How food can help you to navigate the menopause

How food can help you to navigate the menopause - Health Coach Peppermint Wellness

It’s not news to most women that their bodies can be ruled by their hormones!

But what is less well known is that food can help balance out our hormones and keep us on an even keel.

For the latest episode of Wellness Unwrapped, I talked to nutritional therapist, Charlotte Hunter.

As I’m in the perimenopause myself, I’m keen to be armed with as much knowledge as possible to help my body stay balanced through this time of my life. I loved chatting to Charlotte for her unstinting honesty and her lovely way of explaining hormones in a way people can understand!

In this conversation, we talked through ways in which women can help themselves. We also talked about weight gain – and why I (even as a healthy eating health coach!) gained over a stone in weight in 2020.

Here are three key takeaways from our conversation:

  • We need to address the fundamentals of our health as a woman. It’s important to not just focus on levels of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone and forget about everything else. We need to step back and think about the bigger picture.
  • We need to give our body the right raw materials and ensure good blood sugar balance. As we go through menopause, our ability to process carbohydrates is affected and there’s a chance that we might put on more weight as a result. 
  • Think about building your meal around a palm-sized portion of protein eg. a couple of eggs, a chicken breast, a piece of salmon, some mince or tofu. Alongside that, have two handfuls of vegetables on your plate and then have a portion of oil. That could be half an avocado, a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive, hemp or avocado oil or a couple of tablespoons of seeds or nuts.

Charlotte has been a registered and qualified nutritional therapist since 2010. Since then, she has helped many men, women and children to eat well and be healthy. Her firm belief is that food can be healthy and delicious, and can support a number of medical conditions and issues.

Having gone through an early (surgical) menopause herself, her focus now is helping women to navigate the menopause.

Find out more about Charlotte here: https://charlottehunternutrition.co.uk/

Many women are not aware that our levels of collagen (which is essential to keep our skin, bones and joints healthy) plummet in menopause. The collagen I take daily is Known’s Advanced Collagen Supplement, which has a 98% absorption rate, due to its leading-edge formulation that includes liposomal Vitamin C. It also tastes delicious! Wellness Unwrapped listeners can get a 20% discount off their first order by using the discount code Wellness20 here: https://knownnutrition.co.uk/

You’ll find the full transcript of our conversation below and can listen to our conversation here.

SG: Well, it’s such a pleasure to have you on Charlotte because, partly from selfish reasons, I really want to talk about perimenopause and what’s coming to me probably in the not-too-distant future because I am now 51. And I’d like to start by asking you about your personal history, because you’re a little bit younger than me, but you’ve already been plunged quite suddenly into the menopause. So tell us, what’s your story?

CH: Yeah, so I had a hysterectomy in 2019 when I was 44 and I had a total hysterectomy. So I had ovaries, wound, cervix, the whole lot removed. 

SG: What was the reason for that?

CH: I’d always had a really complicated hormone story. When I talk to my clients, I always get them to almost create a timeline of their hormone story. And I think mine’s probably more of a horror story. I’ve had everything from polycystic ovaries, endometriosis, adenomyosis, problems with my cervix, issues with my cervix healing after just simple smear tests and cervical changes pre-cancer cells. I mean, it was just a great long list. I probably missed off loads of things off my list, but it was pretty much everything except fibroids. So at least I managed to escape for that one. But heavy periods, painful periods, irregular periods, I mean, it was just everything. 

SG: And your periods, that kind of took up a lot of the month, didn’t it? 

CH: Yeah.  I suppose I was probably on my period three weeks out four for a number of years. So it was difficult to exactly say which particular part of all of that was the main reason for the hysterectomy. But six months prior to that, I had a number of infections in my cervix. I had to go to hospital a few times and I think that was really the beginning of the end, my poor reproductive system. But it’s always been difficult. I think from my point of view as nutritional therapist, it was the frustration of not being able to fix it, not being able to do anything about it. 

And I suppose if I wasn’t looking after myself, I wasn’t taking the right supplements and taking the right medical advice and eating well and looking after myself, I’m sure it would all have been a lot worse. But I think there was always that element of frustration, why can’t I fix this? I had the procedure, it all went well. I didn’t have any major problems and it all went to plan. I recovered quite quickly. 

SG: Yeah. So tell me what happened afterwards. So how did you feel afterwards?

CH: So on a positive note, within a few hours I thought, oh my goodness, I just feel different. And even though I was on all those lovely drugs and lying in my hospital bed philosophizing on life and everything, I still just felt like that heaviness had gone. And initially I felt great. And the recovery was, I think everything happened as I expected it to happen. I had some days where I was in a bit of pain, but it was mild, it wasn’t debilitating. I felt tired from the anesthetic and all those things that you’d expect. But in terms of my hormones within a couple of days, I knew that the whole lot had just tanked.

SG: How did you know, what did you feel? 

CH: Oh, God, I felt sick. Headaches, the worst nausea I’ve ever had in my entire life. I mean, I thought my morning sickness was bad because I had sickness throughout my entire pregnancy almost to the minute of them being born, I was sick all the whole way through and I felt terrible. But it even felt worse than that. And hot flushes. I mean, I spent the first couple of weeks walking around in my dressing gown and a vest and a pair of pants and people would come around and I’d go, I’m just going to warn you. I might have to take my dressing gown off at some point. So it really did hit me hard and I was on HRT as well.

I took my HRT straight away. There was no way I was going to not take it. The doctor I was working with said, nope, let’s just get you straight on HRT, but it just wasn’t enough for me at that time. Because I’d gone from a full tank of hormones to absolutely nothing overnight and being quite young as well, I wasn’t even on that road to perimenopause or menopause or anything, it was just completely overnight.

SG: So that was a very brutal introduction to the menopause.

CH: Very, yeah.

SG: Gosh. So are you alright to share with us Charlotte, what HRT you currently take?

CH; Yeah, I mean I’ve changed it over the last few years. Quite early on I realized that gels sprays just didn’t work for me. So it was almost like getting a hormone hypo. I think that’s the best way I can explain it where your levels kind of shoot up and then just crash. I think it was causing my hormones to vary too much. So I knocked it on the head quite early on. So now I take a combination of a patch. I take oral estrogen and I also use Vagifem and Ovestin and also the cream that you can apply externally. So it’s a bit of a cocktail. I have got testosterone but I use it as when, I don’t take it consistently, because I just don’t feel like I need it.

SG: Is that a cream or something?

CH: It’s a gel. It’s like rubbing neat gin on you. It’s got that sort of smell. I think it’s worse than the oestrogen, it’s slightly oily as well. It’s a bit weird. But I don’t take that the whole time. I think testosterone is the one we have to be careful with because if you take too much, it can not be much fun. I mean, nobody wants a beard or a hairy belly or those other symptoms.

SG: So let’s talk about these different hormones. But before we get to that and I know you have a lovely way of explaining them in a way that people can actually understand, because it is a little bewildering for people who are not experts. The whole subject of hormones is a little bit of a mystery. So it would be great if you could cast a little light on that. But first I’d love to know Charlotte, women who come to you, what sorts of challenges are they grappling with?

CH: So I think because I’ve got a specialist interest in surgical menopause from my own experience, I’d say quite a few of mine are going through quite complicated menopause. So it could be they’ve had a cancer experience and they’re sort of coming out the other side or they’ve had a surgical menopause or they’ve taken sort of medications that have perhaps induced menopause. So I tend to get the quite complicated ones. So they’re probably about half of my clients. The other half tend to be ladies who are a bit further down the perimenopause track. Generally late forties, early fifties. And it’s a real mixture. I don’t think there’s a particular theme or there’s a particular reason that they come to me. I mean, it’s lots of different reasons.

Some women are totally asymptomatic, they don’t have any menopause symptoms. They go well I’m 53 and I’m pretty sure I’ve gone through menopause, but nothing’s happened and they come to me because they want to know how they can protect and support their health for the longer term because they haven’t felt the need to go in HRT. Don’t want to. So they want to know what they can do to support their health. The other group. I’m trying to sort of group them into, I suppose into types of clients. There’s the just worn-out mums, I suppose. I’ve got quite young children, I’m in my late forties. And there are a lot of us out there, who are starting to go through menopause, we’ve got young kids still at primary school, we’ve got elderly parents, we’ve got jobs, we’ve got social lives, we’ve got life to deal with.

And then you throw menopause in that and all the symptoms that come with that. And it’s really, really difficult. So that’s quite a common group. The others might have specific problems, so it could be weight loss, it could be digestion, energy, fatigue, thyroid problems. Weight loss is a big one. But they have a particular problem, but they also are going through menopause at the same time. So they’re dealing with the same global issues as everyone else, but they just happen to be in menopause. So it’s a real mixture.

SG: Yeah. And I suppose the good thing is that there’s now so much more awareness of the particular issues around perimenopause, so that’s the transition period before menopause which I am in now, and menopause. I mean with programmes like the ones that Davina McCall has done and it seems to be in the papers every other day that women are being, at last very, very vocal about the challenges that they’re grappling with. And I think that can only be a good thing. And I don’t know if you have noticed more people being a bit more savvy. Because I think previously there was perhaps a tendency for women to go through quite debilitating symptoms…I mean, I hadn’t had them yet, but I’ve heard all about them and they do sound pretty horrific, from the hot flushes to itchiness and brain fog and all these things… and have kind of battled on silently without telling their friends perhaps or their family or if they did go to their GP, perhaps they’ve been given short shift quite often and been offered antidepressants, for example.

CH: Yeah. No, I mean, it has to be a good thing, doesn’t it. I think anything to do with our health, our lives, I think it’s good to be able to talk about these things. I think sometimes a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. And in some ways there’s a lot more confusion about HRT: who can have HRT, who can’t have it. It gets very political. I think we’ve got to be careful that we don’t over-medicalize menopause. I think that’s one of my thoughts. I mean, I take HRT, I advocate HRT, I think it’s brilliant stuff. And if anyone tried to take it off me, I would literally wrestle them to the ground.

But it’s not right for everyone, whether that’s choice, whether that’s underlying health issues or risk factors, or you just don’t want to take it. Some women just don’t want to take it. They don’t want to become a slave to a tablet or a gel every day or patch. So I think that’s my only, I suppose concern about the fact it’s becoming so, I don’t even want to use the word, sensationalized. That’s maybe a bit of a strong word, but everyone is talking about it. I think we just gotta be careful that yes, it’s great we’re talking about it, but we’ve got to be quite inclusive of what people want. And that there is this overwhelming feeling that if you don’t take HRT, wow, what’s wrong with you? So I think that’s one thing we have to be quite careful of and not kind of over-medicalize it. 

SG: So just talk us through these different hormones in the simplest possible way for late people who don’t read the science. What is going on, so for example, for me, I’m, as I said, 51. I actually had a hormone test, which you ordered for me. And that was the Dutch test. And this was actually a while ago. It was probably 18 months ago. I was quite curious. I was a little bit nosy about, oh, what’s going on with my hormones. And yeah, I was just interested to know. So just talk us through the Dutch test.

CH: Yeah. When it comes to the Dutch test, people love it or hate it. And there’s been a load of stuff recently on social media saying that it’s just quacks peddling snake oil and how it’s rubbish. But I think when criticism’s directed at the Dutch test, I think it’s a lack of understanding of what it’s trying to show us. I mean, of course it’s a snapshot in time. 

SG: Our hormones change all the time, don’t they? 

CH: Yeah absolutely. And I don’t use the Dutch test necessarily to measure our hormones, which sounds bonkers because it’s actually a hormone test. But what I use a Dutch test for is to look at the bigger picture. So when we’re dealing with our hormones, we want to know about our stress. We want to know about some of our nutritional markers. We want to look at the difference balance of our stress hormones. We want to look at what our hormones are doing, where they’re going, how our body is managing them and clearing them and getting rid of them from the body. So it’s not just the test go, oh, well this is your oestrogen, your progesterone and your testosterone. And they’re, they’re like our big three yeah players. 

And I’m going to steal my good friend, Dr. Terry’s analogy for this one. But when it comes to oestrogen, oestrogen is our feminine hormone. It makes us womanly, makes us curvy. She calls it your diva hormone. So it makes everything juicy and plump and womanly. Then we’ve got our progesterone, which is much more calming. And those two hormones have to balance each other out. And then you’ve got testosterone and I think she refers it to like your sleazy boyfriend, you don’t want too much of it. But you need a little bit of it in your life. So it’s a dance between the three hormones in terms of keeping everything balanced and working as it should. 

And as we go through menopause, our progesterone and our estrogen start changing. So we may not be ovulating as frequently. We may not produce as much progesterone as we used to. And our oestrogen starts fluctuating and bouncing around all over the place. And unfortunately when it comes to hormones, it’s not just like a nice gentle decline over the years.

SG: It bounces up and down.

CH: Yeah and it’s just firing all over the place, which is why we get those symptoms like hot flushes. Some of the symptoms are mentioned in the beginning because we’ve got oestrogen receptors around our whole body just about in every cell, head to toe. So of course the symptoms are going to be diverse and they’re going to affect everything and also going to be very different from woman to woman. So the menopause that I experience is not going to be the menopause that you experience or the other women in your life experience. So you’re not quite sure what you’re going to expect.

SG: Yes. Yeah. So just to clarify for my own results, which you looked at, and by the way, Dutch test is dried urine. It’s not from the Netherlands! You basically wee on little strips. So what mine showed from memory was that, I think the oestrogen was – obviously it was a snapshot, so it doesn’t mean that it was the same the following week – but I think the estrogen and progesterone were not too bad, but my testosterone was on the floor as you told me. I wasn’t aware of that. I mean, I hadn’t noticed anything, but as you educated me, testosterone is important because it affects things like our bone health and our mental focus. And stuff like that. And I’m actually very aware of my bone health because I’d had a DEXA scan right from my thirties and I had poor bone density. So that kind of raised a bit of an alarm bell for me that I had such low testosterone. And I remember you talking to me about, like you could see that my stress hormones were kind of elevated. So I found it quite enlightening to know that, and it made me think a little bit more, because I hadn’t really noticed anything. I haven’t so far had, I would say any symptoms of being in the perimenopause, in terms of like, I don’t get moody at different times. I’m not saying I never get moody, but it’s not kind linked to any particular time. It would be more a kind of situation if something just hacked me off, but it’s not linked to any kind of rhythm. So yeah, tell us a little bit about testosterone.

CH: So I mean, testosterone is important. It gives us our “get up and go”. To feel bright eyed, bushy-tailed, yes, it affects libido, but also just your motivation. And I think often we think of testosterone often quite negatively, and all it’s associated with is growing a beard, having oily skin and spots and losing our hair and all those things. It’s got a much wider relevance to how our bodies work. And very often we can see that your testosterone will also drop at menopause, not in everyone, but it can often drop. But it’s a difficult one as well to test. You can test it as part of the Dutch test. I must admit I’m starting to question that particular marker in the Dutch because very often I do the test and go we should probably just do a quick blood test check as well. 

And then look at things like your sex hormone binding globulin, which is something that binds up your testosterone and your free androgens. And there are lots of other markers associated with testosterone besides just testosterone. But you need to have good sleep to make testosterone. You need to have the right raw materials. You have to have good blood sugar balance and a good stress response. And all of this really links back to thinking about your fundamentals of your health as a woman. I think it’s so easy to focus on estrogen, progesterone and testosterone and forget about everything else. And I think, again we’re all talking about menopause, but that tends to be the focus, just talking about the levels of hormones, but really we need to step back and think about the bigger picture.

So how are you making your oestrogen? How are you breaking it down in your body? How are you carrying it out of your body? Have you got a healthy metabolism of your oestrogen? But also think about the big picture as I said, so your levels of inflammation. I know we talk about inflammation as a bit of a wooly word. But we can talk about obvious inflammation via conditions, diseases, physical injuries but also that underlying inflammation at a deeper level. We have to think about our blood sugar balance, how we’re managing our glucose intake, our insulin, which is the hormone that makes our glucose work, sends it to the cells, stores it. Thinking also about genetics. Genetics can play a huge part in your menopause and your health. Yes, you can test your nutrigenomics or you can ask your mum, tell me about your menopause, ask grandma. 

SG: I did ask my mum, she had very little to share because she’d had a hysterectomy and she couldn’t even remember when that was. So I gleaned very, very little. In fact, my maternal grandma, she actually died at 54, so I don’t even know if she’d gone through menopause. So yeah, I had a very blank sheet when it came to genetics. So I’m kind of like fumbling around in the dark a little bit.

CH: You can test your genetics, your oestrogen metabolism and your testosterone. There are some crazy amazing tests out there, but also thinking about stress, I mean, that’s probably the biggest factor.

SG: Yes. And as you said, we are talking about a time of life where for women in particular, it is extremely stressful. As you said, sandwiched between caring for children, caring for elderly parents, having a full on job, having the worries of the world on our shoulders. And I think it can be really hard for women to then hear well, oh, crikey here’s another thing for me to feel guilty about, is I’m not managing my stress properly. And so that’s affecting my hormones and then they’re even more stress. And it’s tough, isn’t it?

CH: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it always becomes a vicious cycle, I think whatever your particular scenario is. And it’s trying to work on the things that you can make a difference. So obviously, the stress management and relaxation and self-care, but also thinking about the food that you are eating or the supplements that you might need to take and perhaps medications that you’re on or even hormones as well that you might be taking.

SG: Okay. So let’s start with the food. Let’s start with the simple bit. 

CH: Simple bit, you just said a simple bit? You do know what I do for a living Suzy?

SG: Well, no, that was definitely the wrong word! I mean the more accessible, because I think you talk about blood sugar and I’m going to ask you to go through that in a little bit more detail because it’s so key, isn’t it? And a lot of women totally miss this and they are having their Shredded Wheat with a banana for breakfast, not realising that they are in fact spiking their blood sugar. And I mean, I know for me, and I’ve spoken about this on the podcast before, but one of the biggest revelations for me, when I became a functional medicine health coach, was the whole blood sugar equation. And it literally changed my life. That’s no exaggeration. 

And I really thought I was eating quite healthy beforehand. Not realsing that my blood sugar was just an absolute rollercoaster. So the one thing I did notice as I kind of got into my mid-forties and particularly, I would say the past, I think from when lockdown began, I kind of know, and I wasn’t wearing a bra a lot of time just because it was lockdown. I was like, yay. This is great. I can wear like my tracksuit buttons for Zoom calls. I did notice that my boobs got bigger and I was like, oh right, well, I always wanted bigger boobs. So that was quite a bonus. And I thought, well, this must be something to do with the perimenopause. 

Now, what I hadn’t realised is also my tummy had got bigger and I hadn’t realised that because I was always the skinny one. And when you go through your life being the skinny one, that’s your identity. And it took me a long time to realize that I had actually put on weight and I do want to put that into perspective – I wasn’t overweight. I’m not overweight, but I had put on weight and I didn’t notice because I was not in the habit of weighing myself. And the one thing that I changed…I kept my diet pretty much in lockdown, I didn’t take to comfort eating because I have very good ways of managing stress because I practice EFT and stuff, so I didn’t need to comfort eat, but, in a real middle class lockdown cliche, I did learn to make sourdough and lo and behold it was very nice. And then I kind of doubled the quantities. I was making quite a lot of sourdough bread and bought this huge thing of flour. It was organic. I think it was organic rye flour from Devon. I mean the bag was so huge Charlotte, it took about three people to get it over the door because I was like, yeah, this is my new thing, I can make sourdough. And I’d never been any good at baking. So it was quite nice, and I took to eating a lot more bread than I had been used to. And quite honestly, the amounts I was eating, I could have got away with no problem at 40, but what I hadn’t realized was that, I was actually quite quickly putting on weight and I just didn’t notice. 

And then the only other thing I switched was I always had dark chocolate, very dark chocolate every day. And I couldn’t be bothered going to the shop and lining up outside with the whole lockdown thing. So I just went to Tescos and we were buying a chocolate that was like 52% instead of 92%. And I ate quite a lot of that. So that was the only two things I changed. I remember going for a walk one day and putting my coat on and thinking, well this is strange, my coat has shrunk in lockdown. How strange! 

I literally thought that must be it, that my coat has shrunk because I couldn’t conceive of the fact that I could not actually do my coat up because I had put on weight. And then I did an interview like this that I put on YouTube and my mum gets my emailer. So she clicked on to watch my video and she hadn’t seen me for a while because she was in my sister’s bubble and not mine. And she said, I watched your video. I was hoping she’d say something quite complimentary about the podcast. And she said, oh, you’ve really put on weight, haven’t you? In that special way that mums have. And of course she was bloody well right. So I had to stop with the sourdough. So what was going on? Because that was nice fermented sourdough with organic rye. I thought I was on safe ground with that.

CH: So I put some posts on Instagram about sourdough and I got a lot of abuse for it. People do not want to hear my views on sourdough. 

SG: I do Charlotte! I want to know why I put on over a stone.

CH: Yeah. So the thing with sourdough is that it’s a carbohydrate.

SG: Even though it’s made from a natural rye and organic etc, it’s still starch. 

CH: Still carbohydrate. Still starch, like porridge, it’s still starch. It’s still carbohydrate and yes, it might not affect your blood sugar massively, especially people who are wearing the continuous glucose monitors, where they stick it on their arm and wave their phone at it. It tells you about your glucose, but that’s all it’s telling you. It’s not telling you what your body has to do to process the carbohydrates. How much insulin you have to pump out, and insulin causes us to put weight on especially around our tummies. I mean it’s a lot more complicated and I am sort of glossing over the detail. But the problem with carbohydrates in perimenopause and menopause is that as we age and as our hormone profiles change, we become less efficient at dealing with carbohydrates.

SG: That was it. And I think it’s really important for people to know that and I still do eat sourdough, but I’ve realised I can’t get away with the quantities that I was eating, which was basically every day and it’s delicious and I love it and I don’t avoid it. I mean sourdough with really nice salty butter is gorgeous and I love it. But I’m really aware of these things because we have a very strong family history of Type 2 diabetes on my maternal side. Basically everyone apart from my mum has Type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately many of them are no longer alive because they died early from it. So I think it’s such an important point and I really don’t think we can talk about this enough. And most of the women I see, I mean they are having, whether it’s their cereal or whether it’s a higher end, posh granola that they’ve spent quite a lot on in Waitrose or the sourdough, it’s all the carbohydrate. So tell us why that’s not a great idea to have for breakfast?

CH: So yeah, I mean when you eat glucose or carbohydrates, the carbohydrates are broken down and sugar will increase our levels of glucose in the blood. Then we need insulin to come along, which is essentially the key that unlocks the cells to send that glucose in so it can do its job. If you’re overpowering that system, the glucose still has to go somewhere. So the insulin will either divert up to storage, in the liver, in our muscles or store it as fat. So if you’ve got a system that isn’t as efficient as you go through menopause, that process becomes more complex, more problematic, and there’s a chance that you might put on more weight as a result. 

Now this is probably the hardest message that I have to get across to my clients and the message that is really unpopular on Instagram. And in fact you’ll have to keep an eye on my Instagram account this afternoon because there’s a post going on asking, are carbohydrates and sugar, the bad guys? Well, yep the truth hurts.

SG: It does hurt. It does hurt. I mean, this is not just a kind of an aesthetic thing, although frankly, it hurt me to have to give away half my dresses, my shirt dresses. I can tell you that the minute I stopped with the sourdough and changed back to my chocolate, I did lose a lot of my tummy. What I hadn’t noticed actually, until I did that was that my waist had completely disappeared. I hadn’t noticed. I just hadn’t noticed it probably because I was wearing these very baggy kind of like jogging bottoms and stuff like that. 

We went to Scotland and my husband took a picture of me paddle boarding and I looked at this picture and there was something strange about it. And I couldn’t figure out what it was. There was something odd about this picture. And I only realised months later was that I was wearing a swimsuit and I had no waist. And I’d never seen me without a waist in a swimsuit. And it was only when I stopped with the sourdough and my waist came back that I realized that I had lost it. So yeah. And funnily enough I was coaching groups of women who were all lamenting the fact that they had put on a stone in lockdown because they were comfort eating. And I was like, oh, I know it’s really tough. And I had no clue that I was in the same boat, because I wasn’t comfort eating. I was making my lovely, healthy sourdough and lo and behold I went for a bone density scan and she weighed me and when she told me the figure I was like, are you saying that I’ve put on a stone since my last one? 

She said, oh, well, yes, actually over a stone. Like, I kind of shaved off the extra pounds in my head because I couldn’t even comprehend that I’d put on a stone, let alone a stone plus. So I think it was a really useful lesson for me that even with my very healthy diet and very healthy lifestyle and all the healthy things that I do as a health coach, I could still go so far off the rails without even comfort eating, just through making sourdough and having a dark chocolate, which was actually not very dark because it had a load of sugar in it.

CH: I mean, I think what I’ve found is that the big area we don’t talk about enough in relation to menopause is our cardiac and metabolic health. I’m in same position as you, is that my family history, everyone has Type 2 diabetes. My dad had bypass surgery last year and he’s fit slim, looks after himself exercises. Doesn’t look like someone who would have those kind of conditions. So it’s something that’s definitely on my own personal radar, but also I see it more and more with my clients. And I think my realisation that things really do change through menopause in terms of your metabolism, is that despite having a very healthy diet, exercising, I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t really do anything that fun or conventionally considered to be great fun. 

And my cholesterol is high, my triglycerides are high. All of those markers for blood sugar and metabolism and cardiovascular health. My blood pressure is quite high. And I mean, I’m slim. I’ve always had generally quite low blood pressure. I sound like I’m really unhealthy actually. I do look a bit unhealthy because I look so pale in the light, honestly, I don’t look this bad in real life. 

SG: For listeners she looks absolutely gorgeous, honestly, she’s being very humble.

CH: But that all really, really worries me. And for my approach, I take for my own health, is that I’ve moved towards more of a keto approach. I mean, it’s a very extreme form of lower carbohydrate diet, but my body needs more fat. I’m exploring that at the moment. I mean the results have been really, really interesting. So watch this space.

SG: Yeah, thank you for sharing that. And I think it’s really refreshing to hear from the professional that you are also slightly worried about different aspects of your test results and that you are experimenting and finding your way because it’s not black and white and it’s all about personalisation, isn’t it? And it can change with time as well. I think it’s interesting what you said about the fat, because I find I do so much better as well when I cut back on the carbs and I pile in my eggs and my oily fish and have that with veg. I just feel better.

CH: I think you’ve got to find your sweet spot as well. I think when it comes to low carbohydrate eating you’ve got to find out where your sweet spot is and sometimes you have to go in quite extreme and then just start taking it back up to find that point where you feel good, it’s working for you. But it is complicated. It’s difficult. And I think as well, it’s just a message that is really unpopular and criticised quite a lot, I think publicly.

SG: Yeah. I think compared to something like exercise, because I think we all understand and the message has come through very loudly and clearly, which is great is that we absolutely need to be exercising. And I don’t like the word exercising, but we need to be moving our body regularly. And particularly building the muscle. Muscle is super, super important as we age for women and the protein aspect, because I see a lot of women who are not eating anywhere near enough protein. Can you give us a few words about protein?

CH: Yeah. I think you have to be careful about protein. I mean, you don’t want to be having too much. I mean, you need to have adequate protein. We need to be repairing, restoring, maintaining, being conscious of our muscle mass or lean muscle mass. But you don’t want too much protein because actually if you’re eating mountains and mountains and mountains of protein, eventually that’s going to get turned into glucose as well. Everything breaks down glucose eventually. So it’s a fine line. And I think that’s the benefit working with someone who can help you work this all out because it’s not easy.

SG: So what’s your breakfast? Like what have you eaten today?

CH: Today, I had a crazy breakfast today. Probably not a good example. So I had a like a keto latte. So it has roibush tea, coconut oil or MCT oil, cocoa butter, cinnamon, cardamon, ginger, hemp seeds, collagen. And it’s just all whizzed up. 

SG: So you made that, you put everything in?

CH: Yeah, it’s the same as making smoothie but it’s just full of a load of fat. And then I had a flax muffin with it.

SG: So just to clarify, your flax muffin, I presume was not like the muffins you get in Starbucks? 

CH: No, so it was made with flax seeds, eggs, cinnamon water. I mean, they’re really nice though. They’re quite big. So that’s what I had this morning, but that’s because I do eat a much lower carbohydrate diet and more fats and moderate protein. But generally speaking, when I work with my clients, to get them started, thinking about your meals in a really simple formula. So think about having, building your meal around your protein. So what’s your protein? Well, ideally about a palm sized portion. So that could be a couple of eggs. It could be a chicken breast, a piece of salmon, some mince or tofu, but have about a palm sized portion. Alongside that have two hands of vegetables on your plate and then have a portion of oil. So it could be half an avocado, a couple of tablespoons of oil, a couple of tablespoons of seeds or nuts but thinking about that oily portion as well.

SG: Okay. And when you talk about the oil you’re talking about something like an extra versions olive oil rather than sunflower oil?

CH: Hemp oil, avocado oil. There’s lots of lovely salad dressing you could make up. And then on the side, have your carbohydrates and your fruit. So carbohydrates might be just a couple of spoonfuls of brown rice, quinoa. Black rice is a good one.

SG: It has a nice texture.

CH: Yeah, it does and buckwheat, you could have on the side, so something whole grain. And then you could have a piece of fruit as well. So you are creating your food formula, so protein, vegetables, oil. They’re like your non-negotiables on your plate. And then the carbohydrates and the fruits are optional extras.

SG: Yeah. And that’s very different from the way a lot of people would eat thinking, well, I’m having pasta for dinner. So here’s a plate of spaghetti or a different shaped pasta with some tomato sauce on top. That’s what I used to have in my twenties. 

CH: Yeah. For me too. 

SG: Yeah. That would be dinner and then my breakfast would’ve been my Weetabix and if I was being extra healthy, I’d put a banana on top. And then my lunch would be, I’d get a big thing of soup and a whole baguette.

CH: I think as well, it depends what you want to do, what your goals are, what you’re prepared to change. Some people don’t want to change very much and they might look at my diet and go, oh my God, you’re a crazy woman. What are you eating? But it works for me. What I say to clients is if you work around that formula, you don’t necessarily need to make massive changes to what you’re eating or you’re shopping each week. So taking the past example, think about your plate, have half the plate for the lovely big salad or steamed veggies. You could have quarter of the plate of your mince. And then the other quarter you could have a little bit of pasta and then put some olive oil on your salad and you’ve nailed it. And have some berries afterwards.

SG: Yeah. I think you’re right. Once you get into rhythm, like I literally have my olive oil. And it’s one thing I don’t skimp on. I always have a really nice extra virgin olive oil, and I would just pour it on top. I mean, if I have a plate of soup, I just pour olive oil on top or whatever veggies and it just becomes the habit that whatever you’ve cooked, just throw some olive oil on top. So it is easy. I think once you understand, and as you say, once you start with the protein, which I think a lot of people are not doing particularly at breakfast where they’re starting with the cereal or the slice of toast.

CH: And I think starting the day on carbs just gets you on that carb rollercoaster right from the beginning of the day. And you’re much better off having some eggs, some avocado, some spinach and omelettes. You can have a chia pudding if you’re vegan, with lots of nuts and seeds. Possibly a protein powder in there as well to give it a bit of a lift. So there’s ways to navigate, you don’t have to take it that far. It depends where you want to go with it I think. I think that the carbohydrate message though, is crystal clear, and I think there’s more and more research around to say that that is the case.

I mean, I remember a couple of years ago, I’d say, look, as you go through menopause, your tolerance to carbohydrates goes down and I was absolutely slammed for saying that. So I’ve been absolutely delighted as the research sort of trickles through going, yeah, it is a thing. So it’s something we have to be aware of. I have to be quite careful in some ways because there’s very much a wave of “no diet dieting”, intuitive eating, “eat the cake because you deserve it”. There is that philosophy of eating and if that works for you great. I present my views on diet based on the research that I’ve looked at. And I suppose the anecdotal evidence of working with clients and the changes that we’ve been able to make as a result of changing the carbohydrate balance.

SG: Absolutely. And I think for me, I know that I feel so much sharper as well because when I was on that blood sugar roller coaster, I would zone out at work. And I don’t want to be the person whose brain has gone to sleep in the middle of a meeting. And it definitely affected me very radically. So the fact that I can be here, I mean, we’re now coming up to midday and hopefully, my brain is working properly. And that’s because I had earlier today…so my breakfast day was full fat, organic Greek yoghurt with loads of seeds. I had flax seeds and all different seeds in there and some walnuts. And because I’m from like a kind of, sort of Lebanese background, I actually have yoghurt savory quite often, which is very kind of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean.

So I actually put some Himalaya salt, some extra virgin olive oil, quite a lot of olive oil actually. And some z’aartar, which is a herb mix made of hyssop and thyme and stuff. And I really, really love that breakfast. And I really enjoy it. It reminds me of being like Greece or somewhere. And it does keep me full, but also keeps my brain working. So for me, it’s just massively important. This is a very practical thing. If I veer off from that, it ruins my day. I can’t work properly. My mood is all over the place. I get really snappy. And that is one thing that…never mind my hormones, my blood sugar affects my mood massively. And my husband would tell you this, that if I have a blood sugar crash, or if I’ve not slept, I am vile, he’ll say I’ll literally turn into a different person. 

CH: But yeah, and if you get the right foods at each meal, it will carry you through from each meal. It will stop the crashes. You don’t need to snack if you’re eating proper meals.

SG: Yes. That’s it. Okay. So for women listening, who are either approaching the menopause or have gone through it, what’s your takehome message? What are easy things that they can go away and start to do from today?

CH: So firstly, I would get your markers checked, those cardio metabolic markers.

SG: How do they do that?

CH: So you can do it by your GP. There’s various companies online that you can do finger prick tests. So your cholesterol, your HBA1C, your triglycerides, all of those markers, but generally if you haven’t done it at the GP, they’ll usually be on there. Just where you are, you know. So I think we’ve always got to have a measurement, haven’t we of where you are?

CH: So the best thing you can do is plan your meals throughout the day, don’t just go from meal to meal, and then it’s much easier to make sure that you’re eating the right types of food throughout the day and your spacing your meals.

SG: And that can be challenging can’t it for people who are on Zoom or Teams calls from the moment they start work, they’re working from home maybe, but they’re absolutely back to back meetings?

CH: You can pack your lunch, just like you would on a workday.

SG: And maybe it’s something you can kind prep a little bit the evening before. Because it is hard, once they are in front of their Zoom calls and the next one’s starting in a minute, they will tend to grab a packet of biscuits.

CH: Yeah definitely. So just a bit of preparation. Make a packed lunch if you need to. As we said before, focus your meal around your protein. Decide what your protein’s going to be and build your meal around it. The easiest way to do it. We haven’t talked about hydration. 

SG: Oh, massively important. Oh my gosh. I can’t tell you how many people I see who are chronically dehydrated. And many women I see who don’t drink any water at all.

CH: So I have one of these drinks every day, which obviously if you’re listening, you won’t be able to see. But I make a jug of it. It’s a litre of water. It’s about a third of a cup of lemon juice, four tablespoons of aloe vera. And some electrolyte concentrate. And it’s fabulous stuff.

And I think if you’re changing your diet in any way, or you go, you know what, I’ve listened to this, I’m going to focus more on my protein. I’m going to have more oil. I’m going to maybe strip the carbohydrates out, having a drink like this can really help. Just make sure that you are staying hydrated.

SG: I’m going to start doing that Charlotte. I really, really like that. And it tastes okay, it doesn’t taste like grass?

CH: No. And I’ve put some mint in there as well. It’s really nice. Really pleasant, really nice drink. It’s a good one to hydrate. It’s also a good idea if you are exercising, it’s a really, really hot day. I make one every morning and just have it on my desk.

SG: And I love the fact that it’s just easy. It probably takes you like 45 seconds or something like that. These things don’t have to take a long time. They don’t have to be complicated. They don’t usually have to be expensive.

CH: No. I mean, none of this involves expensive stuff. I do use electrolyte concentrate, but there are lots of different ones you can buy in health food chops. But instead of that, you could just use quarter of a teaspoon of salt. It’s going to do the same job.

SG: Yeah. Okay. Great tip. And anything else that women should be thinking about beyond food?

CH:  Alcohol.

SG: But again, a very unpopular message. Especially as through lockdown, we had the whole, “keep calm and carry on drinking”, “it’s wine o’clock” and you had all these celebrities waving their glass of wine. “I deserve this.” “It’s mummy time.” Very, very dangerous messages I feel. I think they’ve been very harmful.

CH: It’s funny we’re talking about this because I was flicking through social media this morning and she’s a nutritional therapist as well, homeopath, everything. 

SG: Who?

CH: So she’s called Andy Holman and she’s the scar queen. So she does massage for scars. She’s a genius and she’s definitely worth checking out. And she posted a photo of herself today before she stopped drinking alcohol and sort of a year on today. And the difference is unbelievable. And she said…I mean, she’s really healthy, eats an amazing diet, was having one or two glasses of red wine most evenings. And then she stopped, there’s a difference in her skin, her eyes. She just looks so much better and this is someone who is already really healthy. So if your diet is not brilliant and you are drinking probably a bit more than you should, the effects can be even more profound. I think if you change your diet and you cut back on the alcohol. It’s not saying no alcohol ever. But I mean, I don’t drink anymore.

SG: Yeah. I also had to, I wouldn’t say I never drink, that wouldn’t be true. I actually like a glass of red wine. I would only ever have like one glass on a Friday night. That would be it because I’m really not a big drinker. I never have been. But I found it affected my sleep so badly that it just wasn’t worth it. I’d be so hacked off to be 1 o’clock in the morning thinking, it just wasn’t worth it. And also I remember, my son, Louis saying, you’ve got a problem with alcohol,l because I would have even half glass and I would just slump, after about after about half an hour, I know this sounds really weird, but I almost felt it like leaking into my brain. And then I would literally just go like really slack-jawed and not be able to hold a conversation. And I said, look, I know that it’s a nice thing for you to pure me glass of wine, but actually it’s not a nice thing for me because it doesn’t make me feel good.

CH: Yeah. I think a lot of my clients notice their tolerance alcohol going right down, especially through menopause as well. And I think it’s almost that contract with yourself, knowing that you just feel awful. So why’d you do it? It’s a lot of habit-forming behavior. But I think really the best thing to do is just give it a couple of weeks without having any and see how you feel. And then it can get to a month and see how you feel.

SG: Okay. So those are kind of maybe the messages that people won’t like to hear, but which are very important. Can you end off with something that’s like a nice thing to add in or do for themselves?

CH: Yeah. I mean, have an Epsom salt bath.

SG: Oh, I love that one. 

CH: It’s a really sort of old school remedy, but it’s so relaxing. And for people who don’t like meditating or can’t be bothered or I’m too busy to meditate, I’m too busy to relax, just have an epsom salt bath, put some nice essential oils in and not just like a couple of tablespoons, put a couple of great big mugs in and just relax in that before bed. And it’s amazing. It gives you a much better night’s sleep.

SG: If you’ve told me that a year ago, I would’ve noded and then thought: never going to do that, but and I’ve spoken about this on the podcast before, I actually did that a few months ago. What a revelation, Charlotte. I was like what have I been missing all this time? I finally get the thing about a bath, because I’d always said, I’m not a bath person. I’m a shower person, who can be bothered sitting in a bath. I’ve got better things to do. I’ve totally got it now. So yeah, I would highly recommend that

CH: I wouldn’t buy the epsom salts in the shops, you get like tiny little bags. Go on Amazon and buy yourself ginormous buckets of like food grade, epsom salts for about £10. Just because you want to be using a decent amount if you’re having an epsom salt bath.

SG: Okay. I love that one. And as you say, it’s going to give you hopefully a better night’s sleep and we know that’s the biggest gift, isn’t it?

CH: If you can sleep, you can take on the world.

SG: Absolutely. I love that. So I love the fact that you share very straight-talking advice and you’re not overly worried about the reaction that you’ll get. I think we need people like that. So I guess the take home message is that women can make small changes that are quite accessible, that they can start to do immediately. And just start with one thing, I guess just start with one thing. 

CH: Yeah. You don’t have to do everything at once. And I think often it’s just working out what your goals are, what you want to do, prepared to do. And also what’s your hormone story as well? I think we have to really reflect on how we got to where we are. If you’re having a hell of a menopause what’s happened before. And it’s always good thinking about those things.

SG: Yeah. Well thank you so much for sharing.

CH: You’re welcome.

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