When a Ballymaloe House chef’s life was devastated by crippling menopause symptoms, she turned to food to get her life back on track, and now she’s helping others in the same position
A WOMAN was plunged into the menopause overnight as a result of breast cancer treatment, with devastating symptoms.
But through changing her diet she gradually got her life back and now she wants to help others.
Former Ballymaloe House chef Fiona Staunton, whose mum is from Durrus, is motivated by her own horrific experience including having suffered a hormone headache every day for a full three months.
‘My joints also ached so much I felt like a 90-year-old. And I suffered from a vicious cycle of insomnia and fatigue and then there was the brain fog,’ said Fiona.
Her experience was a little different to most others. She was catapulted into menopause after being diagnosed with oestrogen positive breast cancer in August 2020.
‘My dad passed away suddenly in the first lockdown, he had been looking after my mother who had reduced mobility after breaking her pelvis in a fall six months earlier. I took on a lot of that responsibility,’ she remembers.
Around that time she noticed that one breast was fuller than the other, in the same way it might be when breast feeding.
‘I went to my GP, and three days before I was to get it checked I noticed a discharge from the nipple so I knew something wasn’t right,’ she says.
A number of small tumours were detected and she underwent a mastectomy.
Fortunately the cancer had been caught early and hadn’t spread. But subsequent hormone therapy meant she was fast tracked into a medically induced menopause.
Monthly injections as well as a daily tablet blocked all oestrogen in her body.
Fiona had figured she’d ‘be grand’ with this change, as she was fit and generally healthy.
‘But I experienced various symptoms overnight rather than the gradual experience most people would have,’ she said, describing it as like ‘falling off a cliff.’
This was just over a year and a half ago but by changing her diet she found she was able to relieve many of the symptoms of her menopausal journey.
Specifically she introduced more phytoestrogen rich foods with fantastic results.
‘So that’s things like flaxseeds, soybeans and lentils. Also things like endame beans, which are so easy to eat as a snack, and miso are great,’ she said.
Fiona pointed out that these are foods that are found in Asian diets, and research has found women in these countries, especially Japan, have less menopausal symptoms than average.
So now with her vast cooking experience (her poached eggs were a favourite of the late Myrtle Allen’s), she’s helping others through her six-week virtual cooking course designed to alleviate symptoms of menopause and perimenopause.
Dublin-based Fiona believes that women shouldn’t wait for symptoms to kick in, and that from the age of 35 we need to be preparing for this stage in our lives.
She compares it to preparing for a storm, and says it’s a case of battening down the hatches.
‘I believe that a clear understanding of how diet affects the start of natural menopause can be very beneficial to women. If you eat the right nutrition and make some lifestyle adjustments, surround yourself with information to spot the symptoms then you will be better armed than just landing in it!’ said the mum-of-two.
Aged 45 when she was diagnosed, she’s now 47 and says she’s finally back to feeling herself again.
Her 90 minute weekly sessions teach women how to find the essential nutrients in the food around us and how to prepare it in a practical, time efficient manner.
‘This course will make cooking good food uncomplicated!’ she said.
Fiona shares every hint, tip, and nugget of knowledge in her arsenal during her virtual cookery course. Each week will include an online cooking demonstration with a focus on one nutritional aspect with at least three dishes cooked in real time, plus new recipes and dietary suggestions.
She’ll look at foods for brain health, for joint stiffness, for food, heart health and immunity.
Importantly, all her approach is all-inclusive and about creating ultimate health for the entire family.
• See fionasfoodforlife.ie
Chia berry compote
This is a great way to get nutritious berries into your diet, it can be used like a jam or as a topping on porridge or Greek yoghurt. Make a batch and keep it in the fridge for the week. Chia seeds are high in omega 3 and fibre and also a source of protein. The omega 3 ALA that the seeds contain can help maintain a healthy blood cholesterol.
Serves: 6-8 tablespoons
Prep time: 10 mins
2 cups frozen berries
2 tbsp chia seeds
1 tsp raw honey
Add the berries to a medium saucepan and simmer gently for approx. 5 mins.
Mash up the fruit to your desired consistency, I like some larger pieces in my compote.
Take off the heat and stir in the chia seeds, allow to cool. Add the honey, stir and store in a clean container in the fridge for up to a week.
Variations: This can be made using lots of different fruit or using fresh fruit in season.
Serving suggestions: This is delicious on top of porridge, overnight oats or Greek yoghurt or on a wholemeal scone or a slice of toast. It can also be added to a smoothie.
Storage: Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.
Chocolate seed bars
This recipe is adapted from Susan Jane White’s recipe. They are really tasty snacks that can give you a great lift throughout the day. They are easy to make. Coconut flour is high in fibre, the dates give a lovely natural sweetness and the seeds add a nutritious punch.
Serves: 28 squares Prep time: 15 mins
140g dates, chopped
100g milled flax, sunflower & pumpkin seeds
60g coconut flour
140g almond butter or peanut butter
125ml maple syrup or agave (honey doesn’t work)
I like to substitute 30g chicory root syrup
3 tablespoons raw cacao nibs
2 tablespoons goji berries
2 generous pinches of sea salt flakes
zest from 1 unwaxed orange
100g dark chocolate
80g creamed coconut
In a food processor combine all the ingredients except the chocolate & creamed coconut until gooey.
Spoon it out over a parchment-lined shallow tin, approx 20x 25cm. Cover with another sheet of parchment and press down firmly with your fingers. Once the base is smooth, chill in the fridge.
Meanwhile, slowly melt the chocolate and coconut in a bowl over a pot of boiling water.
Spread the chocolate mixture over the base and decorate with coconut if you wish.
Variations: You could use ground flaxseeds instead of sunflower and pumpkin seeds or perhaps a mix of flax, sunflower and pumpkin seeds I also like to make them with half maple syrup and half chicory root syrup which is great for your gut and helps reduce the overall sugar content.
Serving suggestions: Serve as snack midmorning or afternoon or in a lunchbox.
Storage: Store in the fridge for 1-2 weeks.