By Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN, NP
I often share with you my thoughts around the power of healthy food; we know that good food can heal the body and reduce or eliminate symptoms of hormonal imbalance and that poor food choices can have the opposite effect. Today I want to share some interesting news about one food’s power to help manage menopause symptoms including anxiety and weight gain: tomatoes.
Our bodies depend on a complex array of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and co-factors, all of which are required in combination with each other for good health. That’s why we tell all our patients at Women to Women how important it is to take a high-quality multivitamin in order to ensure they are getting all the nutrition the body needs; it is just so hard to get everything we need for wellness from our food supply today.
While the overall nutritional content of food has declined measurably in recent years due to farming and distribution practices, certain foods still make a lot of headlines in the news; often called “superfoods,” they can pack a more powerful nutritional punch because they are loaded with more of what our bodies need for wellness including anti-oxidants, polyphenols, vitamins and minerals.
I think it’s important to say, however, that while some foods may be “super,” they are still just one of many different food requirements for health. There are no magic food elixirs; we need to eat the rainbow of fruits and vegetables, even though we may have our favorite colors!
Having said that, a fascinating new study I read recently in the Nutrition Journal focused on one of my favorite “superfoods,” tomatoes, and one of my favorite subjects, menopause. (When two things I like come together, it gets my attention every time!) The study looked at women with menopausal symptoms and the impact of tomatoes on their health, their symptoms and even their weight and found some pretty amazing results.
Here’s how it worked. For two weeks prior to the study, the researchers asked women between the ages of 40 and 60 who had at least one menopausal symptom to abstain from all tomato or tomato-based products. Then for eight weeks, the women were asked to consume 200ml of unsalted tomato juice (that’s just under a cup) with breakfast and dinner every day.
They found that the women reported their symptoms were reduced (in a statistically significant way), including symptoms such as anxiety and hot flashes, two of the biggest ones we see in our patients at Women to Women. In addition, their serum triglyceride levels were reduced (improving their heart health) and their Resting Energy Expenditure or REE was increased.
So what is REE and why does it matter?
It turns out that increasing REE can play an important role in avoiding mid-life weight gain. Studies have shown that our Resting Energy Expenditure, or how many calories we burn when we are not active, goes down in the years leading up to menopause by as much as 400 calories a day.
This means that in addition to potential weight gain that may occur when progesterone and estrogen levels become imbalanced during perimenopause and after menopause, many women may gain weight mid-life simply because their bodies are burning fewer calories overall: if you keep eating the same number of calories and don’t increase your activity level, over time, those extra 400 calories a day will start to add up in the form of extra pounds.
What was so interesting about this study was that the twice daily tomato juice consumption was able to increase the Resting Energy Expenditure of the women by almost 400 calories a day, or nearly the same amount that is lowered naturally as we age!
So why do scientists think this occurs?
One reason tomatoes may work to help vanquish menopausal symptoms is that they contain large amounts of vitamin B-6. B-6 plays a critical role in balancing estrogen and progesterone levels and avoiding the menopause symptoms that appear when those two hormones are not in alignment.
Another reason tomatoes work so well on menopausal symptoms is that as we’ve shared with you in past newsletters, oxidative stress is shown to exacerbate symptoms in perimenopausal women. Tomatoes are high in lycopene, which is an anti-oxidant that can help alleviate the impact of the stress and keep symptoms in check.
While scientists aren’t exactly sure how tomatoes increased the women’s Resting Energy Expenditure, overall, we know that tomatoes are high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants and can play a helpful contributing role to a healthy diet. And now we know they may help manage menopausal symptoms, including anxiety, hot flashes and weight gain as well. So does this mean you should run out and stock up on tomato juice? Sadly, no.
Dietary or lifestyle extremes are never healthy and as we said in the beginning, we need to eat the rainbow of fruits and vegetables to ensure good health. While this study focused on tomatoes, my guess is that similar results would occur if any number of fruit or vegetables were tested, something that doesn’t happen often because it’s hard to find the money to fund food studies.
So while it’s exciting to see a study focused around the health impact of a food, particularly around menopausal symptom relief, it’s not a directive to go on a tomato juice diet! That said: if you are a woman who loves to have juice with breakfast or consumer a beverage with dinner, switching to tomato juice might be worth considering.
And adding more tomatoes to your diet, along with a healthy mix of other fruits and vegetables, is always a good thing (as long as you feel better after eating them; some women are allergic or sensitive to nightshades such as tomatoes and should avoid them.)
If that’s not you, look for ways to add more tomatoes and unsalted organic tomato juice to your meals. You can check out our slow roasted tomato recipe below for a new way to add a delicious tomato side dish to a meal and bring more B-6 and lycopene into your diet.