Tackling fat around the middle
Q. I am coming up to menopause (49) and, for the first time, getting fat around my middle. Can you explain why, and what I can do to shift it? A ‘Menopause is not friendly to the waistline,’ according to gynaecologist Dr. Rebecca Booth, author of The Venus Week, which advises on managing hormonal shifts. ‘Oestrogen helps shape an hourglass silhouette to signal fertility. As oestrogen levels drop around menopause so fat tends to be redistributed around the waist.’
‘Oestrogen is connected with the production of insulin, which organises your body’s storage system,’ explains Dr Booth. If there is excess sugar (or fat) in the blood, insulin sends a signal for it to be stored in your fat cells. Additionally, insulin tells these cells not to release stored fat to use as energy. Before menopause, oestrogen lowers insulin. ‘As oestrogen levels drop, more insulin is produced. Sugars and starchy foods then tend to increase the fat stored in cells around your waist.’
Central body fatness is linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. The most problematic type is visceral fat, which is stored deep in your belly.
A healthy waist to hip ratio (WHR ) is a more accurate predictor of risk than body mass index (BMI ). A woman’s waistline should ideally be 70 to 80 per cent of hips, for men 85 to 90 per cent. Measure the smallest bit of your natural waist and the widest part of your hips. Then divide waist measurement by hip and multiply by 100. Women with a WHR greater than 85 per cent are in the unhealthy zone and this is far more common after menopause.
‘Fat around the middle can be reduced naturally,’ advises Dr Booth. Eat less sugar and carbohydrate (except for vegetables, excluding potatoes). Eat more foods containing phytoestrogens, which mimic oestrogen and help lower insulin. Find these in nuts, seeds, legumes (eg, peas and beans), lentils, berries and spices including turmeric, cinnamon, liquorice, fennel, ginger and cumin.
For breakfast, choose phytoestrogen-packed foods, such as berries, nuts, seeds and almond milk, that boost your metabolism (the rate your body burns the energy from what you eat and drink) and help whittle your waist.
Top food swaps include seed-based crispbread instead of bread, lettuce as a wrap, quinoa with chia seeds instead of pasta or couscous (quinoa is high in protein and fibre as well as phytoestrogens), blitzed cauliflower instead of rice or potatoes, and raw vegetables instead of crisps, with hummus and guacamole.
Exercise every day to speed up your metabolism. Walk, walk, walk. Do regular training, dancing, yoga, tennis – whatever you enjoy. And, if possible, don’t sit down more than three hours a day. A sedentary lifestyle will increase your waistline and harm your health.
Dr. Booth is co-founder of VENeffect Anti-Aging Skin Care, which utilises natural plant oestrogens, available from www.spacenk.com.
Several readers have asked for help for thinning hair and weak nails. Pharmacist Shabir Daya recommends the following course of action:
● Consider an alkaline diet to help counter inflammation, which is usually the underlying cause. Honestly Healthy by Natasha Corrett and Vicki Edgson (published by Jacqui Small, price £20) gives you the principles and recipes. To order a copy for £15, go to www.you-bookshop.co.uk.*
● Trichologist Glenn Lyons of Philip Kingsley (www.philipkingsley.co.uk) advises TLC when conditioning: divide hair into small sections, massage in the product then comb through each section, starting at the ends and working up to the scalp. Rinse and towel dry, then comb through again.
HOW CLEAN IS YOUR TOOTH BRUSH?
TV cleaning expert Aggie MacKenzie’s latest campaign is toothbrushes because most of us brush our teeth very near the lavatory. ‘Every time you flush the loo, an aerosol spray of tainted water is released and droplets can land up to ten feet away.’ One nifty solution is to use a Steripod clip-on toothbrush protector, which lets air circulate round the head and releases sanitising vapours to keep brushes fresh and clean. It’s great for travelling too, as I found on a recent long-haul trip. Steripod/£4.99 for two, www.boots.com. NB do change your toothbrush head every three months and after any infection.