What to Expect at 40

Helping women over 40 overcome nutritional challenges

By Serein Behari, Clinical Dietician

Hormonal changes may be to blame for weight gain, loss of bone and muscle density and even digestive issues. But with these tips, you can stay fit and healthy as you age gracefully.

Why do women gain weight after menopause?

Hormonal changes – as women age, they produce less oestrogen and eventually, progesterone production slows as well. These hormonal changes may also affect insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism, putting women at increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes

The body starts to break down fat differently

Hormonal changes make women more likely to gain weight around the abdomen

Sleep disturbances may interrupt appetite regulation by elevating levels of the hunger hormone and decreasing the hormone responsible for making you feel full

The good news is that you can be proactive! Being physically active, for example, decreases your chances of developing metabolic diseases, such as diabetes.

Bone health

Another concern for ageing women is bone density. Women lose about one per cent of their lean body mass each year if they aren’t physically active. Those who maintain a healthy weight, are physically active and don’t smoke lose less bone density than overweight women who smoke and don’t exercise.

Getting enough calcium and vitamin D from food is an important step to preventing bone density loss. Women can lose as much as 20 per cent of their bone density five to seven years after menopause. Other lifestyle factors that can negatively affect bone health include excess alcohol consumption and a family history of osteoporosis.

Supplements can be taken, but focusing on foods containing calcium and vitamin D will have a greater effect. Calcium sources include milk, cheese and milk products, sesame seeds, chia seeds, sardines, beans and lentils.

Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, jogging or resistance training are beneficial because they add force to the body which helps preserve bone density.

Protein is needed to protect our lean body mass as it helps to build muscle, especially when consumed after exercise. Protein should be evenly distributed throughout the day for best results. Also, eating the right kind of carbohydrates can limit spikes in blood sugar which helps fat break down more efficiently.

Digestive changes

Other issues that women in midlife may face include changes in digestion. Fluctuations in ovarian hormones may contribute to belly bloating and sluggish intestines. Eating yoghurt helps to get probiotics (good bacteria) in the intestine and treat gastrointestinal symptoms.

Changing needs

Women who have reached menopause don’t need as much iron as they used to because they no longer menstruate – their need drops from 18 to 8 milligrams of iron per day. Folic acid no longer is a concern since post-menopausal women can’t get pregnant. Some research suggests that too much folic acid from fortified food and supplements may increase the risk of certain cancers.

Nutrition basics

After reading all of this, you may be wondering what to focus on. Here are some basic guidelines:

Focusing on lean proteins, such as fish and chicken and spreading protein consumption evenly throughout the day

Getting plenty of exercise. Slimming down can reduce the risk of developing certain disorders and can also reduce hot flashes

Getting plenty of calcium

Watching out for processed carbohydrates which can be stored as fat and cause gas and bloating

As always, speak to your dietitian about your nutritional needs too.