From the age of 40, our sex hormones decline. As we approach perimenopause and then menopause, the decrease in oestrogen and progesterone triggers metabolic changes in the body. We lose muscle mass and muscle tone, and therefore burn fewer calories. Add to this high stress levels (lower progesterone means we are less resistant to stress and become more irritable), a lack of sleep and a more sedentary lifestyle, weight gain is often an inevitable consequence.

However, combining an active lifestyle (regular walking, cycling, tennis or swimming), with weight-bearing exercise such as Pilates and yoga, as well as eating a healthy, natural food diet can, and does counteract the physiological effects of ageing as a woman.

As soon as a woman hits menopause (in her 40’s and 50’s), and the fluctuations and decreases in oestrogen and progesterone take hold, her glucose metabolism becomes much less efficient. The body can’t use glucose as it once did, and therefore stores it more readily - as fat. The pattern of weight gain is often different, and we see the weight gain around the waist or belly.

At night time, we become more insulin-resistant (due to the hormone melatonin rising as it gets dark), so again, we don’t process and use glucose as efficiently as we would do normally. This means we more easily store glucose as fat at this time of day. Heavy carb-based meals or sugary snacks at night are therefore not a good idea, especially if you want to lose excess body fat.

According to Dr Sara Gottfried MD, belly fat is biochemically different from fat elsewhere. Excess belly fat puts you at greater risk for diabetes and heart disease. Fat in this area produces a cocktail of inflammatory chemicals that not only increases risk of disease, but also causes you to age faster.

Brain fog is another symptom of poor glucose metabolism. The brain becomes less able to use glucose, and is literally deprived of energy. We can’t retain information like we once did, so memory can be affected, and symptoms such as anxiety and low mood can also feature. Basically, there is a general decline in cognitive function. According to Dr Gottfreid, about 80% of women go through this physiological change.

What you can do right now...

Make a list of all the foods that you consume currently on a regular basis in your daily life that come under this category of sugar and starchy carbohydrates. It may also be useful to make a note of when you tend to consume these foods.

For example…
Sugar, sugary biscuits, brownies, pastries, high sugar fruits like bananas, white bread, croissants, cakes, sweets of any kind, or dessert pots.

A word on "white" carbohydrates
Certain carbohydrates, once digested and broken down, behave just like sugar in the body. Most bread, baked and mashed potato, pasta, white rice, and cereals fall into this category. White grains and white starchy foods are broken down very quickly and can lead to “sugar spikes”. Fluctuating blood sugar levels, or peaks and troughs in blood sugar are highly damaging to our metabolic health, and can lead to metabolic disease. e.g. diabetes, weight gain and obesity, and brain disorders. Eating excess amounts of sugar also leads to cellular inflammation, and leads to faster ageing too.

TIP: Choose vegetables instead of white carbohydrates

Now you have your list, let's look at some easy strategies to help you reduce sugar and carbs in your diet...

* Swap your carb-based meals for protein-based meals - e.g. eggs with sliced avocado and tomato and spinach, rather than oats/muesli or toast. You could choose to have Greek yogurt with nuts and seeds and berries, instead of croissant and jam. Try soup with salad, instead of soup and bread. Do you get the picture?

* Eat protein based snacks such as nuts and seeds or yogurt, instead of muffins or pastries. Hummus with raw veggies is a better choice than hummus and crackers/bread, when wanting to reduce the amount of starchy carbs in your diet.

* Halve or quarter your normal portion of rice, pasta, potato or bread.

* You could ditch bread completely, and replace it with a salad or vegetables.

* When wanting a starchy carbohydrate to accompany a main meal, choose wholegrain, or slow-burning carbohydrates that contain fibre, minerals and B vitamins. Some favourites are puy lentils, beans and other types of lentils, quinoa, & wild rice. As part of a meal, a handful is an ideal portion, along with twice that amount in vegetables and your choice of protein - fish, tofu, eggs, or meat of your choice.

Enjoy re-balancing your meals!