Eat This, Not That: Hot Flashes Edition
By Nutritional Weight & Wellness Staff
June 20, 2023
When you think of the term “menopause”, what comes to mind? Hot flashes? Weight gain? Aging? Trouble sleeping? Based on the clients we see each day, menopause is usually associated with unpleasant symptoms and it’s no wonder those are the things that come to mind.
According to a survey conducted by the Mayo Clinic in 2021 and the subsequent article Impact of Menopause Symptoms on Women in the Workplace published in 2023, menopause symptoms were identified as creating major negative impacts on work outcomes. The article insisted a need for improved medical treatment as well as more supportive work environments, which includes having conversations about what women need during this stage of life. If you or someone you love can relate to a disruption in quality of life because of mood swings, fatigue, hot flashes, night sweats, sleep problems, weight gain, and a number of other symptoms, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
And while menopause symptoms might be a taboo topic in the workplace, we love bringing it into the light here at Nutritional Weight & Wellness. We believe that menopause is normal, but suffering is not. We need to do better by women and we’re here to help with the nutritional component to support your body through the hormonal changes that are a natural process.
What Is Menopause?
We talk about this all the time, but as a quick refresher, a woman has officially hit menopause when it’s been a full year since the last bleed of the menstrual cycle. All the time leading up to that moment, when the cycle might be off-kilter and the dreaded symptoms begin, is considered perimenopause. This is part of the challenge! You won’t know you are officially in menopause until you’ve hit that twelve-month marker. This period of perimenopause, as the body begins that transition of hormones, is when symptoms can be the worst. This is a great time to get support to help you navigate the chaos you might feel in your body.
What To Do About Hot Flashes
Hot flashes (or as some folks like to call them hot “flushes”) are one of the most spoken and joked about symptoms. According to Dr Jen Gunter, an OB/GYN and author of The Menopause Manifesto, 75% of women experience hot flashes and night sweats, also known as vasomotor symptoms. Some people get them early on and they go away. Some women don’t get them until later into perimenopause, while some don’t get them until they are officially in menopause. And then there are some who experience hot flashes the whole time!
“Medically speaking, a hot flush is a wave of heat that envelops the head, neck, upper chest, and arms. It isn’t just a feeling of heat; the body is warm to the touch. Hot flushes may be accompanied by sweating, redness in the face, nausea, agitation, and anxiety. The hot flush experience can vary woman to woman, but here’s one constant – heat.” -Dr Jen Gunter
The cause of hot flashes is a bit of a mystery because temperature regulation happens in the brain, but naturopathic doctor and author of The Hormone Repair Manual Lara Briden, ND explains it as having a very touchy thermostat, where even the slightest change in body temperature can cause the hypothalamus in the brain to overcorrect, causing shivering or sweating. Estrogen plays a role in this temperature regulation, especially when the body is used to a higher level of estrogen and then suddenly experiences low levels of estrogen.
Estrogen dominance can also contribute to hot flashes. Estrogen dominance is too much estrogen in comparison to your progesterone. Yes, your estrogen reduces during perimenopause, but your progesterone production drastically reduces during perimenopause as you stop ovulating. If you suspect estrogen dominance is an issue for you, check out this thorough article called Signs of Estrogen Dominance: What That Means & How To Fix It.
Eat This, Not That For Hot Flashes
When women are experiencing hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms, food is typically not the first thing that comes to mind as a way to improve their symptoms. The food you put in your mouth makes a huge impact on your hormones. Clinically, we have seen many women significantly reduce or eliminate their hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms by modifying their diet and sometimes adding supplements.
Since food and lifestyle habits are our scope of practice, what can you do nutritionally to support yourself through the hot flash phase? Reducing insulin resistance and avoiding trigger foods are two ways to help your body navigate the hormonal changes. Rather than just telling you what to “cut out”, let’s look at some swaps instead, so you have options rather than feeling deprived.
Eat This: Savory Breakfast
Not That: Sweet Breakfast
Starting with a savory breakfast composed of protein and plants is a great way to start your day and keep blood sugars buffered. Highly processed carbohydrate “breakfast” foods like cereal, toast, muffins, bagels, and coffee cake will spike blood sugar, which will eventually drop a few hours later. Creating a roller coaster of blood sugars for your day can potentially set you up for more hot flashes. Here are some of our favorite savory breakfast suggestions, depending on your tastes and how much time you have in the morning:
- Breakfast Burrito: with eggs and cottage cheese as your protein and a selection of veggies for your plants (plus some avocado and sour cream for your healthy fat) these are easy to make a bunch in advance, freeze, and then reheat for a quick breakfast
- Sheet Pan Frittata with Ham, Spinach, & Feta: omit the cheese if dairy sensitive and swap out any veggies you have on hand for variety, this recipe is another great one for leftovers for the week
- Turkey Breakfast Sausage with a side of sauteed veggies: toss some chopped veggies like zucchini, green beans, snap peas, and sweet potato into a pan with avocado oil as a pairing with these sausage patties (again, easy to make a double or triple batch for reheating in the morning!)
- Protein Shake: easy to sip when you are on-the-go and a variety of options for flavors, protein shakes combine your favorite high, quality protein powder with a fat like coconut milk or avocado with your produce like spinach or berries or cauliflower rice. We have lots of recipes on our website, but here’s a fun Summer Strawberry Smoothie classic.
Eat This: Protein, Healthy Fat, Veggie or Fruit Carbs (PFC!)
Not That: Processed Carbs
Snacks often have the reputation of being chips, crackers, candy, or granola bars that have the same nutrition facts as candy bars. We love snacks, but we like the ones that contain animal protein, a healthy fat, and a veggie and/or fruit carbohydrate for energy, just how we like our meals! In fact, you could even think about your snacks as mini-meals if that helps you plan better. With this combination (what we sometimes call the PFC – protein, fat, carb), it will stabilize your blood sugar and reduce the triggers for hot flashes. Here are some of our favorite snack options:
- Meat stick (P) and an apple (C) with nut butter (F)
- Hard boiled eggs (P), guacamole (F), raw veggies like carrots, snap peas, celery, jicama (C)
- ½ cup cottage cheese (P), 2 Tbsp sliced almonds (F), ½ cup of berries (C)
Eat This: Water or Water-like Varieties
Not That: Sodas, Alcohol, or Other Sweetened Beverages
Water is the best fluid for our bodies because so many of our functions and organs need it for the work they do. Filtered water especially is hydrating and healing. But we get it! Water can get boring sometimes, so swapping it out for some herbal unsweetened iced tea, sparkling water, or filtered water infused with cucumber, lemon, lime can give you a little variety. Having a happy hour or a social gathering or looking to replace your evening adult beverage? Alcohol can be one of those drinks that triggers hot flashes and many of our clients have been able to pinpoint their glass of wine (particularly red wine) to the frequency of their hot flashes. Check out this article on Fun Cocktail Alternatives for some festive and flavorful ideas for swaps. You can still make merry without the alcohol (and without the hot flashes)!
Eat This: Berries with Heavy Cream or Apple with Nut Butter
Not That: Popcorn
Hot flashes manifest themselves as night sweats and it’s the worst to be woken up in the middle of the night with sweaty sheets. What can you do to curb the frequency of night sweats? Add a bedtime snack that consists of some healthy fat and a real food carbohydrate like fruit. This combination in a snack before bed helps to keep your blood sugar balanced through the night, which leads to better quality sleep and less night sweats. Obviously, nighttime treats like ice cream are full of sugar, but did you know that popcorn can create a similar spike in blood sugar? There’s been the message that popcorn is a healthy low fat snack option, but as we said above, we actually do want some healthy fat combined with a little carb. If you like that savory, crispy sort of vibe that you get from popcorn or chips, try some crunchy veggies with a Green Veggie Dip, homemade Crunchy Kale Chips, or a DIY trail mix with some Crispy Nuts, coconut flakes, and Bare baked apple chips (just be careful about portioning out your snack so you can savor every bite rather than fall into the mindless munch!).
Reclaim Your Menopause Years
Perimenopause marks the end of the reproductive years, but you still have so much life left to live. Typically, perimenopause can begin in your 40s when kids have grown or are starting to leave the nest, you’ve hit your stride in your career, you feel more confident in who you are, or you’re looking ahead to some big goals and dreams. If menopause symptoms are crimping your style or challenging your quality of life, we can help! With nutrition and key supplements, the registered and licensed dietitians and nutritionists can help you with a plan specific to you and your lifestyle. Reclaim these years for yourself as the best yet and we’ll support you along the way.
For more information on menopause, check out these resources:
- Read: The Ultimate Guide to Menopause
- Read: Am I Too Young To Have Menopause Symptoms?
- Listen: Avoid The Menopause Weight Gain
- Learn: Menopause Solutions online class
- Impact of Menopause Symptoms on Women in the Workplace (mayoclinicproceedings.org)
- Perimenopause - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic
- Gunter, Dr Jen. The Menopause Manifesto. New York, Kensington Publishing Corp, 2021.
- Briden ND, Lara. Hormone Repair Manual: Every Women’s Guide To Healthy Hormones After 40. Greenpeak Publishing, 2021.