People often associate protein with body builders and athletes, but it’s actually an essential part of everyone’s diet, especially menopausal women! This nutrient is vital for building muscles and producing hormones, healthy skin, strong nails, digestive enzymes and more. Let’s find out why you need it and how much you really need.
Over the years, protein has gotten a little bit of a bad rap, which it doesn’t deserve. We’ve all been told that we’re getting too much protein and should cut down on it. The problem is, with all the changes going on with our hormones and body during menopause, our protein needs tend to increase.
Why is protein so important?
Why do we need protein? Every single cell in our bodies needs it! It’s the building block of life: protein helps the body make new cells and repair damaged ones. So many physical changes take place during menopause, which is why it’s so important to get enough. Organs, skin, muscles, hair and nails all need plenty of protein.
Many hormones are made of protein, and it’s not just the sex hormones. We do need protein for our sex hormones, but we also need it for other hormones that help run our digestive system and the thyroid, and those that help keep our bones healthy. In fact, we need a whole range of hormones just to keep us functioning properly.
Protein is an important component in the structure of bones, as is calcium. We also need protein to help with our red blood cells, which contain iron and help deliver oxygen throughout the body.
We also have something in the bloodstream called plasma, a kind of clear fluid that contains something called lipoproteins, which help transport and eliminate cholesterol from our bodies. This function is a very important one, especially as we get on in years.
We need protein to build enzymes, highly specialized compounds that carry out specific tasks in the body. We need many different kinds of enzyme to help us to break down, digest and absorb our food.
We need cholesterol to help with our nerves, which require something called neurotransmitters—they help our nerves send messages throughout the body, help our nervous system and help regulate our temperature. Neurotransmitters are vital, and they’re made primarily of protein.
Which functions are affected by a lack of protein?
All of these aspects of our health depend on us getting plenty of protein. So if we’re not getting enough protein during menopause, which areas are going to be affected most?
During menopause, hormone production declines, and if we don’t get enough of it, our body has a hard time making sex hormones to help keep us balanced.
Because protein also helps with digestion, one thing that happens during menopause is that our digestion is affected by falling estrogen levels, so we don’t break down and properly absorb our food. Remember that estrogen is a hormone which, like all hormones, requires protein. We therefore need plenty of protein to help with digestion and control cholesterol, especially given that cholesterol levels can increase during menopause.
How the body uses protein
Our bodies can’t store protein, which can’t be said for fat, which is all too easy to store. If our protein needs go up during menopause and we don’t have enough protein in our diet, the body will use it first and foremost for functions that help us stay alive.
Consequently, things like nails, hair and skin are going to take a back seat and be deprived of protein. In fact, one of the first signs that you’re running low on protein is that your nails, hair and skin start to suffer.
We also need plenty of protein to build muscle, and unfortunately, because of falling estrogen during menopause, muscle tone can take a hit. A lot of women tell me that they feel that their muscles are shrinking, getting weak and get fatigued much quicker.
Where to get protein and how much do you need?
How are you going to get enough protein and how much do you need? The consensus is that you really need a decent-sized serving of protein at every single meal, and this is very often where typical menopause diets go wrong, because they still tend to focus too much on cutting down on carbohydrates.
What you need is something like a palm-sized portion of protein roughly the thickness of a deck of cards. If you eat meat and fish, choose lean, high-quality meats, plenty of fish, and eggs as well. Eggs are basically a complete protein, so they’re a really good addition to your diet.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you’ll need to combine nuts and seeds, pulses, grains. Tofu is an excellent addition to your diet. If you’re vegetarian, again, you can have eggs. But go easy on the dairy products: while a small amount of dairy products can help you meet your protein needs, don’t rely on them as your main source of protein because they’re high in saturated fats.
If you’re one of those people who can’t face a big breakfast in the morning or just think, “You know, I don’t really like meat all that much” or “I’m a vegetarian or vegan and I eat plenty of nuts and seeds and things already,” then you might want to consider some of the really fabulous plant-based protein powders as a good source of added protein. Just have a little protein shake once a day with one of your meals or as a little snack between meals.
Protein is so important during menopause—just a little extra can make a big difference.
So, I hope you found this helpful. Protein is really important during menopause, and just upping it a little bit on a daily basis can make a huge difference in your energy levels and in the way your body copes with your hormones. It’ll also give your self-esteem a boost by helping your hair, skin and nails stay healthy right through menopause and beyond.