Menopause and weight gain go together like Netflix and chill. That’s the unfortunate reality for many menopausal women who feel that they’re losing the fight against the dreaded middle-age spread. It’s perfectly normal to gain between two and five pounds as a result of things like the natural loss of muscle mass and the decrease in estrogen that comes with age – but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
Since it’s harder to lose that extra weight, many resort to crash diets in an effort to drop a few pounds fast. From the terrifying and almost definitely unsafe master cleanse to the questionable “health” shakes touted by influencers, there’s no shortage of diets to try. And when you feel like you’ve tried everything under the sun to shed that menopause weight, it’s easy for desperation to get the best of you and attempt yet another fad diet.
The question remains: can dieting work for menopausal women? We did a deep dive on some of the most popular diets right now to find the truth.
The ketogenic diet (or keto diet) is a very low carb diet that is rich in proteins and fats. If that sounds familiar, that’s because it’s nothing new – the low-carb Atkins diet has been popular since the ‘70s and the zero carb paleo diet has been around for arguably 2.5 million years. Most people turn to keto for weight loss reasons, but there is evidence that the diet could reduce seizures in children and have other positive benefits for those with certain brain disorders.
Research shows that the keto diet does help accelerate weight loss more so than other diets. But there are a few problems: the keto diet can elevate cholesterol levels. The diet is heavy in red meat and other not-so-good-for-you fatty and salty foods. While weight loss is very possible, it can be hard to sustain the diet and keep the weight off over time.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
The keto diet can drive weight loss for sure, but it’s definitely not for everyone – and if you’re watching your cholesterol, steer clear.
Whole 30 Diet
The Whole 30 diet has been made wildly popular by celebrities, and you’re bound to have at least one friend expounding about their struggles with it on Facebook. So what is it? Whole 30 is an elimination diet that calls for a complete ban on alcohol, sugar, grains, soy, dairy, and legumes for 30 days. After the 30 days are up, you can slowly start adding those banned items back into your life. The diet is meant to be a healthy reset after, say, a decadent holiday season spent eating gratuitous appetizers.
Supposedly, Whole 30 has a number of benefits, including better sleep, more balanced hormones, and of course, weight loss. But it’s far from the ideal diet: Whole 30 is so restrictive that it eliminates foods that are healthy for you. Many depend on dairy products to get their calcium, which is crucial for helping prevent osteoporosis in menopausal women. Eliminating grains could make it more difficult to get fiber into your diet.
Finally, in the US News and World Reports, the Whole 30 diet was ranked the lowest in a total of nine categories comparing popular diets.
Rating: 1 out of 5.
Menopausal women would miss out on a lot of important nutrients in this super restrictive diet. Hard pass!
Anyone who watched What the Health, Food, Inc. or any of the many other documentaries that expose the horrors of the meat industry has probably considered going vegan. Maybe you’ve tried it, but you couldn’t quite give up cheese. Or maybe you thought it was a load of hogwash.
A vegan diet eliminates all animal products of any kind – meat, dairy, even gelatin. The idea is to make humane and healthy choices in the long-term. The healthiest vegan diet consists of plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Here’s the thing: you can’t go vegan and expect to lose weight, but there are a number of health benefits – specifically for menopausal women. One study that compared the menopause symptoms of vegans to those of omnivores revealed that the vegans had less severe menopause symptoms.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Vegans get props for focusing on long-term, healthy alternatives, but a vegan diet is not synonymous with weight loss.
The Mediterranean diet focuses on fruits, veggies, whole grains, fish, and limited red meat, and incorporates the Mediterranean cooking style of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. It also calls for a healthy splash of olive oil and the occasional glass of wine, which sounds pretty ideal as far as diets go.
It’s proven to be heart-healthy – in fact, research shows that it can help reduce the risk of heart disease. But that’s not all: the Mediterranean diet is also associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson diseases. Last but not least, it’s a healthy option for women. Research shows that women who follow the diet, and eat healthy portions of olive oil and mixed nuts, can reduce their risk of breast cancer.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Delicious, incorporates wine, and reduces the risk of cancer? Sign us up!
The aim of the paleo (or Paleolithic) diet is to eat foods that early humans did during paleolithic times, about 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. The diet restricts anything that humans didn’t eat during that time period, including dairy, legumes, and grains. The idea here is that humans are not genetically inclined to consume these parts of our modern diet, and avoiding them could, therefore, prevent obesity and other health issues. It focuses on fruit, veggies, lean meats, fish, nuts and seeds.
One issue that the paleo diet has is that its lack of legumes and whole grains means that you’re missing out on some of the best sources of fiber. For menopausal women, the lack of dairy is a problem because you’re not getting your calcium. Finally, paleo requires high-quality, grass-fed meats, which can be expensive and inaccessible for many people.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
The paleo diet could be useful for losing or maintaining weight, but we don’t have enough evidence that it’s healthy in the long-term.
And the best diet for menopause is…
The Mediterranean diet has the best variety and fewest restrictions (wine, anyone?) out of all the diets we looked at. It’s our top diet pick for menopausal women. The keto diet is a close second, with its low-carb ethos and power to accelerate weight loss.
No matter what diet you’re interested in, check with your doctor before making any big changes to the way you eat. To learn more about healthy eating during menopause, read our blog post: Menopause Mythbusters: The Truth About Menopause and Weight Gain.