Passing through menopause is a natural process, and hot flashes are a very common symptom. Research suggests that eating certain foods and avoiding others may help with hot flashes.
Menopause is the point in a woman’s life when she hasn’t had a period for 12 months. The time leading up to it is called perimenopause and generally lasts for several years.
The levels of hormones in the body fluctuate throughout this time, which is why hot flashes are so common during perimenopause and even beyond menopause.
At ZOE, we run the largest nutrition study of its kind in the world, with over 10,000 contributors to date. In our research, we have seen many differences between women before and after menopause, including worse sleep.
Take a free quiz to find out more about how the ZOE program can help you eat the best foods for your body during and after menopause.
Read on to learn about the foods that can help with hot flashes, as well as which ones to avoid so you can ease your symptoms.
What changes in the body during menopause?
During perimenopause, women experience fluctuations in levels of the reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone. You may notice changes in your menstrual cycle or the intensity of your periods.
After menopause, when you haven’t had a period for 12 months, estrogen settles at a lower level and your body stops producing progesterone completely.
bladder control issues
problems with memory
Hot flashes and “night sweats” are the most common symptoms of perimenopause, and almost 80% of women experience them.
During a hot flash, you may feel a sudden warmth or heat spreading around your neck, face, or upper body. This can be accompanied by a flushed appearance, sweating, and often anxiety.
Experts don't know exactly what causes or triggers hot flashes, but they suspect that changing hormone levels affect the hypothalamus, which is the part of your brain that regulates body temperature.
Foods and diet changes that could ease hot flashes
Here's some good news: There’s solid evidence that making changes to what you eat can help reduce symptoms of hot flashes and night sweats.
As we’ll see below, scientists have looked at different aspects of this, but it can be broadly summed up in one short sentence: Eat more plants.
Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that mimic some of the functions of estrogen. They may help to counter the reduced levels of the hormone that accompany menopause.
There are two main types of phytoestrogens — isoflavones and lignans.
Soybeans are particularly rich in isoflavones and lignans. Flaxseeds and sesame have high levels of lignans.
Other plants that contain lignans include:
nuts and seeds: cashews
whole grains: rye, oats, wheat, spelt, buckwheat
fruits: apricot, pears, grapes, kiwi
vegetables: bell pepper, green beans, carrots, zucchini
A review of 10 studies found that women who took phytoestrogen supplements experienced hot flashes much less often than those who didn’t. The amount of phytoestrogen that the women in these studies took varied from 36 mg to 100 mg per day.
In comparison, 3 ounces of soft tofu contains 20 mg of isoflavones, and 3 ounces of natto has 70 mg.
A plant-based diet
A small study examining the effects of a low-fat, plant-based diet showed that eating more plants may help with hot flashes.
The participants were all women who experienced hot flashes at least twice a day and had gone through menopause.
One group switched to the plant-based diet — including half a cup per day of cooked soybeans — while the other group stuck to their normal diets.
After 12 weeks, those in the plant-based group experienced significantly fewer hot flashes than those in the control group, with most also reporting less severe symptoms.
The Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet is an eating pattern that is high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes (like lentils and chickpeas), and healthy oils like olive oil.
One large-scale study looked at the eating habits of 6,040 women.
It identified six different patterns of eating and found that women who ate a Mediterranean diet or consumed lots of fruit were significantly less likely to report hot flashes and night sweats than those on the other diets.
The National Institute on Aging recommend drinking small amounts of cold water before bed if you are prone to hot flashes.
The organization also suggests lowering the temperature in your bedroom and layering your bedding so you can easily remove it if you do experience night sweats.
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Foods to avoid
Just as eating more of certain foods may help with your hot flashes, so could limiting the amounts of some other foods and drinks you consume.
The caffeine in coffee and tea narrows your blood vessels and raises blood pressure, which may be involved in triggering hot flashes.
One large-scale study showed that consuming more caffeine was linked to experiencing more hot flashes. So, cutting down on coffee could help with your symptoms.
Foods high in fat and sugar
The same study that showed the Mediterranean diet can help with hot flashes also found that a diet high in fat and processed sugar can do the opposite.
If you get hot flashes, try to limit the amount of sweets and cakes you eat, which is in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Our research has found that the way women’s bodies respond to food changes with menopause. You are more likely to experience high blood sugar after meals as a woman after menopause, which can lead to weight gain and a higher risk of chronic health conditions.
If you regularly eat hot food and have hot flashes, try milder spices and chilies to see if that helps with your symptoms.
Menopause and the lead up to it can come with uncomfortable symptoms for women. Hot flashes and night sweats are the most common, but there’s good evidence that changing your diet can help with these.
Try eating more plants rich in phytoestrogens — like soybeans, flaxseeds, whole grains, and legumes — or following the Mediterranean diet, which is also rich in plants and healthy oils.
Limiting foods high in processed sugar and fat can help, too. And you can also try cutting down on spicy foods and caffeine, and focus on staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water instead.
Although these broad changes to your diet may be able to help with your hot flashes, at ZOE, we know that nutrition is highly personal.
The ZOE at-home test analyzes your body’s responses to food and the bacteria in your gut to find the best foods for you at your current life stage.
Take our free quiz to find out more.
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