If you’re not feeling 100 percent, your healthcare provider will probably ask you what you’re eating. Nutrition — or a lack of it — plays a huge role in how you feel on a daily basis and how you’ll feel months and years down the road. One nutrient to prioritize, especially during (peri)menopause, is fiber.
Nutrition 101: Your digestive system breaks down protein, fat, and carbs so your body can absorb and use them. Fiber helps your gut bacteria perform important functions that in turn may improve your health, especially as you inch toward your middle and menopause years.
According to Willow Jarosh, a New York–based registered dietitian and nutritionist, there are two types of fiber. Insoluble fiber is the “roughage” type of fiber that helps your digestive tract form bulkier stools and keeps things moving through smoothly. And soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance in your digestive system. “That’s the type that’s associated with other types of health benefits,” Jarosh says — including ones you need to pay special attention to when your estrogen levels decline.
An apple a day may not keep the hot flashes away, but fiber-rich foods could play a big role in keeping severe menopause symptoms at bay — and protecting your overall health. Here are five solid reasons to boost your daily fiber intake ASAP.
Fiber improves nutrient absorption
Your body needs all kinds of nutrients to function. Dietary fiber can help your body better absorb those nutrients from food sources. Soluble fibers dissolve in the stomach and turn into a gelatinous substance, then slow the digestion process to allow gut bacteria to better extract nutrients that can be passed through the intestinal lining and into the bloodstream.
During menopause, you need all the nutrients you can get to function healthily as you become more vulnerable to age-related health conditions. So, what does fiber do for the body? For example, dietary fiber helps your body extract vitamins and minerals from your food sources to create new cells, which can help maintain muscle and bone density as you get older.
It may help improve menopause symptoms
Fiber’s impact on the speed of digestion also helps your body extract nutrients that can relieve menopausal symptoms. Take your skin health, for example. If your body can’t absorb nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin C from food, your skin may start to suffer because it’s unable to retain moisture or produce enough new skin cells.
Fiber may also fight joint and muscle pain related to peri/menopause, too. Research suggests fiber helps gut bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids, which are then distributed through the body and can help reduce inflammation that often triggers pain and swelling.
It can keep your gut healthy
While fiber cannot be digested by humans (who knew?), consuming fiber for gut health is important. Fiber is an excellent food source for gut bacteria, providing them with the amino acids and proteins they need to populate our gut. Diverse gut bacteria can help send nutrients to your body and necessary information to your brain, which then directs how your body responds to these nutrients.
Of course, fiber also helps promote healthy bowel movements, which is reason enough to have more of it. Insoluble fiber, found most abundantly in whole grains, nuts, and veggies like cauliflower and potatoes, helps material move through your digestive system, relieving constipation.
It can help regulate your metabolism
Fiber can assist you in maintaining a weight that’s healthy for your body. During the menopausal transition, it’s normal to gain up to 3 percent of body fat each year. While there’s no ideal weight or body type, eating more fiber can help your body maintain a healthy metabolism by slowing down the digestive process and helping you feel full after eating.
You may find you have more energy and a better mood when you pay attention to your body’s cues, especially if you’re not falling prey to the ups and downs of your blood sugar spiking and crashing.
It lowers your risk of certain diseases
Ample fiber intake can help protect you from diseases that become more common during midlife and peri/menopause. Soluble fiber, which dissolves in water, can help reduce blood glucose levels in the body because it slows the absorption of sugars down during digestion. This reduces the number of sugars absorbed into the bloodstream, which can help improve cardiovascular health and prevent type 2 diabetes and, by extension, heart disease.
The best way to do a high-fiber diet is to eat a variety of foods. Whole grains, lentils, seeds, fruits, and veggies are all high-fiber foods great sources of fiber (and they also have tons more of the nutrients we need). Jarosh suggests adding one or two high-fiber foods to each meal, focusing on options you enjoy. “A lot of people think they have to eat whole grain everything, but if you like white tortillas more than wheat ones, fill it with beans so you’re getting fiber from another source,” she says. “Think of the fiber of a meal as a whole.”
While fiber can pack a big punch when it comes to improving your health during peri/menopause, as with any other lifestyle boost, it’s no silver bullet. All the other things your healthcare provider evangelizes — reducing stress, exercise, prioritizing sleep — are just as important in your overall well-being and in reducing your perimenopause and menopause symptoms.
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