Nutrition Needs That Change During Menopause

Menopause is a major transitional time, physically and emotionally — even your nutritional needs change a bit. You still need to eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy protein and calcium sources, but there are a few nutritional recommendation changes for women that start right around menopause.


Fewer Calories

Vegetable sticks with oat dip
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As you get older, your muscle mass decreases and your metabolism slows down, so that means you don't need as many calories as when you were younger. That's why women often gain weight during the menopausal years.  

Your metabolism starts to slow down around the age of 40, so if you don't adjust your caloric intake down, you're probably going to gain weight. But, if you increase your exercise and build muscle, you can increase your daily caloric expenditure and avoid menopausal weight gain.


More Calcium

still life of cheese, milk, and yogurt
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Calcium is essential for healthy bones and teeth, along with normal muscle and nerve function. Plus you need calcium for your blood to clot properly. A calcium deficiency can lead to osteoporosis or osteopenia, especially when you get older (it has to do with your hormones).

Because your risk of osteoporosis goes up after menopause, you'll need more calcium. Younger women need about 1,000 milligrams per day, but after age 50 that goes up to 1,200 milligrams per day. Dairy foods are high in calcium, but so are leafy greens, some fish, nuts, and seeds. Calcium is also one of the most popular dietary supplements.


Less Iron

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Your body needs iron to build healthy red blood cells so they can carry plenty of oxygen to all parts of your body. Your muscles need iron as well. If you don't get enough iron, you can lead to feeling weak and tired due to iron-deficiency anemia.

Most younger women need about 18 milligrams of iron each day. There's no real need to cut back on your iron intake when you go through menopause, but once you stop having menstrual periods, you only need about eight milligrams per day. Iron-rich foods include red meat, oysters, organ meat, legumes, nuts, and leafy greens. Iron is also available in supplement form.


More Vitamin D

Sources of Vitamin D including salmon, milk, eggs, and cornflakes
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Vitamin D is essential for absorbing and using calcium. So, it makes sense that if you need more calcium, you also need more vitamin D. The thing about vitamin D is that you don't find in it many foods other than fortified foods like milk and cereal, salmon, egg yolks, and some mushrooms.

If you go outside and get a few minutes of sun exposure on your face and arms or legs a few days each week, your body should make enough vitamin D. Younger women who don't get enough sun exposure need about 200 International Units of vitamin D each day. That goes up to 400 IUs when you turn 50.

Most calcium supplements include vitamin D, but you can take vitamin D supplements without the calcium. But, talk to your healthcare provider first.


Less Fiber

bowl of fiber cereal with bananas and strawberries
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I almost hesitated to include this one because so many women don't get enough fiber at any age, and you don't need to decrease your current intake, you just technically don't need as much as when you were younger. So, younger women need about 25 grams of fiber each day, but after the age of fifty, the recommendation drops to 21 grams of fiber.

Fiber is essential for a healthy digestive tract and eating a fiber-rich diet will help you control your cholesterol levels. Foods high in fiber include legumes (navy beans, pinto beans, soy beans, lentils, etc.), fruits, vegetables, whole grains, oatmeal, brown rice, popcorn, and nuts.


More Vitamin B-6

Dinner plate with meat, green beans, and halved cherry tomatoes
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Vitamin B-6, or pyridoxine, is required for protein and glucose metabolism, and you need vitamin B-6 to make hemoglobin, which is the component of red blood cells that carries oxygen to all the parts of your body.

Sufficient amounts of vitamin B-6 are needed for healthy immune system function because it helps maintain the health of your thymus, spleen and lymph nodes. Vitamin B-6 is also required for normal nervous system function.

Younger women need about 1.3 milligrams per day while women over the age of 50 need about 1.5 milligrams per day. Vitamin B-6 is found in foods of both plant and animal origin, including fish, meat, fruits, legumes, and many vegetables. 

As long as you eat a balanced diet, you should get plenty of vitamin B-6 and supplements aren't needed.

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  • Health and Medicine Division of National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. "Dietary Reference Intakes Tables and Application."

  • Gropper SS, Smith JL, Groff JL. "Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism." Sixth Edition. Belmont, CA. Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2013. 

By Shereen Lehman, MS
Shereen Lehman, MS, is a healthcare journalist and fact checker.