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Foods That Fight Hot Flashes

04 March 2023

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For more than 75 percent of older women, hot flashes can become a regular annoyance once you reach menopause – one minute you’re fine, the next minute you become a sweaty mess without warning.

Hormone replacement therapy and other medications are often used as a treatment for hot flashes, but some research shows certain foods can help regulate hormones to provide relief for hot flashes. This blog will explain the role of food and hot flashes and compile a list of foods to add to your diet.

What are hot flashes?

Hot flashes are one of the most talked about symptoms of menopause. As the name indicates, a hot flash is a sudden feeling of heat that leads you sweating and flushed in the face.

It’s unclear what causes hot flashes, but the theory is that the hypothalamus (an area of the brain that controls hormones) is the culprit. In the case of a hot flash, low hormone levels such as estrogen can make the hypothalamus hypersensitive to even the slightest heat changes. This could be as simple as spicy foods or a warm, sunny day. 

Once the hypothalamus senses a change in body temperature, blood vessels near the skin send extra blood to reduce body heat. This causes the skin to look flushed. At the same time, perspiration can increase to cool the body down. Once the hot flash dissipates, many women feel a chill.

Women who reach menopause can experience varying degrees of hot flashes – some episodes may be short and mild while others are more frequent, disruptive and last longer. For example, some women only experience discomfort at night. These hot flashes are called night sweats when they happen while sleeping.

The role of food and hot flashes

Some of the attention on food and hot flashes is negative, as spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol can also contribute to an episode.

However, many people have started to incorporate certain foods into their diet with the goal of regulating hormones to prevent or limit hot flashes.

Some foods, especially soy-based products, contain plant estrogen that can slightly mimic the effects of human estrogen and reduce hot flashes.

What are phytoestrogens?

The human body has more than 50 types of hormones that serve as chemical messengers to control how organs and tissues act. Some plants produce chemicals called phytohormones that mimic these hormones in humans and animals. 

Researchers have identified dozens of phytohormones, with phytoestrogens serving as the most studied of them all. Phytoestrogens are a group of plant nutrients that mimic estrogen in the body. 

In humans, the body makes three kinds of estrogen – estradiol, estrone and estriol. Chemically, they act as steroids, but most phytoestrogens don’t have these same steroid properties. However, they have enough in common to mimic estrogen receptors. Phytoestrogens are natural selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs), meaning they can activate or down-regulate cells (also known as having estrogenic or anti-estrogenic effects).

There are four types of phytoestrogens: isoflavones, stilbenes, coumestans and ligans.

  • Isoflavones: Soy, lentils, legumes
  • Stilbenes: Grapes, mulberries, peanuts
  • Coumestans: Red clover, sunflower seeds, bean sprouts
  • Lignans: Flaxseed, whole wheat flour, berries

The effect of these phytoestrogens ultimately vary by person. For example, some women have gut bacteria that makes phytoestrogens more potent, while in others these plant chemicals become weaker once digested. More specifically, diadzien is converted to equol, a more potent type of isoflavones, in some women.

In addition, research is mixed on the effectiveness of phytoestrogens reducing episodes of hot flashes. A meta-analysis and systematic review concluded 10 studies showed a decrease in frequency of hot flashes, while seven studies reported no significant treatment effect and an additional five studies also showed no significant differences.

What are isoflavones?

Isoflavones are the most common – and most researched – type of phytoestrogen found in plants. The estrogen-like structure allows it to weakly bind to estrogen receptors. 

Soy, along with soy-based products such as tofu, soy flour and tempeh, contains the highest concentration of isoflavones among plants. Legumes also contain isoflavones, but in much lower amounts compared to soy. Some processed foods have isoflavones due to the presence of soy flour or soy protein isolates added to lunch meat, plant-based meat substitutes, keto bread, protein powder and protein bars.

Compared to phytoestrogens as a whole, isoflavones have more defined research in regards to their potential benefits for menopausal women. A study from the North American Menopause Society found a soy-based diet (½ cup of soybeans each day) reduced hot flashes by 84 percent (five per day to one per day).

Food groups that can help reduce hot flashes

These foods are good sources of phytoestrogens and may help reduce hot flashes. Talk to your doctor before incorporating these foods into your diet.

Red clover (an edible flowering plant that is part of the legume family)



  • Roasted soybeans
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Natto (fermented soybeans)


  • Pistachios
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Almonds


  • Flaxseed
  • Sesame seeds


  • Wheat
  • Rye
  • Oats
  • Barley


  • Navy beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Garbanzo beans (chickpeas)


  • Apples
  • Dried prunes
  • Currents
  • Raisins 
  • Peaches
  • Raspberries 
  • Strawberries


  • Winter squash
  • Green beans
  • Collard greens
  • Broccoli 
  • Cabbage
  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Carrots

If you have to choose any of these foods, soybeans, legumes and flaxseeds are your best bets to control hot flashes. Also, natural foods are preferred over dietary supplements, as supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA.

Many of these foods listed are also high in fiber, which can help lower the recurrence of hot flashes. As women age and estrogen levels dip, the body loses the ability to effectively transport glucose across cell membranes via protein-based glucose transporters. This can lead to dips and peaks in blood sugar levels, which can then trigger hot flashes. Fiber is harder for your body to digest, helping to control blood sugar levels.

Foods with highest amounts of isoflavones

The highest quantities of isoflavones are found in soy foods that are minimally processed. 

  • Natto, (3 oz.): 70 mg
  • Soybeans, boiled (½ cup): 55 mg
  • Soybeans, roasted (1 oz.): 40 mg
  • Miso, (3 oz.): 37 mg
  • Tempeh, cooked (3 oz.): 30 mg
  • Tofu (3 oz.): 20 mg
  • Edamame, cooked (3 oz.) 16 mg

If you experienced recurrent hot flashes that become disruptive to your everyday life, talk to your primary care physician about ways in which you can reduce these episodes through dietary and lifestyle changes.

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