In the final episode of our 3 part series on Perimenopause Hannah is joined again by Renee Irvine from the Peri-Project, to discuss how nutrition can play a major part in managing symptoms of perimenopause. 

Show notes

Hannah:
Welcome back, Burn Pod listeners. We’re continuing on with our focus on perimenopause or menopause, and we are lucky to have Renee Irvine join us again from the Peri Project. Now if you haven’t already, jump back a couple of episodes and listen to our introduction to perimenopause with Kirsten Brown. And also the episode just prior to this one, we had Renee and we got stuck into naturopathy, what it means for us as we go through perimenopause and menopause, and sort of got into hormones and supporting our hormones throughout our journey as women as well.

Hannah:
And in today’s episode, we’re going to get stuck into nutrition. And I know that we could literally do an entire 15 years of podcasts on nutrition, but we wanted to kind of just dig a little bit into nutrition as it affects perimenopause or menopause and our hormones and how we can use it to support us through this time in our life. So let’s get stuck in. Welcome back, Renee.

Renee Irvine:
Thanks for having me.

Hannah:
If we focus on nutrition specifically, what impact does nutrition have on perimenopause and, I guess, what foods can people include or how can they go about focusing on their nutrition to support their stage in life?

Renee Irvine:
Whilst us talked about my love of herbs and how much I think they’re so effective for alleviating, I guess, symptoms, if we’re talking about the hot flushes and the periods and those kinds of things, for me, nutrition is still a huge component of how I work with people in terms of navigating their perimenopause journey, because of what I just highlighted before. Because as we head through perimenopause, women really jump ahead in terms of increased risks in comparison to men. So in the kind of the forties age group, men are far ahead, in terms of risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and as women head into their late forties and fifties, they actually jump ahead by a really large percentage, and part of that is because of that declining oestrogen. So by eating a balanced and healthy diet and specific foods, which I’ll talk about in a sec, we can, again, look after our cardiovascular system, reduce inflammation, reduce our… if there’s excess cholesterol and things like that, and increase certain nutrients or compounds called antioxidants that have a really fantastic benefit in terms of prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Renee Irvine:
So I often talk to people, but again, I don’t have an ideal diet that I think that everyone should eat. But if I had to kind of say something, a Mediterranean-style diet is what I’m an advocate of. And I think that you can apply the principles of the Mediterranean diet to many different ways of eating, even if you’re vegan or Paleo, or potentially even keto, maybe not quite keto, but low carb, you can apply those principles based on a few kind of core things. So in terms of the core sort of focuses that I encourage people to work on with their diet when they’re transitioning through perimenopause, protein, huge, huge part there. And I think that’s probably the one big nutrient, so the macro nutrient, that I see most people not eating enough of.

Hannah:
Yeah, I see that a lot, too. And it’s a big one we talk about. We’re like, “Protein, protein, protein. Women do not get enough protein.”

Renee Irvine:
Part of it is just not understanding. I think it’s just like not having the right education around what is protein and how much we should eat, because things like… Just to get off on a little tangent, but marketing really can skewer our idea of what healthy eating is. You see… I was thinking about the ads for Special K, that I haven’t seen for a long time, where they advertise it as a high protein breakfast. It’s not even close.

Hannah:
No.

Renee Irvine:
So when you’re kind of fed that, you’re like, “Okay, well, okay, cool. I’m having my Special K, I’m getting my protein.” It’s like, “No, that’s not what we mean.”

Renee Irvine:
So protein’s a really big one. And part of the reason for the protein, especially when you’re combining it with exercise, is the protein helps to maintain and potentially build muscle mass. But we also need the smaller molecules within those protein proteins called amino acids for hormone production, for liver function, for cardiovascular function, for immune health function, pretty much for everything. The amino acids are often referred to as the building blocks of life. So for me, that really forms, when I’m working with someone and I’m going through their diet and I can pretty much straight away just go, “Oh, this person’s not getting their protein requirements.” I’m really diving in there and highlighting all the reasons why they need to get it and then breaking it down to, “This is what that’s going to look like.” So protein’s a really big one.

Hannah:
And the Mediterranean diet is hiring your proteins as well, isn’t it? [crosstalk 00:05:44]. Just for our listeners that aren’t too sure what the Mediterranean diet is all about, are you able to just quickly touch on that?

Renee Irvine:
Yeah, definitely. So, the Mediterranean diet, firstly, it’s a really varied diet. So when you’re talking about it’s high in protein, it’s high in protein across multiple sources. So the idea is that you’re eating lots of plant-based foods, so you’re getting some of your proteins from legumes and beans, chickpeas, and that sort of thing. You’ve got whole grains like rice or barley, couscous, quinoa and those sorts of things. And in terms of your animal proteins, red meat consumption is on the lower component there, so it’s more infrequent. And the higher consumption of animal proteins come from fish and then chicken, eggs, and some dairy products and then nuts and seeds.

Renee Irvine:
So I love it because it’s a predominantly plant-based diet. So even if you were not eating a plant-based diet, because the focus on animal protein is a lot smaller and you’re getting this variety from all the other foods, you are eating a lot more plant foods. Part of what’s so beneficial with the Mediterranean diet is because it’s got so many plant foods and there’s a lot of variety and a lot of colour, it’s very, very rich in these antioxidants. And that’s what one of the key components that have demonstrated its benefit in terms of cardiovascular disease and even some cancers.

Renee Irvine:
And antioxidants, they’re compounds, they’re found in all sorts of different foods, but they’re predominantly high in plant foods. And they have a few components, so they reduce a thing called free radicals and free radicals are another little compound that can basically damage ourselves. And they counteract the effects of that damage. They’re anti-inflammatory, which again is really important in perimenopause because sometimes with these fluctuations with our hormones, inflammation can be increased as well. And another really key component that is particularly important to me is that some of these antioxidants actually help to feed our gut microbiome, and a healthy gut microbiome is essential for life and health but also plays a really key role in regulation of hormones as well. So, the big thing about why I like the umbrella of a Mediterranean diet is it’s just really highlighting variety, colour, great sources of protein, good sources of complex carbs, and also the fats too.

Renee Irvine:
So the other component there is the fats are coming from beneficial sources. So the fish, avocado-

Hannah:
Nuts, seeds.

Renee Irvine:
[crosstalk 00:08:27] olives, and things like that. And like I said, even if you’re like, “Well, I eat low carb or I’m Paleo,” or whatever it is, you can always adopt components of it to cover that. And I love it because it’s flexible in that way. Let’s say if you were keto, you probably couldn’t quite adopt a Mediterranean diet because generally speaking, the animal protein consumption is often the higher with red meat and things like that. So that’s not quite fitting into that picture, but it’s close. You could definitely have aspects as well.

Hannah:
So what are the foods can help ease… Or are there foods that can help ease the discomfort? Like your hot flashes and the discomfort that we do go through when we get towards that menopausal age.

Renee Irvine:
From a nutrition point of view, in terms of providing sort of immediate or fast relief, I would say I probably work less with nutrition in that regard because it’s more like a slow burn.

Hannah:
A slow burn, yeah. It’s a long-term approach.

Renee Irvine:
It’s a long-term approach. I mean, definitely, but there are kind of nutrients that can be beneficial within that slow burn. So the omega-3’s, I think are a really important one. So, as I said, inflammation can really be on the rise with perimenopause and the omega-3’s are a very potent anti-inflammatory essential oil. The omega-3’s also contain a component called DHA, which is really important for our cognitive and neurological health and function. And I find that that can be very beneficial for brain fog, where people often talk about brain fog during perimenopause, just kind of their memory’s not as good, or they feel like they’re kind of walking around with a cloud in their head. And I find that a lot of people really aren’t getting enough of those omega-3’s.

Renee Irvine:
And part of that is because one of our best sources of omega-3’s is fish. And it’s kind of one of those foods that I find that people either absolutely hate, or they love but they don’t know how to cook, or they have concerns from an environmental point of view in terms of sustainability and pollution and that sort of thing. So I find the people’s intake of omega-3 rich foods can be low. You can definitely get omega-3’s from hemp seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseed, and algae, but it’s just that people don’t know that that’s on the cards or they don’t know how to get those foods into their day. So that’s where again, the education comes in about, “Okay, you don’t like fish? All right, let’s work on chia pudding and walnut pesto and these kinds of things. And if we really can’t get your intake up, let’s talk about a supplement.” So omega-3 is definitely a big one.

Renee Irvine:
Magnesium’s a really big one, too. That can be really beneficial for the sleep component. Maybe not specifically with hot flashes, but definitely… Because insomnia is quite a common occurrence with perimenopause and magnesium is a fantastic mineral that helps promote sleep and increases a neurotransmitter called GABA. And GABA is basically a relaxing neurotransmitter, so that can help with promoting sleep. And again, yes, we can definitely supplement, but you can get magnesium in lots of foods and lots of foods that are in that Mediterranean diet list, so chickpeas, brown rice, bananas, avocado, again, lots of plant food. So they’re probably like my two key smaller nutrients that I’d be targeting to try and help with alleviating symptoms.

Hannah:
So are there, I guess, some tips and tricks for the busy working parent or busy woman to include more of these or more of the Mediterranean-style nutritious options, your plant-based options or nutritious meals, and look after themselves more holistically?

Renee Irvine:
Yeah. I mean, because I feel like every client of mine is busy.

Hannah:
And to be honest, it is so easy just to swing in and just take away because you are stuffed or a lot of the time, particularly for parents of younger children, you are the last one to feed yourself and you might just be picking at their little bit of pasta because you’re so wrecked.

Renee Irvine:
Exactly. And especially when I’m working with my clients who are mothers, I’m talking to them about, “You need to feed yourself. Why do you not get to eat? Why are you eating your kid’s scraps?” But overall, I work with women who are busy and who are juggling a lot, so when I’m talking to them, I think there’s a real fear around working with naturopaths where it’s like, “Well, are you going to tell me not to have coffee? And you’re going to tell me that I have to eat this perfect diet and it’s going to be too complicated?”

Hannah:
You’re never allowed to drink wine.

Renee Irvine:
Yeah, exactly, all those kinds of things. There are naturopaths that work like that, and no disrespect to them, that’s how they want to practise. I guess, for myself, from a personal perspective, I am also a busy mother of two. I don’t have time to have the perfect diet and sometimes I need coffee to get through the day or wine to unwind at the end of the day.

Renee Irvine:
So my focus is really about coming up with workshopping. I go, “Tell me about your day. Tell me who cooks, tell me what everyone likes to eat in the household. Where do you shop?” And let’s workshop ideas that mean that you can get these great foods into your day without feeling like you’ve got to spend half of your Sunday off in the kitchen. So I’ve really tried to get people to get back to basics. Again, there’s kind of the influx of information that’s online and in social media about what you need to do to eat healthy, I think really leads to people feeling really confused and overwhelmed about the steps they can make. And so really trying to get back to basics with people.

Renee Irvine:
So I often talk about, “Okay, here’s the list of healthy enough go-to options.” And that might be frozen veggies, baked beans, tinned fish, frozen meals. I talk to my clients a lot about, “These are the best brands of frozen meals that have a good enough nutrient profile,” those kinds of things. Utilising your slow cooker. Can you chuck something in the slow cooker in the morning so that you’ve got dinner ready for the night before? Can you glean a serve or two from a dinner once or twice a week for your freezer stash for lunches?

Renee Irvine:
I talk a lot about snack plates because when people are like, “Oh my God, I do not have time to put together some glorious meal.” I’m like, “Look, I don’t either most of the time.” So I plan for it in my fridge. I have things I can pull out and just dump on a plate. And they’re all tasty and they all work together. And that might be a little bit of sauerkraut and tinned fish, a bit of goat’s cheese. I’ll slice up an apple, I’ll have a handful of nuts. Maybe I’ll boil an egg and that’s my meal and that’s nutritious. It doesn’t have to be Instagram worthy, beautifully constructed meal. I mean, I’m a bit of a foodie, so I am guilty of making those kinds of meals, but really in the last 10 months, I have not had time for that. So most of my meals kind of look pretty deconstructed.

Renee Irvine:
So I’m mostly talking to people about getting back to basics. Like, “No, don’t have to reinvent the wheel.” Corn thins with avocado and tinned fish is that a perfectly nutritious meal that’s going to get you through the day. And if you kind of can plan ahead and at least shop accordingly, so at least have stuff on hand. I think it’s when you caught out and you’re like, “I’m hungry now,” and there’s nothing available. Of course, you’re just going to just go, “Oh, I’ll just quickly Uber something,” or, “I’ll go through drive through.” And again, there’s nothing wrong with that, but if you want to push ahead with feeling your absolute best, a little bit of planning…

Hannah:
Goes a long way.

Renee Irvine:
Yeah, it really does. But I think the biggest thing to focus on is just go back to basics. And you also don’t have to eat a different diet. Like if you’ve read about like how a vegan diet’s the best diet for perimenopause, and you’re like, “Oh, I really hate lentils and tofu and rice,” you don’t need to kind of hunker down and push your way through eating like that. I think it’s important to eat in a way that feels good for you, as well [crosstalk 00:16:56].

Hannah:
And suits your lifestyle as well.

Renee Irvine:
Yeah, definitely.

Hannah:
Exactly, exactly. I love this. So are there good resources our listeners can seek out to further educate themselves?

Renee Irvine:
Oh, I think that’s a really hard one.

Hannah:
Isn’t it? Because there is so much out there. So I guess it’s like where do you go to… Is it talk to a naturopath and a nutritionist?

Renee Irvine:
Yeah. I think definitely seeking out practitioners across multiple modalities. It really doesn’t have to be about a naturopath or a nutritionist. There’s acupuncturists that specialise in perimenopause as well. I think the big thing is about doing research, looking at people’s profiles on their websites. Does this person understand women’s hormones and do they understand perimenopause? It’s the same thing with finding a GP, not all GPs… They might have the base knowledge, but they might not have an interest in perimenopause and might not be up to date with some of the latest research and you’re not going to get the best help there. So it’s a bit of a cop out, so I just don’t have a resource list because I just haven’t found many resources yet that tick the boxes for me. Because again, I mean, hopefully I’ve conveyed it.

Renee Irvine:
I’m pretty easy going. I don’t like to be fear mongered. I don’t like information that tells people that if you’re going to have two coffees a day, you’re going to get adrenal fatigue in 10 years, or if you eat McDonald’s, you get cancer. So I have yet to find a kind of nice balanced resource. I mean, I guess that’s why we created the Peri Project, too, the challenge of work on that as being a resource. So I think, definitely social media, to a degree, is a really great place to find a range of resources, but using those kinds of hashtags of searching perimenopause, menopause and seeing what kinds of things you can come up with. The UK seems to have a lot of resources and a really big momentum around perimenopause. That’s what we found through social media. So there’s definitely some goods UK kind of online businesses that…

Hannah:
And when it comes to, I guess, looking into nutrition, I mean, even just a quick Google search on meals that are in the Mediterranean diet would even just start you off getting an idea of what’s out there.

Renee Irvine:
Definitely, definitely. I think, too, when you’re researching, if anything sounds overly complicated-

Hannah:
It probably is.

Renee Irvine:
[crosstalk 00:19:32] and move on to something else. Definitely searching a Google search of like, “What is the Mediterranean diet?” You should be able to find resources that are just really simple: this, this, and this, less of this. That’s where you really want to go and the recipes should be simple as well.

Hannah:
Yeah, I love that. Well, thank you so much for jumping on. If people wanted to get in touch with you, how do they do so?

Renee Irvine:
Generally through my website. So I have a little get in touch little tab and that just sends me an email, and then from there we can have a chat. People can book in with me for a free phone chat as well, if they kind of are interested, but they want to ask sort of specific questions or just have a better understanding of what I do or how I may help as well. So that’s just a free 10 minute chat.

Hannah:
And is that the Peri Project website or is that your specific…

Renee Irvine:
That’s my business. So that’s westsidewellness.com.au.

Hannah:
Great. And do you have an Instagram account at all?

Renee Irvine:
I do, yes. Westside Wellness Therapies.

Hannah:
You sound like [crosstalk 00:20:43].

Renee Irvine:
I’m like, “Woo, haven’t been active on Instagram for a while,” but Westside Wellness Therapies is my handle. And I do plan on being more active. The COVID has really thrown a spanner in the works in terms of just wanting to be online as much as I used to be.

Hannah:
Yeah, exactly. Sick of screens by the end of the day.

Renee Irvine:
Yeah.

Hannah:
Well, thank you so much. It’s been an absolute pleasure having you on the pod and it’s been an incredibly insightful discussion. I’ve learned so much and I’m sure that people are going to be wanting to know more and be like, “Hang on, Hannah, I want you to dig into this with Renee. Well, ask her this.” Like literally could have talked for hours.

Renee Irvine:
Yeah, and look, obviously, I’m sure you can tell, I love to talk as well. So, I’m always happy to talk about this. For me, education is just so important. I don’t think that the understanding of the human body should just be confined to an elite few. I think we should all have an understanding of how our bodies work and because they’re our bodies. In the end, the outcome is going to be so much better when you’re educated and involved in your own health. So I will always happily talk about these sorts of things. So thank you, it’s been really great.

Hannah:
Thank you so much. And until next time, Burn listeners, have a wonderful rest of your day.

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