Nutrition During Menopause: A Guide to Optimal Health

Nutrition During Menopause: A Guide to Optimal Health

Menopause is a natural phase in every woman’s life, marking the end of her reproductive years. As hormone levels change during this time, various physical and emotional symptoms may arise, making it essential to prioritize nutrition and overall well-being. A balanced diet can significantly impact how women experience menopause, from managing symptoms to promoting long-term health and vitality. However, understanding the unique nutritional needs during this life stage can be challenging, as misinformation and conflicting advice abound.

Dr. Barbara Hessel, MD, a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist with over 25 years of experience in Forest Hills, NY, is committed to empowering women with the knowledge and tools they need to make informed decisions about their health during menopause. Through her compassionate care and expert guidance, Dr. Hessel demystifies the complexities of menopausal nutrition and offers practical advice for promoting optimal health during this transition.

This comprehensive blog post will discuss the nutrients and dietary habits essential for supporting women’s health during menopause. From the importance of calcium and vitamin D for bone health to the role of phytoestrogens in alleviating symptoms, Dr. Hessel’s insights will provide an invaluable resource for women navigating this significant life change. Furthermore, we will delve into practical strategies for adopting a healthier lifestyle through balanced meals, mindful eating, and regular physical activity – all crucial components of holistic menopausal health.

By understanding the unique nutritional needs of women during menopause, and under the care of an experienced healthcare professional like Dr. Hessel, you can feel confident in making choices that support your well-being throughout this transformative period. Join us as we explore the power of nutrition as a vital component of menopausal health and empower yourself to embrace a renewed sense of vitality and longevity.

Essential Nutrients for Women During Menopause

1. Calcium: During menopause, hormonal shifts increase the risk of bone loss and osteoporosis. Calcium is essential for preserving bone density and strength. Include calcium-rich foods in your diet, such as dairy products, leafy greens, and fortified plant-based milk alternatives.

2. Vitamin D: This crucial nutrient works in tandem with calcium to support bone health, as it helps your body absorb calcium more efficiently. Increase your vitamin D intake through safe sun exposure, fortified foods, and supplementation, as recommended by your healthcare professional.

3. B Vitamins: The B complex group of vitamins plays a vital role in supporting energy levels, brain function, and mood regulation. Incorporate B-rich foods into your diet, such as whole grains, lean protein sources, and a variety of fruits and vegetables.

4. Phytoestrogens: These plant-based compounds mimic the effects of estrogen in the body, helping alleviate common menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes. Foods rich in phytoestrogens include soy-based products, flaxseeds, and certain legumes.

Dietary Habits to Adopt During Menopause

1. Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day to maintain healthy digestion, circulation, and metabolism. Adequate hydration also helps manage symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats.

2. Limit Processed Foods: Excess salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats found in processed and fast foods can exacerbate menopausal symptoms and increase the risk of lifestyle-related diseases. Focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods for a balanced diet.

3. Eat Regular, Balanced Meals: Plan meals that include appropriate portions of protein, healthy fats, whole grains, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Regular, balanced meals can help stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce mood swings associated with menopause.

4. Incorporate Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids offer numerous health benefits, including improved heart, brain, and joint health. Include fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines in your diet, as well as plant-based sources like chia seeds and walnuts.

Maintaining an Active Lifestyle

1. Cardiovascular Exercise: Regular aerobic exercise helps maintain heart health, boost mood, and support a healthy weight during menopause. Aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking or swimming.

2. Strength Training: Resistance training helps preserve muscle mass and bone density while increasing metabolism. Incorporate strength training exercises with body weight, free weights, or resistance bands at least twice weekly.

3. Flexibility and Balance: Activities such as yoga, Pilates, and tai chi can improve flexibility, balance, and mindfulness, helping you manage stress and reduce the risk of falls as you age.

4. Seek Support: Joining exercise classes or working with a fitness professional can provide motivation, accountability, and social support, improving your likelihood of maintaining a consistent exercise routine.

Managing Menopausal Symptoms with Lifestyle Strategies

1. Practice Stress Management: Chronic stress can exacerbate menopause symptoms and impact overall well-being. Incorporate stress-relief techniques into your daily routine, such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, or journaling.

2. Prioritize Sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Adopt healthy sleep habits, like maintaining a consistent bedtime routine, creating a comfortable and dark sleep environment, and avoiding caffeine and electronic devices before bedtime.

3. Stay Connected: Social support from friends, family, and healthcare professionals plays a critical role in maintaining mental and emotional well-being during menopause. Connect with others going through similar experiences by joining support groups, online forums, or participating in community activities.


Prioritizing nutrition and overall well-being during menopause is crucial for not only managing symptoms but also embracing a renewed sense of vitality and longevity. By understanding the unique nutritional needs of women during this life stage and incorporating healthy lifestyle habits, you can confidently navigate this transformative period to optimize your health.

Barbara A. Hessel, MD. FACOG is committed to providing compassionate care and expert guidance for women during menopause in Forest Hills, NY. Through her wealth of knowledge and personalized approach, Dr. Hessel helps women make informed decisions about their health and well-being at this critical time. If you are looking for nutrition coaching for menopause, do book an appointment today!

How Much Protein Should You Eat?

How Much Protein Should You Eat?

Protein is my favorite nutrition topic. It keeps you feeling full while helping to build muscle. Additionally, protein stabilizes glucose levels, and supports a healthy immune system. 

 When adding protein to your diet, recall the importance of mindfulness: 

 Before you eat, pause, and ask yourself if you are truly physically hungry. Understanding your body’s signals, like hunger and cravings will help you be more mindful about what you are eating. Cravings are mental, emotional, and habitual and might take the form of wanting something sweet or salty, right away. Cravings can arise from stress or boredom, the need for reward, or distraction. Hunger is felt in the gut. It is the physical sensation of a grumbling stomach or feeling a little shaky or dizzy. You can trust it to tell you it is time to eat. Mindfulness is “noticing and naming” what is going on IN THE MOMENT.

With that in mind, let us discuss how much protein to eat. 

We can easily calculate your protein needs based on the answers to these questions- Is your goal to lose weight? Gain muscle?  What is your level of exercise?  Did you just have a baby or are you recovering from surgery?!  

 An objective measure is the size of your palm. One palm is approximately 1 serving of protein. Be sure to get about 1 palm-sized serving of protein per meal. One reason this works is that you can use this to easily estimate how much protein that you are eating. You do not have to get a precise measurement. And it is portable! You can use it anywhere, whether you are out to dinner, dining at home, or at a party. It is an uncomplicated way to start practicing including some lean protein at as many meals as possible. 

 For those who like to measure, 1 palm sized serving of protein is about 20-30 grams, or 3-4 ounces of cooked meat, 2 eggs, or 1 cup of Greek yogurt.  

 Here are a couple of guidelines for sources of protein: 

 Eat more:  eggs, fish, shellfish, chicken, duck, turkey, lean beef, bison, lean pork, plain Greek yogurt, tempeh, tofu, and cultured cottage cheese.  

 Eat less:  fatty meats, processed and fried foods, and processed plant-based meats. 

Some strategies for working protein into your diet: If it is more convenient, buy your protein sources pre-prepared (for example, rotisserie chicken, canned tuna, or Greek yogurt). What can you prepare and keep in the fridge? Spend some time on Sunday grilling chicken breast, lean steak, or hard boiling some eggs. Prep a stir fry with pre-cut vegetables, chicken or tempeh, and olive oil to reheat when you get home from homework, and you are too tired to cook. For some variety in your diet, try bison or tempeh. Also try improving the quality of your food, including organic or pastured meat, wild-caught fish, and free-range eggs).

Keep it simple. It does not have to be perfect. Experiment. See what works for you. Even one meal with a little more protein is a success. 


Do you need help with your nutrition?  Don’t know what to eat or where to start?  Schedule a Nutrition Coaching Consultation with Dr. Hessel.

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How To Recognize Stress Eating and What You Can Do About It!

How To Recognize Stress Eating and What You Can Do About It!

We have been discussing moderation and mindfulness. Click here for a quick refresher. 


As we dig deeper into mindfulness, we need to examine stress eating.


We rarely recognize when we are stress eating. I have experienced this myself. The day is going great, then something stressful happens and I find myself opening the refrigerator and cabinet doors. How do we stop before we are elbow deep in the cookies and chips?


To be mindful about what we are eating, we need to get in touch with the body’s signals, like hunger and cravings. 


CRAVINGS: Cravings are felt in the head, and can arise from boredom, and the need for a reward or distraction. Stress is another cause of cravings and might take the form of wanting something sweet or salty right away. Cravings are mental, emotional, and habitual.


Stress eating is triggered by certain sights, smells, people, or emotions. The process is automatic, and you are usually not aware of what is triggering it. You might find yourself in front of the cabinet or refrigerator, reaching for something and wondering “Why am I eating this?”  If you start to pay attention, you might realize these cravings come after a difficult meeting at work, or after talking to your mom, or watching the news. 


HUNGER: On the other hand, hunger is felt in the gut. It is the physical sensation of a grumbling stomach or feeling a little shaky or dizzy. You can trust it to tell you it is time to eat.


Can you recognize the difference for you? Mindfulness is “noticing and naming” what is going on IN THE MOMENT. Learn the difference between hunger and cravings and between hunger and stress eating.


Eating feels good and offers a temporary solution to stress. It helps us forget our stress for the moment. The problem is the feeling is temporary and will not solve our problem.


When we experience emotional eating and the guilt that follows it, it is so easy to give and say “Well I give up. I’m going to eat everything now.”


Here is where I can help you.



3 Strategies to Deal with Stress Eating.


Go Ahead and Overeat.


Many of our thoughts, emotions and actions happen automatically. Habits develop from years of practice until all we need is a trigger to set off our stress eating. It does not require the brain to make decisions.


Next time it happens, give yourself permission to eat. Use it as a learning experience, without judgment. Write down what happens and how you feel before, during and after. This will help you identify triggers. It will also help to remove the guilt and shame around overeating. Also, because you are “allowed to eat,” it becomes less urgent, the cravings are less and often manageable. You will find you can eat 1 or 2 cookies instead of the whole box.


Review your notes. Do you notice a pattern? Once you are aware of the trigger, you can make choices. You can decide if this is something you can avoid. Even If you cannot avoid the trigger, you can become aware that it is happening. 


Create a Menu of Alternatives.


Make a list of options that you can use before stress eating. Things that will help with the stress, but also break the trigger-stress cycle:


  • Take deep, cleansing breaths.
  • Drink more water.
  • Check for signs of hunger.
  • Play with your dog or children. Call or text your partner or friend.
  • Listen to a favorite song. What gets you pumped up? Or more relaxed?
  • Get up. Go for a short walk. Do a few stretches.
  • Spend a few minutes on housework or organizing your desk.


We are using a delay and distract strategy. Oftentimes we think we are hungry, when in fact we just need to drink some water. Make it easy for yourself. Keep water on your desk. Cut up vegetables in the fridge. Most important, keep this list nearby for when you need it. 


Remember, you do not have to use it every time. We are not aiming for perfection. Try it and see how you feel. You can still have a snack. A better alternative when snacking is to measure out the portion, put it in a bowl, sit down and enjoy it mindfully.


Try Self-Compassion.


Often when we are stress eating, we will use negative self-talk before, during and after. It reinforces the trigger – stress eating – feeling bad cycle.


Self-compassion can help break that loop. It can interrupt the “screw it” feeling that leads to over-eating.


Self-compassion is

  • Giving yourself a break.
  • Being honest about your problems.
  • Being kind to yourself.


How do we practice self-compassion? 

  • Mindfulness – being aware of what we are doing but not judging ourselves.
  • Knowing that stress happens to everyone.
  • Self-kindness. We should treat ourselves like we treat our loved ones. 


Before stress eating, you can use mindfulness and self-kindness to break the cycle.


After stress eating, use kindness to remove the guilt and shame that can lead to binging.


Remember, self-compassion is not:

  • Eating whatever you want all the time.
  • Ignoring your problems. 


So, let us not use food to bury your feelings and our problems. Let us use strategies to opt-out of the stress eating cycle.


Do you need help with your nutrition? Do not know what to eat or where to start? Schedule a Nutrition Coaching Consultation with Dr. Hessel! Follow the link here to get started: 

Do you need help with your nutrition?  Don’t know what to eat or where to start?  Schedule a Nutrition Coaching Consultation with Dr. Hessel!  Follow this  link to get started: 

How Can We Learn to Eat in Moderation?

How Can We Learn to Eat in Moderation?

Aren’t you tired of dieting and restrictions?  Do you find it difficult to give up what you like to eat?  Do you find that when you deprive yourself all week, you end up overeating on  the weekends? Or when you deprive yourself all day, you overeat at night?

Think about your favorite food (Peanut M&M’s are mine-220 calories and 26 grams of carbs.) Imagine you could have 500 calories of your favorite food every day-(that would be 2 bags for me) would you be satisfied?  

You wouldn’t feel deprived, because you’re not denying yourself.  You wouldn’t spend all day thinking about the foods that you can’t eat- especially during those  common “trigger times”,  like the  mid-afternoon lull or before dinner. Chances are, you would  feel satisfied, knowing you would be getting what you want.

You would also be able to avoid overeating  the rest of the day because you know that you would get your treat after dinner. 

Now that you’ve removed the feeling of deprivation, you can focus on what you’re eating the rest of the day.  Just knowing you will get your favorite treat later, you can improve your nutrition and regulate your consumption of other foods. 

Without that feeling of deprivation, you will lose the urgency to eat.   You’ll feel less anxiety and less fear about getting hungry or experiencing cravings.  You’ll eat less, and your calories will adjust. 

This is an example of an “Abundance Mindset”-   When you know a food is available to you anytime, the urgency to have it is removed.  You can have it if you want, or you can skip it.  It will still be there. No anxiety, no obsession, and if you do eat it, it doesn’t mean that you blew your whole diet. 

So give yourself permission to eat your treat.   Remove the stress of constantly monitoring every bite of food. You will be able to manage the rest of the day more easily.   This is eating in moderation- You will see better results. 



We work so hard to help our family and our friends when they are struggling — so why is it so hard to help ourselves?

We work so hard to help our family and our friends when they are struggling — so why is it so hard to help ourselves?

It is so  important that we prioritize self-care as well.  It’s like the oxygen on the airplane – you have to put your own mask on first so that you can get enough oxygen to help those around you. 


Simply becoming aware of the habits you are engaging in may be helpful in shifting your own perceptions around food, exercise, and health. You can also try some or all of the following strategies: 


  • Treat your body with respect and practice positive self-talk and self-compassion.


  • Look in the mirror every morning and give yourself a compliment or recognize three things about yourself that you’re proud of or thankful for. 


  • Try some physical activity outside of a structured exercise session that brings you joy and doesn’t revolve around improving fitness, changing body shape, or compensating for calories eaten. I’m a big fan of walking around the neighborhood and hiking whenever possible!


  • Practice intuitive eating — pay close attention to your internal hunger cues and focus on eating what makes you feel good. 


While these steps are a great start, you may still struggle with a preoccupation with food, exercise, or your body. Please feel free to reach out at any time.  Click here to learn more about my nutrition coaching program.