Registered nutritionist Shona Wilkinson spoke to Express.co.uk about what menopausal women can do to prevent weight gain, as well as lose it. The secret, according to Shona, is to add more protein to your diet.
Shona said: “Increased protein in menopausal diets can help women in many ways, from weight management and muscle mass improvement, to balanced hormones production.
“Protein impacts these processes in various ways.”
Protein-rich foods tend to “feel more filling and they are broken down and digested more slowly than carbohydrates, staying in the stomach for longer”, Shona explained.
She continued: “When you eat a meal or snack containing protein and carbohydrates, the protein can also help to reduce the rate at which the carbohydrates are broken down and absorbed.
“This means that you get a more even, steady supply of energy and are less likely to have cravings for sugary or carb-rich foods later on.
“Protein can also help to maintain or improve muscle mass.
“This simply means having more toned muscles, which can improve your shape and also help to maintain a healthy metabolism as muscles burn more energy than fat.”
Shona explained how the body breaks down protein into individual components called amino acids.
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She said: “Each amino acid is then used for specific roles, like the building blocks of hormones.
“For example, the amino acid tyrosine is needed for your thyroid gland to make the hormone thyroxine, which keeps your metabolism up and makes sure you’re burning the right amount of energy.
“Tyrosine and phenylalanine are also needed to make adrenaline, the hormone that kicks in when the body requires a burst of energy.
“What’s more, tryptophan is used to make serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’ that can stop you from craving comfort foods.”
Even though eating protein can lead to weight loss due to it making slimmers feel fuller for longer and help them crave less food, it can also go the opposite direction if too much is consumed.
Shona said: “It is important not to go overboard as too much protein can result in being stored as fat, and, as result, contribute to weight gain, which is already common in the menopause.
“However, if you increase your intake with just the right amount, the benefits can be endless.”
So, how can women start to incorporate more protein into their diets?
Shona recommended eating legumes, saying: “Beans, lentils, chickpeas and soy are important foods due to their plant protein and amino acid content, having three times the protein content of rice.”
She continued: “Legumes provide two macronutrients in one food – they contain both carbohydrates and a varying amount of protein.
“They can be implemented in all diets but especially ideal for those who are vegetarian or vegan and need to source proteins from plant-based foods.
“Nuts are also a great choice for vegans and meat eaters alike.
“Nuts are high in protein which is great for building muscle mass, and nut butters are a nice way to consume nuts. They can be mixed with mashed banana to provide a carbohydrate boost as well.”
Other foods include pumpkin seeds, boiled eggs, and even protein shakes “can be helpful”, according to Shona.
The nutritionist added: “It is very difficult to say when you will feel the effects of added proteins in your diet – it is very subjective and dependent on your starting protein levels.
“It is always beneficial to allow 12 weeks to see the effects of changes in your diet or supplementation.
“You could, however, start to notice slight differences within a few weeks.
“Some people start to feel more energised in a few days.”