What is a good diet plan for hormonal balance?
The influence of foods
Hormones are chemical messengers that communicate signals to different organs of the body. These chemical signals trigger different processes in the body that influence metabolism, digestion, muscle growth, moods, and fertility, among other things. Hormones are secreted by the different glands that are a part of your endocrine system, like for example your ovaries, the pituitary gland, your adrenal glands, your thyroid gland, and others.
While this is not something we are taught in school as children, nor something most of our parents teach us, hormones can be strongly affected by what we eat. For women this can be especially important, as your period already creates hormonal fluctuations as your cycle progresses. Keeping your hormones balanced and stable can go a long way to make your PMS and period a more positive experience, and food can be a key aspect of doing so.
According to the NIH, “Food can affect the production and secretion of hormones by direct actions on the gut, by nervous reflexes, through changes in the concentration of various metabolites in the blood, or secondary to changes in circulating gut hormone levels. Not only is the composition of the diet important but also its texture, quantity, and duration.”
Translated into simpler terms, this means, among other things:
- Foods affect your digestive system, which affects your hormones
- Ingredients in foods are used as building blocks for hormones
- Ingredients in foods can trigger the production of certain hormones
- Ingredients in foods can inhibit the production of certain hormones
- Foods, and particularly the glucose in foods, can trigger the production of the hormone insulin, which affects other hormones in your body
How do you know hormones are out of balance?
The body has over 200 hormones. Some of them you have heard of: estrogen (the “female hormone”), cortisol (the “stress hormone”), testosterone (the “male hormone”) and insulin are some of the best known ones. Being that the endocrine system is so complex, it can be sometimes daunting to try to assess whether our hormones are out of balance. It is best to consult a doctor to get adequately tested.
For a woman of reproductive age, one of the main indicators of hormonal balance, or imbalance, is the experience of her period. PMS, pain during your period, migraines, or a heavy flow, can be signs of hormonal imbalance. Infertility is another significant indicator that something could be going on with your hormones. Another good way to know is if your energy levels change from what they usually are, or if your weight is changing for no apparent reason.
There are 3 main areas where you should pay attention to notice if something is off with your hormones:
Reproductive system: For women, an excess in testosterone could be indicative of PCOS or other conditions. One of the ways high testosterone shows up is as hair growth in the face and all over the body. Conversely, low testosterone could be evidenced by a low sex drive and reduced energy levels.
Metabolism: A very common problem in modern western society is insulin resistance. This happens when your body has been exposed to too much sugar or simple carbs, causing your tissues to become insensitive to insulin. This makes you gain weight more easily and makes you sleepy after meals. If you carry weight in your midsection and get tired after meals, chances are you are insulin resistant. Low energy or unexpected weight changes could also be related to thyroid function.
Emotional mood: Adrenalin, melatonin and cortisol are 3 important hormones for your energy level, mood and how you handle stress and the challenges of life. If you are chronically stressed, and sleep deprived, you are probably high in cortisol. Cortisol increases your chances of gaining weight and makes it harder to relax and fall asleep at night.
We remind you that hormones are extremely complex and hard to diagnose without the proper lab tests and medical assistance. If you suspect you have a hormonal imbalance, we enthuse you to speak to your doctor.
Food to help your hormones
There are several types of food that help you maintain healthy hormonal balance. Here are some for you to consider:
“Good fats”: Also known as healthy fats, these are fats that are high in omega-3 oils. A good intake of healthy fats helps your body produce and regulate hormones, as well as stabilize your mood. Try fatty fish like salmon, sardines, or tuna. Also nuts, seeds and avocados are excellent choices.
Fiber: A high-fiber diet, especially with plenty of cruciferous vegetables (kale, broccoli, etc.) can help your body eliminate excess estrogen-like compounds that we get from exposure to plastics. Get plenty of fruits and vegetables, and if you eat grains make sure they are whole grains. To avoid hormonal disruptions caused by pesticides and other chemicals, try to eat organic fruits and veggies as much as possible. Here is a list of the fruits and veggies that absorb the most pesticides and should be bought organic if you can.
Things to avoid
The usual suspects are on this list. You want to limit processed foods, fried foods, sugar and alcohol as much as possible. Alcohol especially can have powerful hormonal effects and is associated with higher risk of certain cancers.