What to Eat for Better Hormone Balance
As midwives who are passionate about holistic health in all stages of womanhood, we believe in the power of restoring the body with the most natural tools possible. We recognize good nutrition as an absolute pillar of good health and utilize food-as-medicine as one of the most accessible and powerful resource we can extend to women.
Hormone imbalances are at the heart of a wide range of health concerns women face these days. Over 90% of the well-women clients we treat in our clinic are suffering from unwanted symptoms tied to an underlying hormone dysfunction. Problems with energy levels, unwanted weight gain, poor sleep quality, infertility, menstrual irregularities, vaginal imbalances, and mood swings are just a few of the problems that point to the root cause of hormone imbalances for women.
So many of you reading this now are having trouble believing that something as simple as food can make a positive impact of the complicated issues listed above. It's with great excitement that we get to share the top strategies for regulating your hormones, by doing something you are already committed to- eating!!
Learn about the impact food can have on your hormone production, metabolism and elimination in this helpful content lineup:
What to Eat for Better Hormone Balance (checklist included)
Women with period and cycle issues are especially prone to nutrient deficiencies contributing to, and being impacted by hormone imbalances. Hormonal birth control is often prescribed in the allopathic model of care, but seldom given informed consent on its mineral depleting side effects (zinc, selenium, copper.) It is quite common that we end up treating women in our office who have a history of both complication to their health, but they are unaware of the connection.
Thanks to the industrialized nature of our modern food sources, we are consuming just a shadow of what food is meant to be. Food that is genetically modified, non-organically grown, inappropriately harvested, non-pastured raised, medicated with hormones and antibiotics, transported poorly and packaged in plastic are going to have a huge impact on what is actually available to your body once you eat it. Toxic load aside (more on detoxing from this stuff HERE) many of these denatured foods deplete nutrients in the body. Nutrient density is preserved best when foods are in as close to their whole and natural state as possible.
Women especially are prone to chronic deficiencies in iron, B vitamins, vitamin D, calcium, iodine, and magnesium. All of these nutrients play a roll in optimal hormone manufacturing, communication and utilization. Many hormone imbalances can be solved by simply addressing these deficiencies. Get the full scoop on supplementation for women in THIS free resource.
The best way to avoid or treat deficiencies is eat foods that are rich in them. A balanced whole food diet will supply almost every single nutrient women need to thrive. One of our favorite styles of eating to bring simplicity and intentionality to this concept is traditional foods. We talk a lot about the benefits of traditional foods in THIS post, including ideas for getting more of them onto your plate.
Eat foods in their most natural state as possible- fresh meat, fruits and vegetables, animal products and whole grains.
Avoid packaged foods, preservatives and foods raised on pesticides, antibiotics or growth hormones.
Many women are lacking the proper amount of healthy fats in their daily diets to nourish hormones. Animal fats (butter, fatty meat, raw dairy, egg yolks, fish) and monounsaturated fats (avocado, coconut, nuts, seeds and olives). These types of fats are immediately available for energy, liver support, decreasing inflammation, essential to vitamin and mineral absorption, and blood sugar stabilization... all mechanisms directly related to how your hormones communicate and help you thrive.
Blood Sugar Stabilization
Stabilizing the glucose circulating in your blood stream is one of the most important aspects of hormone balancing. But why?
As you ingest sugar, sweeteners, simple carbs and processed grains your body so wisely abates the harm excess sugar can have by releasing insulin from your pancreas. The more sugar you eat, the more insulin that is released. Seems like a happy little relationship right, so what is the problem?
Our bodies were not designed to ingest the massive amounts of sugar (or foods that turn into sugar like commercial breads and pasta) that our modern diets facilitate for us. The pancreas, like all organ systems, has its limits on how long it can sustain high output. An overtaxed pancreas will release less and less insulin over time, allowing the sugar in your blood to wreak havoc on your body. Insulin is a hormone that works in relation to all the other hormones transmitting signals in your body (those that control moods, energy levels, brain function and period regulation) so it comes as no surprise that when one is out of wack many follow suite, and symptoms begin to arise.
Blood sugar issues are not just for women who ingest too much sugar or simple carbs, but can also be the case for women who do not eat enough in general, or enough nutrient dense foods, especially healthy fats and proteins. Some of the most common signs of blood sugar instability are energy crashes, brain fog, mood swings, food cravings (especially sweets) and anxiety.
Keeping a diet diary is the first step in balancing hormones by balancing blood glucose. Women can track symptoms in relation to what they eat and look for common patterns where blood sugar spikes and dips may be the cause of why they feel so poorly. We do not feel that sweets and carbs need to be removed completely or demonized in a diet, but rather employ some tools like wise food pairing and increased protein, fiber and healthy fats to combat cravings and hunger.
Another great tool for women is a home blood glucose monitor. An inexpensive set up (like THIS) can be bought at a drug store or online and give women a precise and objective tool for seeing exactly what impact certain foods have on their blood sugar. These numbers paired with a food diary can be wildly helpful in making little diet tweaks that help women feel better almost instantly.
A whole food diet is absolutely essential for managing this well. Most women benefit from a high protein and high fiber diet to combat blood sugar imbalances. Aim for 70 grams of protein in whole food sources for non pregnant women, and 100 grams for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Styles of eating like keto, paleo and whole 30 can give many women creative ideas for satiating hunger while avoiding blood sugar spikes.
There are many ways that hormones can become unbalanced in the female body. It can happen at production (where hormones are made), utilization (how hormones are transported and how well they uptake) or in detoxification (how excess hormones leave the body before causing harm).
Detoxification is the process of the body releasing offending or toxic substances on the cellular level. But once released, the excess hormones need a way to get out before reentering the blood stream and causing hormones dominance problems (the most famous villan in this saga is estrogen). Drainage pathways are the primary function of releasing toxins and hormones. Many women have great detoxification systems, but their drainage pathways are not patent, or open. The main pathways for drainage are through bowel movements, urine and sweat.
We go into great detail on this subject in THIS POST and in THIS EPISODE, but the main points are that you want to be working daily to keep your drainage open, especially when you are working on hormone balance.
There are many foods that assist both the detox and drainage systems, and we love to be sure women are getting plenty of them in their diet every single day:
Brightly colored vegetables: contain phytonutrients that help support your body's detox system and the fiber needed to keep bowel movements regular.
Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, brussel sprouts, turnips and arugula all contain diindolymethane (DIM). DIM is chemoprotective, which helps reduce high estrogen levels and supports estrogen detox in the liver.
Beets: contain pigments from betalins that have medicinal properties. They support methylation and estrogen detoxification, are antioxidant rich, anti-inflammatory and liver supportive.
Food for digestive health and the gut microbiome are such an important aspect of detoxification and hormone health, that we gave it its own section below.
The way the good bacteria work in our intestinal lining to keep us healthy is mind blowing. Not only is a healthy gut related to better mental health, immune health and vaginal health, but more and more research is showing us how important it is for hormone health as well.
Estrogen is made and synthesized, in part, inside the intestinal tract. We also know that the microbiome is a mechanism for clearing excess estrogen. A high functioning microbiome is characterized by diverse bacteria. Diversity is achieved by removing offenders to the good bacteria (preservatives, chemicals, medications, pesticides, synthetic hormones, sugar, etc) and providing the means to a thriving bacterial environment (prebiotics and probiotics).
There is a time and a place for probiotic supplements, but probiotics found naturally in food are a much more useful to overall gut diversity and whole food health benefits. In addition, there are certain fibers that directly feed beneficial bacteria called prebiotics, likened to laying a fertile soil down for the probiotics to seed and multiply.
Fermented foods: sauerkraut, kimchi and other fermented vegetables, coconut yogurt and kefir, miso, kombucha and fermented dairy as tolerated.
Prebiotic fiber: from whole plant foods like artichoke, asparagus, onions, and garlic.
Aim to eat these daily, if not with every meal. A condiment sized portion is a great way to think about the volume recommended when adding these helpful foods into each meal or snack. Some women need to go slow with this, increasing the frequency gradually over a couple of weeks before meeting the target.
Seed cycling is the practice of utilizing specific dietary seeds during the 2 main phases of the menstrual cycle in order to support your body's natural hormone production. These seeds are not only rich in whole food sources of fat, but contain essential minerals (zinc, selenium, magnesium) that are important cofactors to sex hormone conversion (like estrogen and progesterone).
We recommend raw and organic choices, ground up fresh just before consumption to follow this cycle-supporting pattern:
Progesterone Regulating for cycle day 15-28: Sesame + Sunflower
Other nutrient dense seeds to incorporate include chia and hemp seeds. Download our free Seed Cycling Ebook to learn all about how to layer this impactful practice into your hormone balancing regimen. You'll be equipped with recipe ideas and our favorite resources for buying and using these seeds.
What to Eat for Better Hormone Balance
You've learned our 5 basics principals to utilizing food as medicine for hormone balancing. Use these 5 basics as a checklist for your future meal planning:
Eat for nutrient density to combat deficiencies that cause hormone imbalances
Eat for blood sugar balance to prevent overtaxing your organ systems
Eat for hormonal detox to get excess hormones out of your body
Eat for gut health to aid in optimal metabolism of your hormones
Eat for healthy hormone production by cycling seeds each month
Now it's time to take this information and put it into practice! You can certainly read through this post again and take some notes on what to eat and when. You can also take advantage of us doing some of that legwork for you inside of our Balancing Hormones Food Guide. You'll gain access to our shopping guide, meal plan and recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. All of which provide adequate combinations of the following:
Whole foods only for maximum nutrition
Blood sugar stable food pairings
Pre and probiotics in every meal
Daily seed cycling incorporation
Packed with veggies that bind + detox estrogen
Plenty of fiber and anti inflammatory ingredients
Recipe staples you can take into your real life eating habits
Want everything above in an easy to digest (pun intended) format? Click the link below to learn more about this helpful food guide for hormone health. Congratulations lady! You are well on your way to recognizing good nutrition as an absolute pillar of your health. Cheers to the knowledge and tools that help you embrace a food-as-medicine philosophy to optimal hormone function!