Our bodies are amazing machines that can regulate themselves if given the right nutrients, rest and understanding. Too often we go running to the doctor for some kind of quick fix when we feel there is something out of whack instead of just looking to our diet and what we are giving our bodies. In this article I will speak about food as medicine instead of the pill from a doctor to realize that when it comes to hormone’s, especially the ever changing woman’s needs due to monthly menstruation throughout the menopause years, what we give our bodies as food can help to keep the system in a strong state of healthy balance.
There are over 200 hormones in the body; estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, insulin, leptin, ghrelin and hormones from the thyroid are the most commonly known. All these hormones are closely linked to our metabolism, fertility and moods. They are chemical messengers that are part of the endocrine system. If hormones get unbalanced the signaling pathways get confused and we can experience diabetes, weight gain or infertility. Migraines, strong PMS and frantic energy levels are also telltale signals for the woman to be aware of an unbalance.
Most of the way to understand how to eat for hormone balance really is just about having common sense and eating a healthy diet, however, in this day and age with so many woman trying to lose weight with too little caloric intake or various inadequate diets like not knowing how to eat as a healthy vegan or vegetarian, one may miss out on a lot of nutrients that are needed for perfect hormone balance in the body. Our bodies, as woman especially, need lots of healthy fats like avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds. Not surprisingly fiber is needed from fruits and vegetables and also good quality protein from eggs, fish and some meats. If one is vegan or vegetarian there are specialty foods one may have to buy to get the adequate vitamins and minerals for healthy hormonal balance.
I’ve come up with a list of foods that woman can incorporate into their diet to regulate hormones. Most of these things are available no matter where you live but here in Thailand I know we can get our hands on most of these luscious veggies, nuts, seeds, oils and fruits. There are health food shops we can pick up flax seeds to grind in the grinder to sprinkle on our probiotic yogurts and salads, nutritional yeast flakes for the B12 if vegan as well as quinoa for the “clean” protein but I’m getting ahead of myself as a “high-vibe/superfood” health practitioner. Allow me to go over basic categories below and I hope you can take away some easy and yummy information for your next meal preparations for life.
Healthy Fats: Salmon, canned albacore tuna, walnuts, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, olive oil, avocados and chia seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Fat and cholesterol are the building blocks of hormones. You need enough cholesterol to make sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone. The key is to choose fats high in omega-3’s which I’ve listen above. I mentioned using a grinder to grind the flax, this is a real easy way to get plenty of Omega 3’s into your diet. I use a coffee grinder and keep the flax in a glass jar in the fridge. It lends a nutty like flavor to any food it is sprinkled on, about 1 Tbls is plenty. Munching on walnuts and avocadoes is always tasty. I have a wonderful “nut-man” I get my fresh walnuts from along with almost any other nut for health of which there are many! One can buy avocado oil also for their salads if fresh avocadoes are not in season. Chia seeds are very popular these days, one can add a few Tbls to a smoothie and let sit overnight in the fridge to allow the chia sees to expand or can also add to whole oat breakfasts. Chia seeds act like tapioca in a way, adding a jelly-like substance to the texture of your treat! There are loads of fun ways to use chia seeds online for special healthy deserts.
Getting the good fats into your diet is THE MOST IMPORTANT act you can do to make sure your hormones even have a chance to regulate and be balanced. Too much up and down dieting and/or confusion with weight loss can really affect your mood swings and the hormonal balance in your body can make or break a successful weight loss regimen. I am well aware of the extra weight most people may have put on during various lockdown and states of depression due to the state of the world right now and loosing the fats in your diet is not what you need to do but rather making sure you incorporate the good fats.
Vegetables: I recommend cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, kale, garden cress, arugula, bok choy which is abundant here in Thailand, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, turnips and similar green leafy vegetables. Not only is the fiber beneficial but these vegetables can help maintain estrogen levels and also have high calcium content. Getting to know your local fruit and veg seller in your own neighborhood can be a real rewarding experience also. I highly recommend local produce.
Fruits: Berries are packed with polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that protect your cells from stress. Polyphenols decrease inflammation and can help you manage cortisol, your body’s stress hormone. They also carry a high load of Vit C, which regulates your progesterone levels, particularly during the luteal (PMS) phase of your cycle. If you have especially rough PMS, it could be a progesterone imbalance. Pomegranates (technically a leathery-skinned berry containing many seeds, each surrounded by a juicy, fleshy aril) are an antioxidant-filled fruit that can help block excess estrogen production in the body. It can have the potential to prevent types of breast cancers that respond to estrogen. In general, low sugar high fiber fruits are recommended foods for any diet and berries come out on top! Let’s not forget cranberry juice for urinary tract infection prevention also, no added sugar. Apples and bananas are also good for the gut which I speak of below so I added them here to the fruit list. Even though bananas can be thought of as high sugar, they are a high complex carbohydrate with lots of potassium.
Protein: To have a balanced diet one needs good quality protein although it does not directly affect hormone balance as much as say the fats and carb choices do. As stated above, the salmon and tuna can help with fulfilling the healthy fats but can also be a great source of protein. For vegans/vegetarians, I recommend both quinoa and soy. There has been a lot about soy pro’s and con’s (I’m speaking about a healthy-raised soy here) but it seems as of now in medical science, that if a woman already has a high imbalance of estrogen, at risk for breast/cervical cancer, in the body, then there can be a risk of too much estrogen added if one eats soy. This issue is opposite if one doesn’t have an imbalance and that, especially during menopause, the added estrogen is healthful/helpful and great for the woman slightly lacking in this hormone. Edamame and tofu in small amounts have estrogen-like effects. This can help diminish symptoms such as hot flashes. I have added quinoa in this protein group for the vegan/vegetarian. This grain can be a substitute for the all encompassing high starch/rice in Asian dishes with a wonderful high level of easy to digest protein. Quinoa is also the highly desired non-gluten grain many women crave these days for non-bloat and as a high complex carbohydrate grain for low insulin level production.
Greek Yogurt and no added sugar yogurts not only contain protein but also probiotics that the gut needs for healthy gut function (lactobacillus and acidophilus). The gut is the largest endocrine organ in the body and synthesizes and secretes more than 20 hormones that play a role in appetite, satiety and metabolism. Probiotics need prebiotics like raw garlic and oats, asparagus, dandelion, almonds, apples, bananas, Jerusalem artichokes and chicory.
Eggs are also a rich dietary source of healthy cholesterol and protein. Eggs are known for healthy brain function also and for mood swings; the perfectly balanced egg is stabilizing.
Specialty Additions: Fresh turmeric is a spice easily available in Asia, here in Thailand we love it in our dishes! I do find added turmeric (curcumin is the active ingredient) into a smoothie in the morning can make sure one gets this wonderful superfood into the diet. Like soy, turmeric’s active ingredient can mimic the activity of estrogen. It is also best for inflammation if one is experiencing any type of arthritis, stiffness in joints and/or circulatory issues. I just grate it up and throw it in any dish including a Greek yogurt & honey treat but the powder form of pure curcumin in a capsule can be bought at shops all over these days.
I will mention raw garlic here again, yes, it is a probiotic but also it has such a high immunity boosting affect we should all be consuming at least one raw clove of garlic a day. I have written much on the exponents of garlic which can be accessed below through my website and health blogs.
Almonds are a great all-rounder nut, they have a nice balance of protein, fats and carbs, easy to find snack and help maintain insulin levels and satiety. They can also help lower levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL; contributing to fatty buildup in arteries vs “good” cholesterol HDL). I’ve added a picture here of Jojoba oil because as an avid world traveler I cannot always get the face cream/oil I want so I have been using this oil on my face almost every night for the last 30 years. The DNA structure of this oil is the closest oil to the natural serum our skin’s produce to keep it moist and plump. I would recommend using this oil on the face to balance the PH in the skin and also feed it what it needs. I am a high believer and educator to “eat our health” however, adding this oil as a topical is an inexpensive and rewarding trick for beautiful facial skin!
When all is said and done: For complete hormonal balance, there are also things to look out for like high pesticide content, artificial sweeteners, the ever increasing mercury levels in fish and processed/deep-fried foods. Sleep is a huge issue I take up with people that seem to think functioning on 4-6 hours is fine. The body needs rest. We need to shut off the electronics at night and have at least one hour of quiet rest time with a good book in bed or private loving time with our partner before shutting our eyes and brains off to the world for a solid, quiet, peaceful sleep. One can use earplugs and also make sure the room is dark or use an eye mask. Sleep is the easily overlooked “high-value free activity” for health so let’s take advantage of that! Chronic stress leads to elevated levels of cortisol, which suppresses the digestive and immune systems and can cause high blood pressure. Cortisol imbalances can also lead to unhealthy carb cravings.
Exercise and quiet meditation time should be considered a high priority of any healthy lifestyle. Let’s watch the alcohol and also smoking is so very passé these days, so let’s be cool and look cool and NOT smoke! Treating oneself to some dark cacao (chocolate) can boost levels of norepinephrine and serotonin. Norepinephrine boosts energy (raised endorphins) and serotonin is the “feel good” hormone.
One can easily get too caught up in what to eat, when and how to eat etc., but frankly, it is pretty simple to keep the body healthy as it goes through its various stages of development following the suggestions above. We, as woman, must make sure to pass on our healthy habits to our children so that they may grow up with a great foundation and enter their young adult lives with all pistons shooting! Easy enter, easy exit. Menopause doesn’t need to be something to be frightened of, at 51 years myself, I felt barely any transition and I base that on my own DNA structure but mainly my healthy lifestyle. It is never too late to enter a healthy stage, today is better than tomorrow. Let us be happy about our aging as wise woman and appreciate what we can pass on! Here in Thailand, everything I mentioned above is part of the local diet and can be found in almost any shop. As stated before, buying local, making friends with the man in the shop that can order you fresh items, or the lady at the fruit stall on the corner and her children, these are ways to integrate health into our lives with human interaction also, it isn’t always just about “you”. A healthy, happy and harmonious life comes in many forms.
I do want to recommend nutritional yeast flakes for vegans (B12) and also dried apricots and pistachios for iron, if one is vegan. I have a health blog you can check out if interested to know more. www.healthhappinessharmonysite.wordpress.com
Margaret Elizabeth Johnston N.D. enjoys educating people on how to integrate health into life in easy and proactive ways. As a Doctor of Naturopathy since 2011 and a health practitioner since 1994, her advice has always been well researched and studied through many countries and through many challenges. “Food as Medicine” is her standing point and common sense for life.