Essential Foods to Ease Menopause Symptoms

What you eat can affect everything from bone health to hot flashes.

two middle aged Black people share a laugh while they cook healthy food in a home kitchen

Updated on June 20, 2023.

There are plenty of supplement manufacturers who claim their products can make menopause symptoms vanish and even more dubious advice on social media about how to get rid of hot flashes and night sweats. But very few of these “miracle cures” have any research to back them up.

One science-backed method that can make you feel better as you go through this life transition? Pay attention to what you eat, suggests Elizabeth Graul, MD a gynecologist in Salt Lake City, Utah. The following key nutrients may improve your symptoms and help lower your risk of chronic illnesses, as well.

Get calcium for bone health

“Menopause causes you to lose estrogen, which leads to symptoms like hot flashes and puts you at risk for other medical conditions like osteoporosis,” explains Dr. Graul.

Osteoporosis is a bone disorder that leads to more than 2 million fractures in the United States each year. Though some people experience a decrease in height or stooped posture, there are usually no outward signs of the disease, which means many people don’t know they have osteoporosis until they experience a fracture.

You can reduce your risk of bone loss and injuries by making sure you are meeting your daily requirements for calcium and vitamin D, says Graul.

People who have gone through menopause should get 1,200 milligrams (mg) of calcium daily. You can get a good dose of calcium by eating these foods:

  • Raw tofu (firm): 861 mg of calcium per ½ cup
  • Low-fat (1%) milk: 307 mg per cup
  • Fortified juices and cereals (such as Cheerios): 100 mg per cup
  • Green vegetables (like kale): 53 mg per cup

As a bonus, getting enough calcium may help control your blood pressure, lower your cholesterol levels, and prevent tooth loss in older adults.

A warning about calcium supplements

People who don't get enough calcium from food alone might need a supplement. But sometimes the body can’t readily absorb the preparations found in drugstores.

“I think a lot of people are making very expensive urine," says Graul. "Their bodies aren’t actually getting the benefit that they think they are."

For example, your body may have a difficult time processing calcium doses larger than 500 mg. Medications can interfere with absorption, as well.

The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), in a 2021 position statement, noted that a total daily intake of more than 1,200 mg is not recommended for otherwise healthy postmenopausal women or women with osteoporosis. The National Institutes of Health advises that adults 51 years and older limit their daily intake to no more than 2,000 mg, while adults 10 to 50 years old should cap their intake at 2,500 mg.  

Calcium supplements come in a variety of forms—including powders, liquids, capsules, and chewable tablets—as well as different formulations. Certain forms, such as calcium carbonate, may cause constipation. Other forms, such as calcium phosphate or calcium citrate, may have fewer gastrointestinal side effects but often cost more.

Before trying any new supplement, ask your healthcare provider (HCP) to recommend the best dose and formula for you.

Vitamin D boosts calcium absorption

Make sure your diet includes foods with plenty of vitamin D, which your body needs to absorb calcium. People who have gone through menopause should consume about 600 to 800 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily.

It can be a challenge to get the right amount of vitamin D from food alone (some people might need supplements), but these foods can help boost your intake:

  • Salmon (sockeye): 570 IU of vitamin D per 3-ounce serving
  • Low-fat (1%) milk: 107 IU per cup
  • Egg (scrambled): 44 IU per large egg
  • Canned light tuna fish (in water): 40 IU per 3-ounce can

It’s always a good idea to get your vitamin D levels assessed during your annual physical. “Ask your provider to check your blood level because we find most women have surprisingly low numbers,” says Graul. The NAMS advises that postmenopausal women should have blood levels of vitamin D of at least 20 ng/mL.

Consider plant sources of estrogen

Many of the most uncomfortable menopause symptoms are the result of declining levels of estrogen, as your ovaries stop producing the hormone. Experts agree that the safest and most effective way to replace estrogen is with hormone replacement therapy, also known as menopausal hormone therapy. But some research suggests that plant-based estrogens may offer relief for symptoms such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness. More research is needed to confirm these benefits.

Consuming soy may be one way to get beneficial estrogen effects, says Graul. Look for whole-food sources of soy, such as tofu, edamame, and soy milk, rather than processed soy products found in packaged foods such as extracts, nuggets, and powders.

Other plant sources of estrogen include:

  • Flaxseed
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Grains

Just note that it’s difficult to eat enough plant-based estrogen foods to get anywhere near the same effect as hormone replacement therapy, says Graul. Also, women with a history of breast cancer should ask an HCP before taking any plant-based estrogen supplements; there’s no solid evidence at this time showing that these products are either safe or unsafe.

It may be about more than estrogen

When it comes to hot flashes, estrogen isn’t always the only cause. Hot flashes can be triggered by other factors, such as increased adrenaline levels, anxiety, or higher-than-normal thyroid hormones. Certain foods can bring on hot flashes too, says Graul.

Avoid or limit these potential hot-flash triggers:

  • Spicy foods
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Refined carbohydrates such as table sugar and white bread

As your body adjusts to menopause, consider keeping a journal to document your food choices, sleep habits, and activities. Looking back at what you ate or did before a symptom flared can help you identify your own personal triggers. Once you start noticing patterns, you’ll be able to come up with an eating plan that helps you get through menopause in a more comfortable, healthier way.

Article sources open article sources

NIH Osteoporosis and Bone Related Diseases National Resource Center. Osteoporosis Overview. October 2019. Accessed May 10, 2022.
Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation. What is Osteoporosis and What Causes It? 2022. Accessed May 10, 2022.
Oregon State University. Calcium. 2017. Accessed May 10, 2022.
Chen MN, Lin CC, et al. Efficacy of phytoestrogens for menopausal symptoms: a meta-analysis and systematic review. Climacteric: The Journal of the International Menopause Society. Vol. 18,2 (2015): 260-9.
Messina M. Impact of Soy Foods on the Development of Breast Cancer and the Prognosis of Breast Cancer Patients. Forsch Komplementmed. 2016;23(2):75-80.
Tanwar AK, Dhiman N, et al. Engagement of phytoestrogens in breast cancer suppression: Structural classification and mechanistic approach. European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. 2021.Volume 213, 113037.
NIH National Institute on Aging. Hot Flashes: What Can I Do? September 30, 2021. Accessed May 10, 2022.
Cagnacci A, Cannoletta M, et al. Menopausal symptoms and risk factors for cardiovascular disease in postmenopause. Climacteric. 2012 Apr;15(2):157-62.
Thurston RC, El Khoudary SR, et al. Vasomotor symptoms and insulin resistance in the study of women's health across the nation. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2012 Oct;97(10):3487-94.
Lee SW, Jo HH, et al. Association between menopausal symptoms and metabolic syndrome in postmenopausal women. Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics. 2012 Feb;285(2):541-8.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Bone Health and Osteoporosis. Last Reviewed: May 2023.
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Calcium. Fact Sheet for Consumers. Updated: October 6, 2022.
Saljoughian, M, PharmD, PhD. Pros and Cons of Calcium Supplements. U.S. Pharmacist. September 15, 2015.
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin D. Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. Updated: August 12, 2022.
Management of Osteoporosis in Postmenopausal Women: The 2021 Position Statement of The North American Menopause Society’’ Editorial Panel. Management of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women: the 2021 position statement of The North American Menopause Society. Menopause. 2021;28(9):973-997.
Franco OH, Chowdhury R, Troup J, et al. Use of Plant-Based Therapies and Menopausal Symptoms: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA. 2016;315(23):2554–2563.
Oregon State University. Linus Pauling Institute's Micronutrient Information Center. Lignans. Reviewed in March 2021.
Tanwar AK, Dhiman N, Kumar A, Jaitak V. Engagement of phytoestrogens in breast cancer suppression: Structural classification and mechanistic approach. Eur J Med Chem. 2021;213:113037.
National Institute on Aging. Hot Flashes: What Can I Do? Content reviewed: September 30, 2021.
Cleveland Clinic. Hot Flashes. Reviewed March 21, 2022.

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