Sugar And Menopause: The Two Don't Mix
Not to be overly dramatic, but sugar is the devil. That cute little cupcake you consumed at the last office birthday party might as well have had horns and a tail, because sugar--the processed kind, not the naturally occurring stuff in fruits and veggies--can do a whole lot of damage to your body if you don’t consume it carefully. Eaten in moderation, sugar is probably fine. But in excess, it promotes cavities, causes pimples or acne, weight gain, even heart disease. And, yes, sugary foods can make menopause worse.
Put simply, sugar and menopause don't mix well. We’re going to talk about why the white stuff is especially harmful during menopause, the pros and cons of giving up sugar, and some simple steps you can take to kick this sweet habit for good. Now, let's discuss why you should stop eating sugar in menopause.
Why is Sugar Extra Bad During Menopause?
As with many menopause symptoms, the problem is the loss of the protective properties of our reproductive hormones.
Rising Blood Sugar Levels
In menopause, as estrogen and progesterone diminish, our cells become more resistant to insulin, meaning the body has to work harder to manage blood sugar. Many women see their blood sugar levels rise and fall during this time, making them more vulnerable to several ailments, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Also, higher blood sugar levels are related to weight gain and fatigue.
And as a bonus, if you’re on HRT (hormone replacement therapy) to reduce menopause symptoms like hot flashes, that insulin resistance may make HRT less effective. Even if you’re not on HRT, too much sugar can still worsen menopausal symptoms. Hoorah!
Translation: no more turning to Tootsie Rolls to get through a rough day.
Sugar and Hot Flashes
High blood sugar has been linked to hot flashes. So, it makes sense that if sugar impacts blood sugar levels, it might also increase the number and intensity of your hot flashes, as suggested in this study. Building on the information provided above, blood sugar levels can be affected by a number of things, including stress, illness, lack of sleep, side effects from medications, and a diet high in saturated fats and sugar. The glycemic index (a system that ranks foods on a scale from 1 to 100 based on their effect on blood-sugar levels) indicates that foods low on the index such as vegetables, some fruits, whole grains, nuts, and some dairy stabilize blood sugar levels. A diet high in saturated fats and sugar (fatty meats, processed baked goods, fruit juice, many condiments) leads to spikes in blood sugar levels, and that’s when hot flashes can occur.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Many menopausal women use HRT to reduce menopause symptoms. But sugar’s impact on insulin may make HRT less effective. Quick side note: Wondering if HRT is right for you? Talk to a doctor.*
If you want to try HRT to reduce menopause symptoms, Gennev's menopause-certified gynecologists can give you a trusted opinion and if medication is right for you, they can provide prescription support. Book an appointment with a doctor here.
Ditch the sugar …
Mood swings, disrupted sleep, and fatigue in menopause, may seem like the worst possible time to try to give up sugar, but there are so many pros to outweigh (no pun intended) the cons. So, let’s talk about the positives and the negatives of giving up sugar.
So let’s talk about the pros vs cons of giving up sugar:
- Sugar tastes good. Pretty simple concept. And, unfortunately, true.
- It’s in a lot of stuff I eat. It’s not just candy and baked goods. Sugar is in foods you wouldn’t expect, from ketchup to low-fat yogurt and spaghetti sauce. Reducing sugar may mean trading in pre-prepared foods for cooking or at least for label-reading.
That pretty much covers it, right?
Well, yes, ditching the sugar is an adjustment, because it’s in bloody everything. It’s not just candy and baked goods, it’s in foods you wouldn’t expect, from ketchup to low-fat yogurt to spaghetti sauce. Reducing sugar may mean trading in pre-prepared foods for cooking or at least for label-reading.
We’ll get to the how-to in a sec, but first, the why:
Pros (your results may vary):
- Reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, some cancers
- Easier weight management
- Generally better diet overall (more room for the good stuff)
- Fewer spikes and troughs in blood sugar levels, reducing mood and energy fluctuations, aaaaaaaand
- Less dramatic menopause symptoms / HRT may be more effective
Balanced against all these health benefits, dipping into the kids’ candy stash on Halloween sounds a little less attractive.
What to do to reduce sugar?
The good news is, you don’t have to entirely eliminate sugar if you’re able to control your consumption. The less good news is that most of us need some serious sugar reduction to get to the five teaspoons of “added sugars” recommended for a moderately active woman, 51 – 55. (For reference, a 12-ounce can of cola is about eight teaspoons, already more than the daily limit.)
We’re challenging you. Pick one of the following things to do for one week. See how it goes. Report back. Then pick another.
Food manufacturers are sometimes a bit slippery about calling sugar “sugar” because they know we’re on to them. Proposed changes to nutrition labels will call out added sugar, finally separating them from naturally occurring sugars. Ingredients are listed in order of predominance by weight, so if the sugar comes at or near the top of the list for that spaghetti sauce, or if there are a lot of different types of sugar listed, buy another brand or make it yourself.
We live in the age of the Internet, so you have access to lots of great resources to help reduce the sugar in beloved family recipes or make new beloved family recipes. (Gennev's nutrition section has some great ideas for healthy eating!)
There are lots of great resources out there, from books and magazines to tv shows and podcasts.
Eat real food
Eating real foods, as opposed to processed ones, which can contain lots of hidden sugars, can help you get your daily intake.
The closer you get to mother nature’s original recipe, the healthier the food often is. Join a Community Support Agriculture – when you subscribe with a local farm, you get periodic delivery of a box of whatever’s in season, and you help a small farmer stay in business. Or check out your local farmers’ market, should you be lucky enough to have access. In the absence of these options, haunt the produce section of your local grocery stores. Shopping “around the edges” of the store is a good way to avoid the overly processed stuff which tends to hang out in the middle (and my middle, when I eat it).
Need help making those lifestyle changes? A menopause-certified health coach can be helpful. Book 30 minutes for your personal consultation with a health coach.
Learn to love fruit again
Nature’s candy is diverse in flavor, texture, color, and benefits, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 76% of us can’t even manage to cram in the measly cup-and-a-half we should be getting each day. Worried the sugar in fruit will make you fat? Don’t. Fruit comes packed with water and fiber, which help us fill up before we eat too much. Slice a banana on your oatmeal before you nuke it and let the natural sugar sweeten it much better than sugar does. Processed and added sugars are generally converted into fat, which winds up as the infamous menopausal belly bump– but you don't have to worry about that with fruit. Plus, smug points for eating well.
Ready to take on the challenge? Let us hear how you’re doing! Share in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter, and remember, this isn’t about numbers on the scale (though that’s fine too), it’s about being healthier and happier and feeling ever-more fabulous in your body, no matter your age.
Have you taken our Menopause Assessment?
Join over 100,000 women to learn more about your symptoms and where you are in the menopause journey.