Make health a habit

Rich in vitamin E Walnuts and almonds

Rich in vitamin E Walnuts and almonds  

WOMEN & WELLNESS A woman’s body undergoes considerable changes as it approaches menopause. To keep healthy she has to realign her food and exercise habits

Sunanda has crossed 45. She knows she will be facing menopause in a few short years. Though she is eating the same amount of food that she always has, she knows that those unwelcome kilos are starting to cling to her. She wants to stay healthy since she is well aware that the next few years may bring unwanted and unexpected health problems. She knows she has to realign her food and exercise habits to continue in a state of good health.

Changes around menopause

A woman’s body goes through considerable changes as it approaches menopause. The production of oestrogen slows significantly, muscle mass decreases as fat deposits increase, and the metabolism slows down. Several body tissues, including those of the heart and circulatory system, lose their elasticity. Bones start thinning because bone cells get reabsorbed at a faster rate than they are produced. Even active, healthy women are surprised by stiff and aching joints, mood swings, lack of energy and sleeplessness.

The effects of aging and menopause combine with the increase in health risks. These include an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and thinning of the bones (osteoporosis).

Foods to cut down on

Most women tell me, “I am only eating what I have always eaten. But the weight seems to be piling on!” Remember, your body is changing, and your eating patterns have to change too, if you want to avoid excess weight gain. This is the time in your life to take a good survey of your current food habits and modify them. You have to take a conscious decision to cut down on foods which will harm you in the short term and increase health risks in the long run.

Sodium (salt)

Sodium plays an essential role in our bodies. It regulates blood pressure and transmits nerve impulses. However, cutting down on salt is an extremely healthy step. Pickles, chips and papads are common sources of excess salt. Your family might protest for a week or so, but they will adjust to the real taste of food. Remember that children too do not require excess salt.


If you are a heavy coffee or tea drinker this is a good time to cut back. Palpitations are common in the years leading to the menopause and a surfeit of coffee and tea can aggravate them. Do not forget that several soft drinks, specially the new fangled ‘energy drinks’ are high in caffeine.


Sugar is the commonest source of ‘empty calories.’ Unfortunately sugar is addictive. To add to it all, hormonal changes around the periods and in the perimenopause can cause cravings for sugar. Refined sugars (cane sugar, jaggery, chocolates, sweets, cakes and many packaged foods) give us no nutritional value. They only contribute relentlessly to weight gain.

Fresh and dried fruits contain the complex sugar fructose along with fibre. A small serving can assuage your craving for sugar and has many other health benefits.

Fats and cholesterol

Prior to menopause, oestrogen helps suppress the build-up of fat along arterial walls that often results from intake of too much saturated fat and cholesterol. Unfortunately menopause negates the protective effects of oestrogen, making women as vulnerable to cardiac disease, heart attack and stroke as men. There is also evidence that excessive amounts of dietary fat can lead to an increased risk of breast cancer.

A heart sparing diet reduces or eliminates the intake of ghee, butter, rich sauces and gravies, fatty meats, and whole milk and ice cream. Avoid deep frying. The white of eggs provides protein without fat.

A handful of nuts

Walnuts and almonds contain monounsaturated fats, the same kind of fat found in olive oil. They also are a powerhouse of Vitamin E. Walnuts contain unsaturated fats and a significant amount of omega-3 and have antioxidant properties. Almonds are rich in minerals. They are also high in fibre and a small serving has more protein than an egg. Many studies have shown that including a handful of nuts in a healthy diet, caused significant reductions in total and LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol.

Embark on a healthy diet and boost your heart, strengthen your bones and achieve radiant skin. Maximise your intake of nutritious foods and minimise the effects of menopause.

(The author is a Chennai-based obstetrician and gynaecologist with a special interest in women’s health issues.)


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