If you’re in the midst of the menopause and notice that your shapely figure is gradually becoming more rotund, you’re not alone.
The changes in hormones that underlie the hot flushes, brain fog and mood swings at this time of life are also to blame for changes in body fat distribution and a risk of becoming overweight (2). On average, women gain over 2 kg during the menopause, with a 10% increase in fat mass (3,4).
But the good news if you’re worried about piling on the pounds is that a help is at hand, in your fridge. Researchers have discovered that regularly eating yogurt as part of a healthy diet during the years surrounding the menopause is associated with reduced weight gain (1).
Dairy foods differ in their effects on our weight
Dairy foods are nutrient-dense and provide us with several vitamins, minerals and proteins that may help in managing weight. But because of their saturated fat content, the effects of dairy foods on weight remain controversial. Previous studies have suggested that individual dairy foods may have different effects on weight (5,6).
A team of researchers decided to explore how dairy consumption, with different types of dairy foods, might influence weight change and the risk of obesity during the menopause. They looked at data from 35,152 US women, focusing on the 12-year period surrounding menopause(1).
Yogurt may be a weight-wise choice for menopausal women
While dairy consumption was associated with lower obesity risks, the results revealed that yogurt stood out among dairy foods for its weighty benefits. Women who ate two or more servings of yogurt per week put on the least weight throughout the 12-years surrounding menopause. Those who ate less than one serving of yogurt per month consistently had the highest weight gain over the same period.
Eating two or more servings of yogurt per week was also associated with a 43% lower risk of obesity than eating less than one serving of yogurt per month, while eating a moderate amount of yogurt (between one serving per month and two servings per week) was associated with a 23% lower risk.
In this prospective study, total dairy intake was associated with less obesity risks but the results differs when it came to each type of dairy foods. There was no consistent association between drinking milk and weight change. Women who ate the most cheese tended to have greater weight gain than women who ate less cheese, although this association varied throughout the study. However, women who ate the least cheese had consistently lower weight gain over the 12-year period surrounding menopause.
Yogurt may offer unique weight benefits compared with other dairy products
The study results suggest that yogurt may play a role in regulating weight and preventing obesity during the menopause. While the exact mechanisms behind this are not fully understood, researchers suggest several possibilities:
- Calcium is thought to play a role in fat metabolism and increasing calcium intake has been shown to accelerate weight and fat loss in several studies.
- The acidity of yogurt is believed to improve the bioavailability of calcium, accounting for its specific weight-wise effects.
- Yogurt contains live bacteria which may modulate gut microbiota to help prevent weight gain.
- The semi-solid consistency of yogurt provides a feeling of fullness that may reduce hunger and guard against weight gain.
Lifestyle factors are important
Having regular physical practices and a healthy eating pattern were both associated with a reduced risk of obesity. And the benefits gained from these lifestyle factors were strengthened among women who ate the most yogurt.
The researchers found that women who ate yogurt more frequently tended to be more active and have healthier diets than those who did not. While active women who ate less yogurt only had a 19% lower obesity risk than similar less-active women, active women who ate more yogurt had a 48% lower obesity risk.
Similarly, women who ate more yogurt and had overall healthier diets had a 63% lower obesity risk than those with less healthy diets, whereas women who had healthier diets but ate less yogurt only had 48% lower obesity risk.
‘… this study suggests that higher intake of yogurt is associated with less weight gain and reduced obesity risk among perimenopausal women. Incorporating yogurt intake as a component in a healthy dietary pattern may be beneficial on weight during this critical life period.’ – Yuan M, et al. 2023