While dietary guidelines for fertility and pregnancy are plentiful, fewer diets focus on another phase of hormonal life for those assigned female at birth: menopause. Enter the Galveston diet, an eating program specifically designed for those experiencing the side effects of menopause.
Is it a viable option for those looking to improve their health, or just another entry in the long list of fad diets? Ahead, a nutritional psychiatrist and two nutritionists explain how the Galveston diet works, and share their honest opinions on the pros and cons of this eating plan developed especially for those who are menopausal.
What Is the Galveston Diet?
Created by an OBGYN, Mary Claire Haver, MD, the Galveston diet is intended to help reduce symptoms of menopause, which include slower metabolism, inflammation, and hot flashes. “When we get older our insulin sensitivity alters, and our metabolism slows and in general it’s more of a challenge to digest and process the energy we consume,” says Naidoo. “The Galveston diet is an anti-inflammatory diet that focuses on lean proteins and low-glycemic carbohydrates which could potentially help those with female bodies manage their weight,” especially as they enter menopause.
“When we get older, our insulin sensitivity alters, our metabolism slows, and in general, it’s more of a challenge to digest and process the energy we consume,” she continues. “Having a diet rich in fiber and whole foods, focusing on low-glycemic foods, healthy fats, and good sources of lean protein might help stabilize your insulin and blood sugar levels allowing your body to naturally detoxify,” Naidoo notes.
Additionally, Naidoo explains that altering your diet can help curb typical menopausal side effects like hot flashes. “Although it’s still not clear exactly how hormonal changes cause hot flashes,” she says, “most research suggests that they happen from a decrease in estrogen levels (that happens naturally during menopause) causing your body’s thermostat (hypothalamus) to become inaccurate and more sensitive to changes in body temperature.” According to Naidoo, fiber and a whole-food diet is known to stabilize estrogen levels, so by following a diet that underscores these types of foods, you will improve these effects.
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What to Eat On the Galveston Diet
“The diet is essentially a lower carb diet, and one that focuses on lean proteins, healthy fats and certain produce items,” explains Caspero. “Approved protein sources are salmon and grass-fed meats like beef, turkey, chicken, and eggs. Greek yogurt is also permitted as a source of probiotics and calcium, as is quinoa, a pseudo-grain that's given the green light as a 'complete' protein source.”
Richards adds that lean protein “is chosen to ensure a reduced amount of saturated fat intake,” and that eating a diet rich in healthy fats has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. “These fats include nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, and avocado.”
Low-starch fruits and vegetables are permissible on the Galveston Diet. These include berries and tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower.
Caspero recommends a well-rounded multivitamin with iron to “bump up your micronutrient intake, since this diet lacks in whole grains.” She’d also add a potent probiotic to “boost good bacteria,” and vitamin D. Richards also suggests supplementing vitamin D on the Galveston diet, as well as adding fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids.
When to Eat On the Galveston Diet
A key component to the diet is intermittent fasting, or daily time-restricted feeding. “Haver claims that you can reduce menopause symptoms if you reduce the amount of hours you eat in a day, avoid food that triggers inflammation, and focus on anti-inflammatory foods instead,” says Caspero.
Naidoo advocates the practice of intermittent fasting, with a few caveats. “While intermittent fasting seems like a new trend, it has been part of many religions and ancient traditions for centuries. Now, Western medicine is paying attention to it, new research is emerging, and the results are exciting,” she says. “From what we know of the current research, having an eight-hour window of eating followed by a 16-hour period of fasting might support weight control and improve insulin sensitivity.”
She explains that when you enter a fasting state, your insulin levels go down and induce a state of ketosis. “During ketosis, your body switches from using glucose (sugar from carbohydrates) as the main source of energy to using stored fat (ketones) instead.” As a result, you start burning fat and supporting weight loss. Naidoo adds that emerging research suggests intermittent fasting might reduce feelings of anxiety. “There is still ongoing research, but there is also some evidence that intermittent fasting may even induce neurological adaptations over time, becoming neuroprotective and reducing the symptoms of anxiety.”
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Intermittent fasting as part of the Galveston diet may not be for everyone. Naidoo advises people with diabetes to be carefully monitored by their doctor if they want to try this dietary practice. Furthermore, she adds, “Most intermittent fasting research has been done prominently with patients [assigned male at birth], not with [those assigned female]. Preliminary empirical research has found [those assigned female at birth] have a stronger hormonal response to intermittent fasting, making it a powerful—but also dangerous—tool when using it as a weight control intervention.” She underscores the importance of speaking to a physician to find a diet that works with your individual health needs.
Dietary Restrictions of the Galveston Diet
Like many diets aimed at weight loss and anti-inflammation, the Galveston diet prohibits processed foods, first and foremost.
“This dietary approach recommends avoiding processed convenience foods, like those found in the middle aisles of the grocery stores,” says Richards. “These foods are made with refined carbohydrates which are highly inflammatory. They are also typically packed with sugar and gluten, which you are strongly encouraged to avoid on the Galveston diet.”
Richards says the Galveston diet is “worth trying and can be easy to stick to if you allow yourself time to see the results and make it a lifestyle.” She also recommends an anti-inflammatory approach to eating when it comes to navigating hormonal changes. “As [those with female bodies] age, their hormones change rapidly. The Galveston diet takes an anti-inflammatory approach to the menopausal person's diet to directly impact hormonal and physical changes that are occurring.”
Naidoo says there’s a strong connection between our gut and mood, and suggests that the foods outlined on the Galveston diet might help regulate the mood swings associated with menopause. “By following a colorful diet (which brings powerful antioxidants to the body and brain) that contains fiber rich foods, low glycemic index carbohydrates, healthy fats and lean proteins, you will improve the inflammatory markers in the body,” she says. In turn, your gut microbiome will benefit and develop insulin resistance to “ultimately improve your mood and help your hormonal balance, too.”
One major drawback of the Galveston diet is its high cost, which might make it inaccessible for some. “This diet is clearly aimed at affluent” dieters, says Caspero, explaining that the protein sources that underpin the diet “tend to be the most expensive choices in the grocery store, and for many, grass-fed meat can be harder to find.”
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Secondly, the Galveston diet is essentially a gluten-free diet, which, according to Caspero, might not be the best approach unless you suffer from celiac disease. “Science shows that unless you are part of the population with celiac disease…or have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity, there’s no need to go gluten-free.” In fact, she says there are detrimental effects to going gluten-free unless you need to. “Most gluten-free products are more processed than their whole grain counterparts and lack the micronutrients and fiber that makes whole grains such a healthy choice.”
A third drawback of the Galveston diet, according to Caspero, is the restriction of so-called starchy fruits, like bananas. “As a dietitian, the starchy vs. non-starchy argument doesn't have legs,” she says. “The fruit obesity paradox has been shown over and over again. Consuming all fruits, even bananas, contributes to weight loss.”
Finally, Caspero adds that there’s little science behind the Galveston diet, which makes it less appealing in comparison to other diet options out there. “When analyzing any diet, it’s important to compare what we know,” Caspero says. “To me, it falls flat in comparison with other weight loss and health promoting diets, like a Mediterranean diet, which aren’t as restrictive, are more inclusive of all incomes, and are more evidence-based.”
Diets like the Galveston diet can be useful roadmaps and can introduce people to practices, like intermittent fasting, that may be new for them. Ultimately, however, it's important to remember that “there is no one diet that fits all,” says Naidoo. “The gut microbiome is like a thumbprint—there’s no single solution for all individuals,” she adds. The ways people digest, process, and use foods is unique. Add to that the different ways we use energy, insulin, and metabolize calories, and it's easy to see how general diet guidelines may not be effective for all people.
Informing yourself about dietary plans is a good first step to eating for your lifestyle and individual health concerns—but make sure you consult with a physician first.