A healthy, well-balanced diet is more important during and after menopause than at any other stage of life. The body’s nutritional needs change during menopause. Shifts in hormones, body composition, and mood mean the diet a person once swore by likely isn’t working anymore.
The Relationship Between Protein and Hormones
Throughout any period of physical change, protein is a key ingredient. Many hormones are made from protein, including sex hormones, thyroid and adrenal hormones, insulin and glucagon. Each of these hormones plays an important role during menopause and can dramatically affect energy levels, metabolism, and health.
Estrogen and progesterone affect how cells respond to insulin. After menopause, changes in the levels of these hormones can trigger more severe fluctuations in blood glucose levels, potentially increasing a woman’s risk of developing diabetes. Including some protein with each meal stimulates insulin production and helps to balance blood sugar levels, preventing the sudden rise and fall of blood glucose that a carbohydrate-based meal can cause.
When estrogen levels decline, women experience a progressive decrease in muscle mass (sarcopenia), strength and bone density. As a result, they become more susceptible to falling, fractures and osteoporosis. Exercise becomes more important than ever, but it is more challenging to maintain weight and muscle tone. In people of all ages, protein helps maintain muscle mass.
How Much Protein Do We Need During Menopause
To combat sarcopenia and accommodate for other hormonal and physical changes, the body’s protein needs increase during menopause. Healthy older adults should consume 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily—more than the recommended intake of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for younger adults. Based on the higher recommendation, a 150 lb (68 kg) female should aim for a protein intake of 68 to 82 grams per day (some experts have even recommended up to 100grams).
The Right Protein Options
High-quality proteins are found in meats, poultry, fish, dairy products, nuts, seeds, legumes, and in smaller quantities, starches and vegetables. Sprouting grains increases their protein content.
Protein powders are a convenient and healthy way to boost intake of this essential nutrient. While whey protein has been considered the gold standard of protein supplements, pea protein’s arginine content is almost three times higher. The amino acid is essential for building and maintaining muscle mass and might be a better option for women during mid-life.
|FOOD SOURCE||AMOUNT PROTEIN|
|Lean meats, poultry, eggs:||Per 3 ounce serving (unless otherwise stated)|
|Skinless chicken breast
Lean ground beef
6 grams per large egg
Milk (skim, 1%, 2%, whole)
Mozzarella cheese (whole milk)
|20 grams (1 cup serving)
14 grams (1/2 cup serving)
10 grams (1 ounce)
8 grams (1 cup)
7.6 grams (1 ounce)
6.3 grams (1 ounce)
|Legumes and other plant-based foods:|
Kidney beans (boiled)
Dry roasted chickpeas
12 grams (1/2 cup)
10 grams (3 tbsp.)
7.5 grams (1/2 cup)
7.5 grams (1/2 cup)
7.5 grams (1/4 cup)
7.25 grams (1/4 cup)
7 grams (1/4 cup)
6 grams (1/3 cup)
4 grams (1/2 cup cooked)
4 grams (1 tbsp.)
3.4 grams (1 tbsp.)
2.7 grams (1 avocado, 136 grams)
2 grams (2 tbsp.)
When to Eat Your Protein
Just as important as the overall amount of protein is its distribution throughout the day. The body can use only 25 to 35 grams of protein every four to five hours. When too much protein is consumed, the excess is excreted via the urine. That means, overloading on protein by eating a 6-ounce steak or adding an extra scoop of protein powder to a shake won’t help. Instead, consuming protein throughout the day minimizes protein losses and maximizes its efficiency.
Example Menu to Reach Your Protein Goals
Here is an example of a menu that prioritizes protein:
|Breakfast:||Smoothie made with 1 scoop protein powder||25 grams|
|Snack:||Fresh fruit sprinkled with hemp hearts||10 grams|
|Lunch:||Lentil soup, 1 cup||9 grams|
|Snack:||Almonds, handful||7 grams|
|Dinner:||3 oz. grilled salmon, ½ cup quinoa, 1 cup green salad||27 grams|
|TOTAL||78 grams protein|
The Bottom Line
Balance quality protein foods with plenty of colorful and cruciferous vegetables, fruit, healthy fats—including omega-3, an essential fatty acid that can help manage menopausal symptoms and reduce inflammation, and probiotic food sources to protect gut health.