Updated 10/3/2023 to include new research
Are you experiencing hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, or other discomforts? Wondering if following the Mediterranean Diet for menopause symptoms can help? It can!
As a dietitian, I love promoting the power of food – read on to learn more!
Short on time? Don’t leave now! Scroll to the bottom for health hacks you can implement TODAY.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet is based on the traditional diets of those countries that border the Mediterranean Sea such as France, Greece, Italy, and Spain.
In the 1950s, scientists noticed that people in the Mediterranean region had less heart disease than Americans. The foods they ate in this area, later referred to as the Mediterranean Diet, were found to be a part of the reason why.
What are the Main Foods in a Mediterranean Diet?
A typical Mediterranean diet focuses on whole foods. It includes an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats (such as olive oil).
This way of eating also includes fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy in moderation, and limited intake of processed foods, red meat, and sweets.
In comparison, a typical American diet is almost exactly the opposite, containing a large amount of highly processed foods, red meat, sweets, and dairy, and very few fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
Can following a Mediterranean Diet help with changes brought on by aging and menopause? Absolutely!
Mediterranean Diet for Menopause: How it Helps
Are you going through menopause or approaching that stage of life? Embracing a Mediterranean-style diet can be a great way to support your well-being during the menopausal transition and beyond.
Menopause can bring about various physical and emotional changes, but the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet can help you navigate this time with greater ease.
Manage Your Weight
Focused on weight loss? Menopause often comes with weight gain due to hormonal shifts. The Mediterranean Diet (when combined with regular physical activity) can help you manage your weight, or even lose some (1, 2)!
It can also whittle down that middle (3)- and who doesn’t want that?
Support Heart Health
Hormonal changes during menopause increase your risk of heart disease. The Mediterranean Diet, with its emphasis on heart-healthy fats like those found in olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish, can lower bad cholesterol levels and protect your heart.
Take Care of Your Bones
Key nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, beta-carotene, vitamin C, and selenium are abundant in the Mediterranean Diet.
The beneficial effects may be due to increased intake of these important nutrients or to the interaction between these nutrients and other healthful components of the diet.
Prevention of osteoporosis continues to be important for postmenopausal women too. Your bone health is vital to your quality of life – so continuing with the Mediterranean dietary pattern can have a positive impact on your overall health.
Maintain Muscle Mass
The gradual loss of muscle mass, strength, and function that can occur with aging is called sarcopenia. It is made worse by hormonal changes in menopause (13).
Resistance exercise, also called weight-bearing exercise, is important in maintaining muscle as we age. As a bonus, using weights, bands, or your own body weight to increase muscle strength can also improve bone strength.
The Mediterranean Diet may help by enabling better muscle health and function as well as overall mobility compared to a typical American diet (14).
Enhance Your Mood
This diet includes foods containing mood-boosting nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish and antioxidants from fruits and vegetables. These elements may help reduce mood swings and feelings of depression during menopause.
In fact, the Mediterranean Diet has been linked to a decreased risk of developing depression (15, 16) and a 33% decreased risk of developing cognitive impairment or dementia like Alzheimer’s disease (17).
Support Gut Health
The Mediterranean Diet’s high fiber content from whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables promotes a healthy gut microbiome. A healthy gut microbiome is linked with a stronger immune system and reduced risk of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, and some cancers (18, 19).
Alleviate Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
Vasomotor symptoms (VMS) are those unpleasant effects of menopause like night sweats and hot flashes (or hot flushes). The Mediterranean Diet can help reduce these types of symptoms (20).
Lower the Risk of Chronic Diseases
This diet has been linked to a reduced risk of developing conditions like type 2 diabetes (21) and certain cancers, including colorectal, breast, and gastric cancer (22) as well as Parkinson’s disease (23).
As with most things, your experience of menopause is unique, and thus your responses to diet can vary. But a Mediterranean-style diet can certainly be worth a try.
How to Follow a Mediterranean Diet for Menopause
Making small changes to what you eat can have big impacts on your long-term health. Plus, it may help you manage many of those uncomfortable menopausal symptoms.
So, how do you follow a Mediterranean Diet to reap the benefits?
Gradually introduce Mediterranean foods into your diet. Trying to change everything overnight can be overwhelming. Start by incorporating one or two Mediterranean-inspired meals each week.
Emphasize Plant-Based Foods
Base your meals on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. Make these the core of your diet, and build your meals around them.
Use Olive Oil
Replace butter and other cooking oils with olive oil. It’s a staple of the Mediterranean Diet and is rich in healthy monounsaturated fats.
Eat Seafood Regularly
Aim for at least two servings of oily fish (like salmon, mackerel, or sardines) per week. These are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for heart health.
Limit Red Meat
Reduce your consumption of red meat, especially processed meats like sausage and bacon. Instead, opt for lean cuts of poultry and plant-based protein sources like beans, lentils, and tofu.
Choose Whole Grains
Replace refined grains (white bread, white rice) with whole grains like whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, and whole grain pasta.
Snack on Nuts
Keep a stash of unsalted nuts, like almonds or walnuts, for a healthy and filling snack. They are rich in healthy fats and protein.
Load Up on Vegetables
Include a variety of colorful vegetables in your meals. Try to make half of your plate vegetables, and experiment with different cooking methods and seasonings to keep things interesting.
Enjoy Fruits Daily
Incorporate fresh fruits into your diet as snacks or desserts. Berries, citrus fruits, and figs are Mediterranean favorites.
Use Herbs and Spices Often
Replace salt with herbs and spices like basil, oregano, rosemary, and garlic. These add flavor without the need for excess salt.
Opt for moderate amounts of dairy products, particularly yogurt and cheese. Greek yogurt is a popular choice and is rich in protein and probiotics.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Red wine, in moderation, is a traditional part of the Mediterranean Diet, but it’s not necessary if you don’t consume alcohol.
Save sweets and desserts for special occasions. Fresh fruit can be a satisfying and healthy way to satisfy your sweet tooth. Also, beware of added sugars in beverages – try a plain green tea instead of a latte.
Enjoy Social Meals
The Mediterranean Diet is often associated with shared meals and social gatherings. Enjoy your meals with family and friends, as this can enhance the experience and the health benefits.
Making dietary changes should be enjoyable and sustainable. Experiment with flavors and ingredients to find what you like best, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you occasionally deviate from a Mediterranean-style diet – it’s all about balance and long-term health.
Check out these other articles on healthy eating and menopause:
Kate is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and certified yoga instructor with a Master’s in Public Health. She loves to share what she has learned about nutrition and yoga to help people live healthier, more balanced lives. When not working on this blog or teaching yoga, Kate is usually spending time with family and friends or reading a good book.