Menopause & perimenopause
Foods to fend off hot flashes — simple, natural relief
by Dixie Mills, MD
I’m happy to say it’s been a while since I personally have had to think about hot flashes, but I remember those days well, and my patients often remind me. I heard a story recently from a menopausal woman who was dining out at a Mexican restaurant with her daughter and infant granddaughter. Between the spicy food and the sangría, the stress of a fretful baby, and her daughter trying to nurse in a crowded noisy space, it was enough to give anyone a hot flash. Without a word, the woman escaped to her car and turned the A/C on full blast!
This story reminded me of the fact that just as nursing infants are affected by their mothers’ spicy foods and drink, we too are influenced by our food and drink, and all the conditions surrounding our meals. Although there’s a lot of good advice out there about menopause symptoms, you don’t hear much about how food can make us feel calmer or more irritable, or simply push us off-balance. Through working with thousands of women, we’ve observed that certain foods and drink do seem to bring on hot flashes and night sweats, while others work well to quell them.
Some menopausal women avoid caffeine and red wine. Others try not to eat too much fat or sugar. What is the best way to eat when you’re dealing with hot flashes? Let’s take a closer look at the way foods help with the continual balancing act that takes place between your major and minor hormones, so you can minimize the intensity and frequency of your hot flashes — and enjoy nourishing, delicious meals in peace.
First and foremost — get your protein
Our bodies receive a continual stream of information from our environment. Good food provides not only good information, but supplies all the raw materials your neuroendocrine (nerve–hormone) system needs to create healthy hormonal and emotional balance. Protein is a raw material required to make and balance hormones, so it makes sense to include some with each meal and snack you eat. Noted endocrinologist, Dr. Diana Schwarzbein, explains why protein is so important to women experiencing hot flashes and night sweats in her book, The Schwarzbein Principle:
Hot flash snack foods and beverages
Here are some ideas to help you get started on resetting your hormonal balance. See also our chart of top 12 foods to cool hot flashes!
- Roasted soy nuts — look for non-GMO, with sea salt or other natural seasonings
- Raw broccoli, cauliflower, and celery sticks dipped in Creamy Tofu-Garlic Dip (see recipe below)
- A bowl of old-fashioned oatmeal, topped with 3 tablespoons freshly ground flax seeds and soy milk
- Broccoli sprouts, generously sprinkled atop a salad or tucked inside a whole-grain wrap or omelet
- Icy soy smoothie, blended with your choice of deeply-pigmented berries
- Soothing chamomile tea, iced or freshly steeped
“Humans need a steady source of protein for the constant rebuilding that goes on within the body, including hormone production. Without protein the body ceases to regenerate, and hormone production declines and/or becomes imbalanced.”
Adding whole, non-GMO soy foods to your diet is a very easy way to increase protein intake while gaining the considerable benefits soy isoflavones have to offer menopausal women. We understand that soy is not for everyone, but when it comes to cooling vasomotor symptoms, we’ve seen such favorable results that we regard soy as a menopausal superfood. So much so that after 20 years of recommending soy foods to women, we’ve even created our own delicious soy shake. See our article on soy for menopause symptoms to learn how genistein, daidzein, and glycitein — soy isoflavone “active ingredients” — work.
Other great sources of plant-based protein include nuts and nut butters, freshly ground flax seeds, lentils, and other legumes. These choices offer protein, healthy fats, and fiber, as well as additional phytochemicals that your body needs to synthesize, properly metabolize, and keep hormones in balance. Wild-harvested seafood and organic/grass-fed meats, eggs, and yogurt are good sources of animal protein and healthy fats.
Yes — you need fat!
Creamy garlic tofu dip
- 1 14-oz tub of soft or silken tofu
- 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 Tbsp cider vinegar
- ½ tsp dry mustard
- ½ tsp iodized sea salt
- 1 tsp tamari or soy sauce
- 2 cloves of garlic
Whip all of the above ingredients in a blender or food processor, transfer to a covered glass refrigerator dish, and chill.
Use as a dip for your favorite raw or steamed veggies, chips, or pita.
To support hormonal balance in menopause women need fat! And trust me, eating healthy fat won’t make you fat. Cholesterol is an important type of fat that comes in different forms — not all of which are “bad.” See our article about estrogen imbalance for an illustration of the hormone-generation process called steroidogenesis. This shows how cholesterol serves as the mother molecule to all our steroid hormones — both sex hormones and stress hormones.
Another type of fat we just can’t get by without are the essential fatty acids (EFA’s). Olive oil, nuts, fatty fish like salmon, and avocado are all rich in these famously healthy, hormone-balancing fats. To prevent menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, we need balance between all our hormones, and new research suggests omega-3’s in particular can help diminish the frequency of a woman’s hot flashes. To learn more about the roles healthy fats play, see our various articles on the truth about fat and cholesterol and omega-3 fatty acids.
Sautéed, steamed, or raw — pile the vegetables on
We all know fruits and vegetables are good for us — but for hot-flashing women, it’s pretty hard to overstate their charms! To start, the fiber they contain is utterly indispensable to a woman’s digestion, healthy weight, and yes, hormonal balance. Fiber not only “keeps things moving,” it’s the favorite food of your GI flora. So feed them well, and they’ll help you properly absorb nutrients and metabolize your sex hormones. Getting plenty of fiber also prevents you from having sharp spikes of insulin, which because it’s one of the body’s major hormones, makes balancing all of your other hormones, especially in menopause, that much easier.
Top 12 phytoestrogen-rich foods
(approx. ½ cup)
|Mung bean sprouts
Top 12 lignan-rich foods
(approx. ½ cup)
Many fruits and vegetables are supercharged with “phytochemicals” beneficial to women in perimenopause and menopause — they just grow that way. At the top of Nature’s menu for women are those that contain phytoestrogens. These are the plant kingdom’s version of a woman’s estradiol, but they are not estrogen molecules. Nor do they increase a woman’s own estrogen, but gently work with your body to recalibrate balance at the cellular level. (We explain and illustrate this adaptogenic, protective mechanism in our article on phytotherapy for hormonal balance.)
The types of phytoestrogens best known for their potential to quell menopause symptoms and reduce disease risk include isoflavones, lignans, and coumestans. Soybeans are the classic, isoflavone-rich example I noted above. The menopausal superfood most abundant in lignans is flax seeds. I recommend 1–3 tablespoons a day, always freshly ground, stirred into soups, salads, smoothies, or porridges. To enjoy the benefits of coumestans, brew up some red clover tea in the evenings (which will also help you sleep). Or top your salads with alfalfa sprouts. Phytoestrogens are also found in members of the parsley family, such as fennel and celery, as well as garlic, onions, and all sorts of seeds, nuts and legumes.
Broccoli for hormonal balance?
Young broccoli sprouts are especially potent in the antioxidant compounds known as sulforaphanes.
One theory has it that by activating phase II detoxification enzymes, sulforaphanes help balance the hormonal estrogen scales.
Another family of vegetables I’d like to highlight for you are the crucifers: greens such as watercress, collards and kale, plus cabbages, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, radishes, and their relatives. All the crucifers are ultra-rich in the phytochemicals plant scientists call glucosinolates. These sulfur-containing compounds get converted in the body — thanks to your digestive enzymes and friendly intestinal microflora — into potent detoxifying molecules called isothiocyanates.
But you don’t have to remember the chemistry to appreciate the benefits. Simply fit in a heaping helping of greens daily — three-day-old broccoli sprouts top out the charts, so toss them into your salads. By supporting your phase II detoxification pathways at the molecular level, this simple step helps balance hormones and diminish hot flashes.
One of the many beautiful things about plant foods is their seemingly endless variety. Each changing season brings new shapes, colors, texture, and tastes to savor, so enjoy the cornucopia.
For the time being, leave these things on the shelf
As you can see, there is no shortage of foods to eat that help us naturally create better health and hormonal balance. A diet high in white sugar, white bread, pasta, or any foods that are highly refined and/or processed, however, may invite more hot flashes and night sweats. Caffeinated drinks, chocolate, red wine, aged cheeses, and dishes that are deep-fried or overly spicy are other notorious hot flash triggers for many women.
But which foods affect you may completely differ from those that bother other women. So you may want to keep a journal of what and when you eat and drink, and how you feel afterward. We’ve created Wellness Diary to make it easier for you to spot such patterns. If you notice a connection between a certain food you love and your hot flashes or another unpleasant symptom, save it for a special occasion. Or, try it at a later date, when you’ve been symptom-free for a while, to see if you’re better able to tolerate it then. The one thing we can be sure of is that our bodies are changing every day, and as we care for ourselves as time goes by, the better we will begin to feel. You may even notice your devotion begin to shift away from certain foods and habits and more toward yourself!
Balanced nutrition, balanced body
Your body needs its stores of vital nutrients replenished daily, and this is especially crucial during hormonal transitions like menopause. A balanced diet of quality protein, healthy fats, and phytonutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, together with regular exercise, adequate sleep and stress reduction, are all that’s needed to regulate healthy hormonal and neurotransmitter balance in most women. Taking a top-quality multivitamin-mineral complex and omega-3 supplement like those we offer in our Personal Program can not only ensure that your nutritional bases are covered, today and tomorrow, but that the inevitable swings of hormonal change are less dramatic and unpleasant. Our Members also benefit from a variety of delicious recipes for hormonal balance featured in our New Member Guide.
For those whose hot flashes and night sweats persist, a well-formulated phytotherapeutic supplement like our Herbal Equilibrium can make all the difference. Herbal Equilibrium contains a select blend of adaptogenic herbs that work gently with a woman’s system to promote hormonal balance. Isoflavone-rich, non-GMO soy foods can provide additional gentle endocrine support to moderate sex hormone fluctuations. Most women seeking natural relief from menopause symptoms find their hot flashes dissipate remarkably well with this combination approach.
All through life our bodies engage in a constantly shifting, dynamic equilibrium — which means that whether or not we’re passing through a major transition like menopause, the path to better health and balance is always open to us. Thankfully, there are many natural ways to quiet such unwelcome symptoms of hormonal imbalance as hot flashes, night sweats, and the anxiety, irritability, fatigue, and sleeplessness that can sometimes accompany them. Nourishing yourself well with each new day is simply the easiest place to begin.