When you think of your hormones what comes to mind? Hot flush? Moodiness? Periods? Menopause? PCOS? Do you know where to even start when it comes to an imbalance? Eating for balanced hormones is just one tool that you can use to help create long term change.
Hormones are essential to so many functions. Everything from our sleep, to our stress levels, to our metabolism and water balance, as well as our periods, fertility and menopause, is controlled by our hormones.
And here’s the thing, all of our hormones are interconnected. Think of your hormones like an orchestra, when everything is working well you have beautiful music but if one part is out, it affects the whole.
And as such, balancing hormones requires a multi-faceted approach. We need to be looking at nutrition, stress levels, sleep, reducing our toxic load and healing any past traumas.
From my experience, nutrition seems to be the most confusing element for women. And there is a whole host of well-intended advice out there, so is it any wonder most of us don’t know what to eat.
The thing is, it’s really quite simple. The key to eating for balanced hormones is:
- Eating an anti-inflammatory diet; and
- Balancing blood sugar levels
Chronic, low-level inflammation, which may result from our food choices, can lead to fatigue, weight gain, brain fog, acne, hot flushes, stomach disturbances, period problems and mood swings. Any of this sound familiar?
So what does eating an anti-inflammatory diet look like? And how does one balance their blood sugar levels?
Inflammatory foods, the foods we want to be avoiding include:
Processed food, refined carbohydrates (think white bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits), sugar, trans fats, foods containing additives and preservatives, cereals, caffeine, alcohol, and for some people will include gluten and dairy.
Instead, we want to be eating lean protein, good healthy fats and getting our carbohydrates from vegetables.
- Many of our hormones are made from proteins.
- Eating protein decreases the hunger hormone ghrelin and stimulates the production of leptin, the satiety hormone. So that means we recognise when we have had enough to eat and will feel fuller for longer.
- Protein-rich foods like chicken and turkey help with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
- Protein slows down the rate of digestion and therefore can help in the control of insulin and balanced blood sugar levels.
- The neurotransmitters responsible for mood, e.g. serotonin, dopamine and GABA are made from proteins.
- Proteins are essential to the liver in neutralising toxins, including excess hormones, so they can be removed from the body safely.
Sources of protein:
Fish, shellfish, beef, chicken, turkey, pork, lamb, eggs
Vegan/Vegetarian: Hemp and chia seeds, beans, chickpeas and lentils, amino rich grains like quinoa and amaranth
- Fat is essential in the production of our sex hormones oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
- Fat is essential to brain function and the working of the nervous system, which is strongly connected to the hormone system.
- Fat is essential for maintaining a healthy weight, healthy joints and skin – all of which can be problem areas with hormonal disturbances.
- Fat is high in Vitamins A, D, E and K which is essential to help absorb calcium and support immunity – so think thyroid health and osteoporosis.
Sources of fat:
Olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, avocado, olives, nuts and seeds and nut butters.
- We want to be eating carbohydrates in the form of vegetables.
- Eating vegetables together with proteins and fat will slow the sugar spikes, helping to balance blood sugar.
- Vegetables contain high levels of fibre and the energy release is more sustainable.
- Fibre is essential for keeping our blood sugar levels in check.
- Fibre will support gut health – small amounts of hormones are made in the gut.
- Vegetables will support the liver and the bowels for the detoxification of excess hormones.
Sources of vegetables:
Lots of cruciferous veg – broccoli, cauliflowers, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, bok choy; and lots of leafy greens – spinach, kale, spring greens, collard greens, mustard greens; and every other veg you can think of. Starchy veg, however, eat in small amounts – sweet potato, carrots, parsnips and turnips.
We should be aiming to eat 3 regular meals a day and each meal should be made up of vegetables, protein and a source of fat. As a visual, half your plate should be non-starchy vegetables, a quarter of your plate should be protein, and the last quarter divided into half starchy veg and half healthy fats.
When we eat like this our blood sugar balance will not even be something you need to be thinking about. And when in that position, you will be moving closer to balanced hormones.