Did you know that what you eat directly affects your hormones? Here are a couple of examples.
Jessica is a 43 year old lady with perimenopausal symptoms. After starting on our nutrition program, she felt tremendously better (without any hormone replacement). By one month her energy and mood were back to normal, she no longer had night sweats, her bloating was gone and she no longer had brain fog. As she started drifting back towards her prior eating habits, her symptoms started coming back. Because she was able to recognize the connection between food and hormones, she is now able to control her symptoms by making better nutrition choices.
Jack is a 55 year old man on testosterone replacement therapy. He had been doing well, but when he came in for an appointment in January he complained of insomnia. His sugar intake had increased significantly over the holidays, and he was finding it hard to cut it back down again. When we helped him to clean up his diet and reduce the sugar, his insomnia resolved and he did not need sleeping pills.
It is possible to have significant improvements in how you feel by making some important changes in your nutrition. The standard american diet is a perfect recipe for hormonal chaos resulting in weight gain, insomnia, depression, poor memory, fatigue, lack of libido and hot flashes. But you don’t have to fall into that trap! Eat right for your hormone health and you can start to feel better very quickly. Here’s how.
1. Eat Healthy Fats
For years you were told to eat a low fat diet, but it turns out that was wrong information! Certain fats are healthy and help promote hormonal balance. While high in calories, these fats do not promote weight gain – they actually help improve hormonal health and keep your metabolism functioning normally to help maintain a healthy weight.
- Omega 3 fatty acids, found in wild caught fish, flax and walnuts, are important for brain health, skin health, eye health, heart health and even help to regulate your immune system. They also play an important role in hormone function. Unfortunately, most americans don’t get enough omega 3s.
- Raw nuts are rich in monounsaturated fat, as well as containing many nutrients such as magnesium and zinc, which are very important for hormones.
- Seeds, like raw sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, or ground flax seeds, contain healthy fats, and are an excellent source of fiber and protein that help to balance hormones. Add raw seeds to your salad, stir fry, or smoothie.
- Avocado is another delicious source of healthy fat. It contains many anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals that help with hormone health.
- Organic Coconut oil not only supplies essential fatty acids, but is also has natural anti-microbial properties to help maintain the healthy bacteria in your gut. Use it for cooking, melt it over vegetables, stir into smoothies.
- Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a source of healthy fat, is anti-inflammatory and is helpful for healthy estrogen metabolization and proper blood sugar metabolism.
The most important fat to AVOID is trans fat. This is a toxin that increases weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, dementia and other chronic diseases. Trans fats are found in deep fried foods, margarine, commercially prepared baked goods, and other processed foods. Read the label – if it says hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated then leave it at the grocery store.
Also avoid commercially available vegetable oils, like canola and safflower. These oils are highly processed and pro-inflammatory.
2. Eat More Cruciferous Veggies
Cruciferous veggies have a lot going for them including cancer prevention and hormone balance. Examples include:
- brussels sprouts
These foods are good sources of calcium, fiber, vitamins and minerals. They also have very important phytonutrients that affect how men and women metabolize estrogen. Eating more of these veggies can help reduce hormonal symptoms, and may also reduce breast and prostate cancer risk.
3. Caution with Soy
Soy contains natural phytoestrogens, which are plant nutrients that can have some mild estrogen-like activity. While there have been studies that suggest that soy can help re-duce menopausal symptoms, in the US the vast majority of soy is genetically modified and is not recommended. Also, most soy products are processed foods, like soy milk, soy cheese, and soy hot dogs which are not health promoting. Even soy protein shakes are not a great idea.
Excess quantities of soy can actually interfere with thyroid function. Many people have hidden sensitivities to soy, and consuming extra soy can actually make them feel worse and cause an increase in hormonal symptoms.
Fermented soy foods (which most people don’t choose to eat, and are not as readily available) like natto, miso or tempeh are good choices, so give these a try!
4. Avoid Alcohol
While it is true that alcohol in moderation is good for heart health, no amount of alcohol is beneficial for hormonal health, and in fact alcohol consumption increases the risk for breast cancer in women. In men, higher alcohol consumption can result in increased estrogen levels, which are associated with erectile dysfunction, obesity, gynecomastia (“man boobs”), and prostate cancer.
When the liver has to process alcohol, it is not always able to properly metabolize estrogen. Alcohol is a common trigger for hot flashes and night sweats.
I do not recommend starting to drink alcohol (including wine) to improve your health. But if you would like to be able to continue to enjoy some wine, limit it to no more than four, 4 oz glasses per week for women, and seven 4 oz glasses for men (and not all on the same night!)
5. Stabilize Your Blood Sugar
One of the most common triggers for hormonal symptoms in men and women (after stress) is blood sugar fluctuations. In our typical american diet we tend to eat foods that spike our blood sugar quickly, and then it crashes down again in a few hours result-ing in sugar cravings and a repetition of the cycle. Smoothing out blood sugar can make a big difference with hot flashes, energy, quality of sleep and mood.
- Avoid sugar – save it for special occasions and get your “sweet” from fruit.
- Avoid processed carbs and the white stuff – white potatoes, white flour, white rice, white bread. These spike your blood sugar quickly. If you are going to eat potatoes, eating them with the peel helps, because the fiber in the peel helps to slow the blood sugar spike.
- Eat healthier carbs in moderation. Even when you are choosing the better carbs (sweet potatoes and brown rice, for example), limit your serving size as they still affect blood sugar (although not as much as processed carbs)
- Fill half your plate with non-starchy veggies – they are full of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, fiber and phytonutrients that help to stabilize blood sugar. Avoid corn as this is very high in starch.
- Get adequate protein – lean meats, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, legumes – these help stabilize blood sugar levels
- Eat healthy fats – did you know that eating the bad fats (found in processed meats like bologna, deep fried foods, margarine, and vegetable shortening) actually make blood sugar problems worse! And eating healthy fats (see above) helps to improve blood sugar metabolism.
It is possible to have significant improvements in how you feel by making some important changes in your nutrition. Don’t be satisfied with less than optimal quality of life! Feel better today (and increase the chances of staying healthy for years into the future!). You deserve nothing less.
Sometimes making changes can be hard. If you need some help with learning how to eat a healthy diet, (or making it actually happen in your busy, stressful life!), we are here to help.
Deborah Matthew, MD