120 grams
Chicken Breast26 grams per 4-ounce servingApproximately 4 servings
Salmon25 grams per 4-ounce servingApproximately 4 servings
Eggs (large)6 grams per eggApproximately 20 eggs
Greek Yogurt15 grams per 6-ounce containerApproximately 8 containers
Firm Tofu9 grams per 4-ounce servingApproximately 13 servings
Cooked Beans (e.g., Black Beans or Lentils)7-9 grams per 1/2 cupApproximately 6-7 cups
Protein Shake20-25 grams per scoopApproximately 5-6 scoops

Aim to reach the protein intake first for your weight goals, before you consider the fats and carbs. The rest of your meal should contain good fats and complex carbohydrates. You can find the recommended portions for carbs and fats here.

Conclusion

Menopause is a significant life transition that brings about various physical and hormonal changes. Proper nutrition is a key component of managing the symptoms and supporting overall well-being during this phase of life. Protein, often referred to as the magic macro for women in menopause, plays a vital role in preserving muscle mass, supporting bone health, regulating hormones, managing weight, and controlling appetite.

By incorporating protein-rich foods into your daily diet and paying attention to your individual nutrient needs, you can harness its power to navigate menopause with grace and vitality. Remember to consult with a healthcare provider before embarking on nutrition and dietary changes. With the right approach, you can make menopause a time of positive change and renewed health.

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About me

Turning 50 was an unexpected wake-up call. Panic surged through every fibre of my being as I wondered, “Is my youth slipping away, leaving me behind”.

Standing at the crossroads, I realized I wasn’t alone in this whirlwind of emotions. Many women over 50 experience similar moments of self-doubt and apprehension. The truth is our bodies and minds undergo natural changes as we age. It’s essential to remember that ageing is a privilege denied to many, and instead of fearing it, we must embrace a healthy and happy lifestyle over 50.

Using the advice we share in this blog, many women, including me, have found relief and are better able to manage this transition of life and feel more fulfilled both at home, and at work.

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