Menopause and Protein

Changing Nutritional Needs And Protein

We all know that for a healthy body, healthy food is required. But what exactly is “healthy” can be confusing for many. We hear people saying eat what your ancestors ate, or have unrefined food, eat more salads, etc.. which is all correct to some extent, but one has to check if the food you are consuming is taking care of all your nutritional needs. For the best performance of the human body, we need various nutrients like carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals. The amount of each nutrient we need might change a bit with our age. Hence one has to re-adjust food in their 30s, 40s, and 50s to maintain their health.

Perimenopause, Menopause & Protein

It is seen that physically inactive people can lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass each decade after age 30. Even if you are active, you’ll still have some muscle loss. Women in their 40s especially have to re-visit their diet. This is the age many women start transitioning in perimenopause which can range from a few months to a few years before they get the menopause. During this phase, hormones in a woman’s body like estrogen and progesterone start to decrease. Estrogen levels may fluctuate a bit before leveling out as your body finally settles into menopause. These fluctuations can cause a variety of symptoms for women like hot flashes, mood swings, irregular periods, night sweats, etc. One of the most common symptoms that the majority of women face is weight gain. A UCLA-led study1 confirms that women undergoing peri-menopause lost lean body mass and gained more than double of the fat mass. The decline in estrogen is linked to not only loss of muscle mass but also loss of bone strength2.

Why We Need More Protein As We Age

Reduction in muscle mass, bone density, and increase in fat all together contribute to weight gain and loss of overall strength. Even if women are eating the same food as what they used to eat 5-10 years back, they might see weight gain during this phase. If this is happening with you, it’s time to give another look at your plate and load it with one of the most important nutrients in your 40s, which is “Protein”.

As we age, protein becomes even more important as it helps in building stronger muscles that support aging joints. In a study3, which followed nearly 2,000 older adults for over six years, it was seen that people who consumed the least amount of protein were almost twice as likely to have difficulty walking or climbing steps as those who ate the most.

Protein In Human Body

Protein is an important component of every cell in the human body. The body uses protein to build and repair tissues. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, hair, nails, and blood.

How Much Protein Is Needed For An Adult

According to the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), 0.8 grams of protein should be consumed per kilogram of body weight per day. So a woman who weighs 60Kg, 48 to 50 grams of protein is required per day.

Example for 50 grams of protein would be

  • Salmon Fish – 250 grams
  • Chicken breast – 200 grams

You can choose from a variety of sources for fulfilling daily protein needs. Some foods with high protein content are

  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Fish like Salmon, cod, sardine
  • Shrimp / Shellfish
  • Eggs

It can be slightly difficult for vegetarians to complete their daily need of protein but certainly not impossible. Here are some vegetarian options

  • Edamame beans
  • Paneer/cottage cheese
  • Soya chunks
  • Spinach
  • Quinoa
  • Spirulina

Even if the daily requirement is the amount of protein one has to manage to eat in a day, it is important to distribute it over your meals. Your body has a limitation on how much protein it can absorb in one go. Hence distribute it in all meals. An example of this can be

Breakfast – 2 eggs – 14 grams

Lunch – 100 grams Chicken breast  – 25 grams

Dinner – 1 cup / 170 grams of cooked Lima beans – 11.6 grams

You can also include snacks that are high in protein as they keep you full for longer and feel satisfying. Protein snacks can be handy and easy to carry in your purse. All types of nuts and seeds are great courses of protein. A handful of nuts can fulfill 8 to 18% of your daily need for protein. Almonds, cashews, walnuts, peanuts are a few examples of good choices of nuts, while flax seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds are options in seeds. You can add these while cooking food or just roast and keep them ready to munch. You also will find a variety of protein bars in the supermarket these days. They are handy, many are tasty as well but are they good? With preservatives and harmful artificial sweeteners, they are not the best option according to me. But for busy individuals, they can be consumed in moderation. Or make your own homemade protein bars at home. If for some reason you cannot complete the required amount of protein you can ask your doctor to prescribe protein powder supplements in your diet.

Dietary intake of protein combined with good strength training like body weight or weight lifting can do wonders for women in their 40s. If you are regularly doing workouts, make sure to get enough protein to help the recovery of the muscles. Weight training helps in maintaining weight and building lean muscle. More muscle means more strength, better metabolism, and better health.

Caution

Even if I have listed so many benefits of protein above, an important footnote to all this is moderation. Excess of anything is bad and so is an excess of protein as well. Too much protein can lead to kidney issues in few people. Also if the source of protein is accompanied with a high amount of fat it can increase the risk of lipids going out of range and thus chances of heart diseases. Thus consult your doctors before making any drastic changes to your diet.

 

References:

1- https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190321102853.htm#:~:text=03%2F190321102853.htm-,A%20new%20study%20confirms%20what%20women%20approaching%20menopause%20have%20long,than%20doubled%20their%20fat%20mass.

2- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19949277/

3- https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jgs.15592

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Shilpa is an entrepreneur, blogger, certified yoga instructor, and certified nutritionist.

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