We 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 us 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.

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

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:

“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.

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 us, 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.

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
FoodMicrograms/100 g (approx. ½ cup)
Flax seeds379,380
Soy beans103,920
Tofu27,150
Sesame seeds8008
Soy milk2957
Hummus993
Garlic604
Mung bean sprouts495
Dried apricots445
Alfalfa sprouts441
Dried dates330
References

Top 12 lignan-rich foods
FoodMicrograms/100 g (approx. ½ cup)
Flax seeds301,129
Sesame seeds39,348
Whole-grain flaxseed bread12,474
Curly kale2321
Broccoli1325
Sunflower seeds891
White cabbage787
Brussels sprout747
Cashews629
Garlic536
Apricot450
Strawberry334
References

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.

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. The menopausal superfood most abundant in lignans is flax seeds. We 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.

References

Another family of vegetables we’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. 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

Our Nutritional and Lifestyle Guidelines can provide you with further specifics on eating for hormonal balance.

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 SHOP 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 customers also benefit from a variety of delicious recipes for hormonal balance featured in our Diet and Lifestyle Guidelines e-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.

References

1 Schwarzbein, D. 1999. The Schwarzbein Principle, 24. Deerfield Beech, FL: Health Communications, Inc.

Lucas, M., et al. 2009. Effects of ethyl-eicosapentaenoic acid omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on hot flashes and quality of life among middle-aged women: A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial. Menopause, 16 (2), 357–366. URL (abstract): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19034052 (accessed 05.06.2010).

Low, Y-L., et al. 2007. Phytoestrogen exposure is associated with circulating sex hormone levels in postmenopausal women and interact with ESR1 and NR1I2 gene variants. Cancer Epidemiol. Biomarkers Prev., 16 (5), 1009–1016. URL: http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/16/5/1009.long (accessed 10.22.2010).

  Goldin, B. 1986. In situ bacterial metabolism and colon mutagens. The intestinal microflora and the enterohepatic circulation of sex steroid hormones. Ann. Ref. Microbiol., 40, 382. URL: http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.mi.40.100186.002055?journalCode=micro (accessed 10.22.2010).

Phytoestrogen data source

Thompson, L., et al. 2006. Phytoestrogen content of foods consumed in Canada, including isoflavones, lignans and coumestan. Nutr. Cancer, 54 (2), 184–201. URL (abstract): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16898863 (accessed 10.21.2010).

Lignan data source

Milder, I., et al. 2005. Lignan contents of Dutch plant foods: A database including lariciresinol, pinoresinol, secoisolariciresinol, and matairesinol. Br. J. Nutr., 93 (3), 393–402. URL (abstract): http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=918612 (accessed 10.21.2010).

References on broccoli, sulforaphanes, and detoxification enzymes

Brooks, J., et al. 2001. Potent induction of phase 2 enzymes in human prostate cells by sulforaphane. Cancer Epidemiol. Biomarkers Prev., 10, 949–954. URL: http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/10/9/949.long (accessed 10.22.2010).

Conaway, C., et al. 2000. Disposition of glucosinolates and sulforaphane in humans after ingestion of steamed and fresh broccoli. Nutr. Cancer, 38, 168–178. Erratum in: Nutr. Cancer, 2001;41, 196. URL (abstract): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11525594 (accessed 10.22.2010).