Experts Share the 7 Foods Women Over 50 Should Be Eating

By Lauren Krouse
Reviewed by Elizabeth DeRobertis, R.D.
March 29, 2024

Whether you’re approaching menopause or well past it, shifts in hormones and aging can trigger a cascade of unwanted changes—think: hot flashes, sleepless nights, runaway weight gain, and more.

You might think the first step for dealing with these frustrations would be taking medication or stocking up on supplements. However, Tara Scott, M.D., an ob/gyn and functional medicine specialist in Akron, Ohio, says she and her midlife patients typically begin by looking at what they eat.

“Nutrition specifically has the potential to help or hurt during this change in life,” she says. For example, certain carb-heavy foods and drinks like sugary cereals, bread, processed snacks, and alcohol can become harder to process as you get older, she says. These foods quickly raise your blood sugar and boost inflammation, which could increase your risk of developing chronic conditions like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Research suggests they may also lead to more frequent or severe hot flashes.

Scott recommends that women age 40 or more limit added sugars to 10 percent of food intake (or, fewer than 50 grams of a 2,000-calorie diet) and practice moderation with the occasional glass of wine (one drink is the daily limit for women, per the latest dietary guidelines from the USDA).

But the key to getting by—even thriving—in midlife isn’t all about subtraction. There are plenty of nutrient-rich whole foods to add to your grocery list that may counteract perimenopause symptoms and protect your health. Here are seven foods that are a midlife must for women who want to make sure they're getting the nutrients they need.

1. Phytoestrogen-Rich Foods

Foods like soybeans, tofu, tempeh, edamame, chickpeas, barley, lentils, and flaxseed may help people manage hot flashes because of their heavy concentration of phytoestrogen.

“Phytoestrogens are compounds in plants that act as a weaker form of estrogen in our body,” explains Claire Virga, a registered dietitian with Rooted Wellness, a private practice dedicated to women’s health in New York City. For example, “isoflavones, the type of phytoestrogen found in soy, bind to estrogen receptors and either have an anti- or pro-estrogenic effect, depending on the amount of estrogen circulating in your body,” she says. The effect can bring balance depending on each woman’s needs.

Some studies suggest eating more phytoestrogens may reduce the frequency of hot flashes or even play a role in lowering your risk of certain types of breast cancer or heart disease.

2. Plant-Based or Lean-Meat Proteins

Feeling low on energy or not as strong as you’d like to be? Aim to include at least one of the following in every meal and snack: beans, nuts, seeds, chicken, turkey, fish and other types of seafood. Here’s why: Menopause and lower estrogen levels speed up a natural process called sarcopenia, or aging-related loss of muscle mass, says Virga.

To preserve as much muscle mass as you can and to keep your metabolism humming, studies show you need to get in 0.45 to 0.55 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. For example, if you weigh about 150 pounds, that’s 67.5 to 82.5 grams (a medium egg, for example, has 5.7 grams) of protein per day.

3. Calcium-Rich Foods

Lower estrogen levels lead to increased bone loss, warns Tamar Samuels, a registered dietitian with Culina Health, a holistic nutrition coaching service based in New York City. This is why calcium—especially calcium from food—becomes even more important. Supplements can help when there is a deficiency or an inability to get nutrients other ways, but most medical professionals encourage patients to strive to get nutrients from food over supplements since diet as a whole is so important in terms of overall health.

To help prevent osteoporosis, the National Institutes of Health recommends women age 50 or more get 1,200 mg of calcium a day by eating high-calcium foods including dairy products such as yogurt, kefir, cheese, and milk (roughly three 8-ounce yogurts should cover you for the day; of course, that a lot of yogurt each day).

Many of the dairy products are fortified with vitamin D too, which is also key for building strong bones. If you’re lactose intolerant, opt for canned fish with bones, like sardines, or tofu (but check the label to make sure it’s calcium-fortified), says Samuels.

4. Dark, Leafy Greens

The relationship between menopause and heart disease is complex, but research suggests lower levels of estrogen may to contribute to risk factors like stiffer artery walls, higher levels of “bad” cholesterol, and lower levels of “good” cholesterol. That’s where a daily dose of antioxidant-rich “super greens” like kale, spinach, collard greens, bok choy, or mustard greens is a must. In particular, the magnesium found in these greens may help lower blood pressure, says Samuels.

Eating leafy greens also helps maintain bone density and support sleep—two big wins in midlife. To reap these benefits, mix a handful (one-half cup, or so) of them into salads, smoothies, dips, soups, and pastas every day.

5. Whole Grains

Eating plenty of whole grains such as oats, quinoa, brown rice, and barley rather than refined carbs like white bread and crackers could help lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and early death, according to a study published by Cambridge University Press. To make sure a food is truly “whole grain,” always check the label and make sure the first ingredient is a whole grain. As for the amount, the study found that those who consumed three or more servings a day of whole grains had up to 30 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those who consumed low quantities of whole grains.

Another plus: “They’re high in fiber, which is digested slowly and helps keep you full longer, which, in turn, can help you maintain a healthy weight or avoid excessive weight gain,” notes Virga.

6. Eggs

Whether you like ’em sunny-side up, scrambled, hard-boiled, or poached, eggs are one of the best sources of Vitamin B12—two whole eggs provide about 45 percent of your daily needs. A key building block for red blood cells and the central nervous system, B12 is crucial for a healthy immune system and brain.

B12 deficiency becomes more common due to lower levels of stomach acids as you age, so it’s important to ensure you’re not low on this essential nutrient, says Virga. Not into eggs? Milk, fortified cereals, and whole grains can help you keep levels up, too, according to a study on adolescent girls and nutrition deficiency published by Nutrition Journal in 2016.

7. Fruits and Vegetables

You may have heard it a gazillion times, but here it is once more: You can’t go wrong filling half of your plate with produce.

“Including more fruits and vegetables in your diet is important at all stages of the life cycle, and especially in midlife, as your antioxidant levels decline and your metabolism slows,” says Virga. If you’re trying to watch your weight, fruits and veggies provide satiating fiber as well as a slew of nutrients that keep your immune system going and help you fight chronic disease.

Even better? A one-year study of menopausal women found a higher fruit-and-veggie intake could lead to slight weight loss, which ultimately cut hot flashes in some study participants. Sounds like a fantastic reason to become a regular at your local farmers’ market.

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