4 Tips on Eating for Hormone Health
By Ashley Gish, WHNP
Understanding your body and your cycle is a powerful way to improve your overall health as a woman. Hormones control just about everything in your body from how well you sleep, to your reproductive health, and even blood sugar balance and how your body responds to stress. When hormones are in balance, they keep us focused, happy, and healthy.
While many things impact hormonal health, a particularly important one is the food that we eat every day.
Many of us are familiar with the concept of food as medicine, and the connection between what we eat and hormone health is no less powerful. The great thing about eating to support your hormone health is that it’s something you have much control over and is a particularly impactful way to ensure that your hormones are working for and not against you.
A hormone-healthy diet is inherently high in healthful fats, proteins, fiber, and lots of nutrient-dense plant foods, but let’s break that down a little further.
GOOD FATS AND HORMONE HEALTH
Good fats are an essential part of a healthy, well-balanced diet. While fat seems to have mostly recovered from its years of bad press, it is necessary to understand that not all fats are created equal.
Good quality fats help you to feel full longer, balance your blood sugar, and are critical for supporting overall hormone health.
Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are all produced from fat and cholesterol, so without these building blocks, your body is not able to make enough of these important chemical messengers to support a healthy cycle.
So, what types of fats should you be eating and which ones should you avoid? Let’s dive in. Monounsaturated fats are found in large amounts in raw nuts and seeds, olive oil and avocados, and are some of my favorites.
They help to promote healthy cholesterol levels, work to optimize blood pressure, and are great for brain health.
Similarly, foods like salmon, walnuts, flax, and hemp seeds are excellent sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids and are great to incorporate small amounts on a daily basis. Essential fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that we call “essential” because the body cannot produce them on its own, and they must be obtained through food.
Western diets tend to be higher in Omega 6’s, which are pro-inflammatory, so it’s crucial to consume enough omega 3’s to achieve a healthy balance between the two.
Even saturated fats like coconut oil, grass-fed butter, and ghee, which were previously thought to contribute to heart disease, have been shown to improve cardiovascular health, as well as contribute to stronger bones and improve brain health and function.
Trans fats, like those in processed, packaged foods, should be avoided if possible. You can try to decrease your consumption of corn, canola, safflower, and soybean oils by replacing them with avocado, olive, or coconut oils.
EAT PLENTY OF QUALITY PROTEIN
Adequate protein intake helps to regulate the release of hormones that control satiety and appetite. Wild-caught fish, grass-fed meats, and pastured poultry and eggs are excellent sources of protein. It is also important to incorporate a variety of plant-based proteins as well.
Foods such as tempeh, hemp, eggs, and quality protein powder help to stabilize blood sugars, moderate energy levels, and appetite, and have an overall positive effect on the gut microbiome. They also tend to be less inflammatory than some other protein sources.
Conventionally raised meats can increase exposure to exogenous estrogens and environmental toxins, so it’s typically a good idea to minimize them if possible, for optimal hormone health!
EAT MORE PLANTS
Fiber is another essential component of a hormone healthy diet, and you probably don’t need me to tell you that vegetables are full of fiber, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and have countless other benefits.
For real, EAT MORE PLANTS. I typically recommend seventy-five percent of your plate be filled with plant foods, followed by a fist-sized serving of protein and a healthy amount of good fats thrown in for good measure.
See my article on my TOP 10 FOODS FOR HORMONE HEALTH for more information.
STABILIZE YOUR BLOOD SUGAR
Blood sugar and hormones are pretty dependent on one another. One of the main functions of the endocrine system (the system responsible for producing and secreting hormones throughout your body) is delivering glucose to your brain, muscles, and heart.
The hormones produced each carry essential messages, and the optimal level for each one is tightly controlled, so if anything in that process isn’t working correctly, it’s pretty easy for blood sugar to get out of whack. By focusing on eating plenty of protein, fat, fiber, and lots of plants at each meal, you can help to regulate blood sugars and start to optimize hormone health.
Typically I like to focus on what kinds of things we can add rather than take away, but I’m going to share my very unpopular opinion here: Limit your alcohol and sugar intake. Few people want to hear this, but alcohol and sugar can place undue stress on the liver, dysfunction in the gut, and make symptoms of hormone imbalance even worse.
I’m definitely not suggesting that you never have a glass of wine or break bread with friends again, as I think all of these things are important to overall wellbeing.
However, if you suspect you may have a hormone imbalance, these simple dietary changes can have a significant impact on how you feel.
Some of the most common symptoms of hormonal imbalances in women include; fertility issues, irregular menstrual cycles, unexplained weight gain or loss, fatigue, low libido, mood changes, difficulty sleeping, gut problems, and changes to skin and hair.
Symptoms can vary widely depending on the type of imbalance you’re dealing with, so it’s important to consult with your provider and see what kinds of testing and treatments may be appropriate for you.