Sugar and Menopause - What You Need to Know | Stella
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Sugar and menopause – what you need to know

byDr. Lucy Wilkinson

Sweet tooth? Join the club! But sugar and menopause symptoms aren’t always a dream team. Learn about the impact of sugar on your menopause symptoms, plus expert tips on cutting back.

How does sugar affect your body?

It’s often demonised, but sugar is really important for your body. Sugars are found in sweet foods and carbohydrates including pasta, potatoes and wheat. Even if they don’t taste sugary, sugar molecules are the building blocks that make up each of these foods.

Glucose is the most common of these building blocks used. Glucose helps nourish your cells and gives you energy.

When you consume sugar, your body springs into action to process it. This involves releasing insulin, a hormone which helps your body absorb glucose from your bloodstream. From there, it can either be used immediately or stored for the future. 

Sugar also activates the reward centre in your brain by triggering a dopamine release. This means that eating sugar is a pleasurable experience and one that we’re biologically programmed to seek out. 

Before you say ‘Pass the ice-cream,’ it’s not all good news. High levels of blood sugar can cause a number of problems, including heart disease, nerve problems and kidney disease. The most common cause of persistently high blood sugar is diabetes.

Even if you don’t have diabetes, sugar can affect your menopause symptoms and make this period more difficult to navigate.

How does sugar affect menopause symptoms?

Hot flushes and night sweats

Hot flushes and night sweats are particularly influenced by your blood sugars.

Low blood sugars are thought to trigger hot flushes. On the other hand, those who have worse hot flushes are at a higher risk of diabetes, suggesting a link between higher sugars and worse symptoms. We are still learning about the link between hot flushes and blood sugar, although it seems clear that maintaining a stable blood sugar and reducing your risk of diabetes is a sensible approach.

So how do you maintain consistent levels of blood sugar throughout the day?  Although it may be tempting, eating more sugar isn’t the answer! Instead, plan your meals and choose slow-release forms of sugar. These will help you to avoid a sugar spike followed by a sugar crash. You may also hear these called low glycaemic index (low GI) foods.

Need healthy snack inspiration? Read our best recipes to take you from breakfast to dinner.

If you have diabetes, be aware that it’s easy to confuse a hot flush with hypoglycaemia – or a ‘hypo’. Check your blood sugars with a glucose meter if you aren’t sure. Your doctor will be able to advise you on how to do this and how to interpret the results.

See your doctor if you’re struggling with hot flushes as they may want to do further tests or recommend treatment. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is the most effective way to treat night sweats, and is suitable for most people. Read more about HRT risks and benefits.

Read our symptom guide to hot flushes in menopause.


Eating a lot of refined sugar can really contribute to feeling tired, a symptom that is common in menopause. A sugar high is followed by insulin release and a subsequent sugar low, which will often make you feel exhausted and lethargic.

Avoiding sugary food and drinks can help. Instead, try to eat whole foods with a low glycaemic index for slow and steady energy release.

Find out how to manage fatigue in menopause.

Weight gain

You might find you gain weight during menopause. It’s often difficult to find the energy to eat well and keep active if your sleep is disturbed or your symptoms are getting you down. Also, hormonal changes during menopause make it easier to gain weight around your waist.

A diet high in sugar can cause weight gain. Sugar is high in calories but you are still likely to feel hungry. Swapping to more nutritious foods can help you feel fuller for longer. 

Read more about weight gain in menopause.

How does menopause affect blood sugar?

Menopause can make it more difficult to control your blood sugar.

Oestrogen is known to have a beneficial effect on blood sugar thanks to its influence on insulin. The decrease in oestrogen seen during and after menopause therefore means your body finds it more difficult to control sugar levels. 

Poor quality sleep, which is a common symptom during menopause, can also cause problems with blood sugar control.”

While this might sound worrying, menopause gives you a great opportunity to work on your general health. This includes setting healthy habits for diet, exercise and overall wellbeing.

Minimise your chances of developing diabetes by keeping a healthy weight. Use this BMI calculator to see what a healthy range looks like for you. 

What if you have diabetes?

If you already have diabetes, check in with your doctor regularly to ensure that your control is as good as possible. Be aware that your blood sugars may be higher than usual during and after menopause.

Likewise, you must be careful when making any significant changes to your diet. For example, suddenly cutting out sugar or reducing carbs could mean that you need much lower doses of insulin than previously.
The good news is that type 2 diabetes can be improved and even put into remission by healthy lifestyle changes and weight loss!

How much sugar can you eat during menopause?

Current NHS guidelines suggest a limit of 30g of ‘free’ sugar per day. This includes added sugar as well as sugars from juices, smoothies and honey. Thirty grams is equivalent to about seven sugar cubes. 

Many foods contain hidden sugars where you would least expect them, including some that are considered healthy! Common culprits include curry and pasta cooking sauces and canned foods like baked beans. Check the nutrition information on the pack to find out the sugar levels before you buy.

Many people find it difficult to stick to the recommended guidelines of seven sugar cubes and it’s easy to see why. Here are just a few examples of the sugar content in popular treats:

  • A can of cola – nine cubes of sugar
  • A chocolate bar – six cubes of sugar
  • A doughnut – five cubes of sugar

Naturally occurring sugars – like those in dairy products and whole fruits – aren’t included in this limit.

Four tips to help cut down on sugar

Reducing your sugar intake can be difficult and that’s completely normal. Your body becomes used to the ‘reward’ feeling that comes with sweet treats, and it’s a challenge to scratch that itch without sugar!

If you’re struggling, try these four strategies: 

  1. Identify your triggers. Does stress, boredom or an energy slump make you reach for chocolate? Or is it a lack of time to plan healthy snacks? Find your trigger and then decide on an alternative response that doesn’t involve sugar
  2. Reward yourself. Many people respond well to rewards and ‘streaks’. Perhaps read a new book, visit a museum or show or buy your favourite bath gel to reward a full week on a lower-sugar diet
  3. Remove temptation. Limit how many goodies are in the house. Buy things you aren’t fond of if others in your family want them in the cupboards
  4. Make low-sugar substitutions. Tasty lower-sugar snacks include natural yoghurt, whole fruits (not juices or smoothies), nuts and dark (70%+) chocolate

Are artificial sweeteners a good idea?

Artificial sweeteners include aspartame, xylitol, sucralose and saccharin among others.

Current guidance from the NHS says that these may be a suitable alternative to sugar for some people, but doctors are still learning about these substances and their effects. Some studies have suggested that they may have an impact on the microbiome, cause weight gain, increase insulin resistance and, in some cases, cause neurological problems

For this reason, a balanced approach is best. Think about what you need for your health. Do you desperately need to cut out sugars immediately – for example, because of a diabetes diagnosis? Artificial sweeteners might be useful in this instance. If you are able to manage without them, a natural approach is probably better.

Final word

It’s well worth cutting down on sugar during menopause. You might even find that this simple change helps with your hot flushes, weight management and energy levels!

Find out more about menopause on our blog or in our symptoms library

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