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Night Sweats, Hot Flashes … and Weight Gain?

What every woman needs to know about menopause and added pounds

By Melanie Peters   |   August 30, 2017

​As women age, there’s a gradual decline in ovarian function and the production of hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, leading to menopause. Natural menopause usually occurs between the ages of 45 to 55, and becomes official when there is no occurrence of a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months. There are many symptoms associated with menopause, such a night sweats and hot flashes, but one that can be particularly frustrating for women is weight gain.

Kathryn Macaulay

But are those extra pounds added during menopause inevitable? We asked Kathryn Macaulay, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist with UC San Diego Health and professor of reproductive medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine, for clarification and to shed some light on what (and why) women should be eating to stay healthy through menopause and beyond. Plus, we offer up a few nutritious recipes for inspiration.

Question: Weight gain is often associated with menopause. Are there certain foods women experiencing menopause should avoid or eat more?

Answer: Weight gain is a common concern for women during the menopause transition. The average weight gain for a woman over this transition is approximately five pounds and is more likely related to aging and changes in lifestyle than to specific menopausal hormone changes. However, several studies have suggested that menopause is associated with changes in body composition and fat distribution, with menopausal women having a greater tendency to accumulate fat centrally, in the abdominal area. Also, with aging there is a decline in lean body mass.

Despite these weight changes, menopausal women need not avoid any particular food but should continue maintaining a balanced diet that is low in saturated fat and high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Limiting processed foods with excess sugar and simple carbohydrates is also recommended and will help with keeping overall caloric intake in check. Given the association of alcohol (even in moderate consumption) with breast cancer, limiting or eliminating alcohol would be one strategy to reduce caloric and sugar intake and may lead to better weight management over the menopause transition. In addition, many women find that alcohol can be a trigger for vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes, night sweats), which are experienced by up to 75 percent of women in menopause.

Question: Which nutrients are most beneficial to women experiencing menopause?

Vegetables in a basket

Answer: Attention to calcium and vitamin D intake is recommended after menopause for optimal bone health and osteoporosis prevention. The recommended daily intake for women after menopause is 1200 mgs of calcium and 600 IUs of vitamin D. In general, calcium rich or fortified foods are preferred over supplements, but some women may need to add a calcium supplement to meet the daily recommended intake. Vitamin D, however, is easiest to take as a supplement since food sources that are naturally rich in vitamin D are less common. For menopausal women who take a daily multi-vitamin, formulations made for women over the age of 50 are preferred as nutrient balance is adjusted for iron (less) and for vitamin D and calcium (more) compared to multi-vitamins formulated for women under 50.

And on that note, here are three recipes to help keep your diet balanced, nutrient-rich and delicious!

Chopped Salad with Shallot Vinaigrette, Feta, and Dill (recipe courtesy of bon appétit)

Let’s face it, eating healthy usually means eating a lot of salads. This version allows you to adapt to what’s in season (asparagus in the spring; green beans in the fall) and to your taste. Bonus: crunchy radishes are natural mood boosters

Pasta Primavera (courtesy of

Pasta dishes are a great way to help you get your daily serving of vegetables. This version features whole wheat pasta (fiber), mushrooms (vitamin B) and colorful bell peppers (vitamin C). 

Jumbo Fish Fingers (courtesy of Jamie

A healthier take on a childhood favorite, this recipe uses salmon, which is high in omega 3 oils, whole grain bread for the crumbs and opts for baking over frying. You can skip the cheddar cheese to make this even easier on your waist line. Served up with a fresh green salad and low-fat dressing and you’ve got a nutritious meal the whole family can enjoy. 

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