What is the best diet for hormones? Is it Keto, paleo? Vegan?
The truth is, there isn't one diet that will support everyone the same way. However, my recommendation for women is to follow an anti-inflammatory diet (also known as the Mediterranean diet).
The anti-inflammatory diet
It involves foods that are believed to reduce inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is linked to various health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and many hormonal imbalances are rooted in inflammation. The goal of an anti-inflammatory diet is to provide the body with nutrients that help modulate the inflammatory response and promote overall health.
Why is this important for hormones?
When we have chronic (silent) inflammation in the body, specifically in the digestion system: the gut, the liver etc, the processing of our hormones is damaged, and there's a chain reaction that starts a chaotic state of hormones.
Chronic inflammation can stress the adrenals, the thyroid, which all play a major role in balancing our hormones. In addition, an anti-inflammatory nutrition supports balanced blood sugar. This, in turn, helps regulate insulin and reduces stress on the endocrine system.
What's included in an anti-inflammatory diet?
It is rich with whole foods and low in processed foods and sugars. It incorporates fruits and vegetables, legumes, fatty fish, nuts & seeds, healthy fats, probiotics and more. Below is a detailed break-down of the principles.
Here are key principles of an anti-inflammatory diet:
1. Eat "real foods" only
Real foods don't have a list of ingredients, or packages. They're just foods. If possible, opt for organic whole foods, whenever you can, to reduce exposure to toxins and endocrine disruptors.
2. Eat high quality Proteins
It's very simple: In order to reach hormonal balance, you need proteins. You can choose animal based proteins or plant-based. Make sure to limit red meat consumption, as this has been linked to high inflammation and health conditions. As long as you incorporate enough high-quality proteins every meal, you are on the right way to healthy hormones. What isn't considered high quality? Processed meats. Anything that comes in a plastic wrap, you should probably eliminate or reduce a lot, if you're counting on that i your diet.
Great options: Chicken, turkey, and fish, or plant-based alternatives like beans, lentils and tofu. These proteins provide essential amino acids, the building blocks necessary for hormonal synthesis.
3. Don't be scared of the Healthy Fats:
Contrary to outdated beliefs, healthy fats are healthy for you and in fact, are key players in hormonal health. Fats are a great source of energy, support healthy blood sugar management and provide the essential building blocks for hormones.
It's important to make sure we get a good ration of Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6's. Common western diet contains way too many Omega-6's fatty acids, and too little Omega-3s. Omega-6 is widely available in industrial oils, canola oil, seeds oil etc, while we want to increase the good Omega-3s found in fish, avocados and flaxseeds. High Omega 6 ratio has been linked to high inflammation, so make sure to choose your fat wisely.
Great sources: Fatty fish, avocado, olive oil, flax seeds.
4. Eat the Rainbow:
Nature's palette of colorful fruits and vegetables contains phytonutrients with antioxidant properties. Dark leafy greens, berries, citrus fruits, and cruciferous veggies support overall health and contribute to hormonal balance.
Eating a diet rich in fruits and veggies is linked to less menstrual pain, decreased risk of uterine fibroids and even delay menopause in some cases.
Great options: Broccoli, carrots, beets, squashes, blueberries, leafy greens, citrus fruit.
5. Fiber (Eat your veggies!)
Not to sound like a nagging grandma.... but you should probably eat more veggies. A healthy gut is a happy hormone hub. It is believed that most women have a huge fiber deficiency. Prioritize fiber-rich foods like whole grains, legumes, and fruits to promote digestion and support gut microbiota. Balanced gut health positively influences hormonal function.
Fiber-rich vegetables: Sweet potato, squash, Brussels sprouts, spinach, kale, broccoli, carrots, artichoke, cauliflower.
6. Pre-& probiotic foods: Cultivate Your Hormone Garden:
Prebiotic foods are starches / fibers that serve as food for the healthy gut flora. Prebiotic foods are linked with better
These include: Jerusalem artichoke, chicory, garlic, onion, leek, spring onion, asparagus
Probiotic-rich foods are an important part of a healthy gut microbiome. Probiotics improve natural detoxification and elimination (more pooping!)
These include: yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, pickled veggies and kimchi.
Some studies show that probiotics are linked to:
Reduced insulin resistance
Improvements in fertility, better assisted fertility outcomes, and healthier pregnancies
Fewer UTI infections
Possible prevention of conditions like PCOS and endometriosis
Healthier estrogen balance
Improved HPA Axis function, reduced stress, and improved resilience and well-being
Reductions in anxiety and depression, which may trickle over to improved premenstrual mood
7. Hydration: The Silent Hormone Regulator:
Water, herbal teas, and infused water play a vital role in hormonal transport. Hydration, thus makes an easy method to support your hormonal balance. How much water should you drink a day? Aim for 6–8 cups per day.
Important: Always opt for filtered tap water, and try to reduce drinking from plastic bottles. Both are heavy in endocrine disruptors, which will prevent you from balancing your hormones.
8. Spice it up:
Certain spices and herbs are extremely beneficial for our hormones. Turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and garlic boast anti-inflammatory and hormone-regulating properties, adding both taste and wellness benefits to your meals.
Other spices and herbs for hormonal balance: Basil, thyme, oregano, cumin, cilantro, dill, chives.
Here's a summary of what to eat for hormonal balance:
3. Nuts & seeds
4. Olive oil & Avocados
5. Whole grains: brown rice, quinoa, barley, and buckwheat
6. Leafy greens: Broccoli, cabbage, kale, collards, cauliflower
7. Starchy veggies: Sweet potatoes, squashes
9. Berries, citrus fruits
10. probiotic foods: Sauerkraut, pickled veggies
11. Herbs & spices: ginger, turmeric, cumin, basil, cilantro
What else can contribute to lowering inflammation in the body and balancing your hormones?
1. Mindful Eating: A Hormonal Harmony Practice
Mindful eating practices contribute to hormonal balance by fostering a healthier relationship with food and reducing stress levels. Practice eating without distractions, pay attention to your body's cues, savor each bite, and reduce stress during meals for an overall positive impact on hormones.
2. Say 'No' to Processed Foods and Sugars
Minimize processed foods and added sugars to avoid disruptions in blood sugar levels and high inflammation of the gut. Choose whole, unprocessed options for optimal nutrient intake and hormonal balance.
3. Lowering stress
It is definitely not enough to focus only on healthy foods, and leaving stress factors out of the equation. Your lifestyle has a huge impact on inflammation (and therefore, on your hormones) and this should be taken into consideration.
Things you can do: practice deep breathing, take pauses at work, limit screen time, practice yoga and so on.
4. Limit alcohol consumption
Sorry, ladies. This also means that glass of red wine at the end of a long day. Alcohol, (even in the smallest amount) causes inflammation in the body, disrupts the gut balance and can push your hormonal balance off the cliff. An occasional glass of wine is totally fine, but if you find yourself depending on it, it might be a good idea to cut down and explore "dry" yummy options.
Engaging in regular exercise plays a crucial role in reducing inflammation within the body. Incorporating moderate and consistent physical activity into your routine, without the need for lengthy gym sessions, mirrors the practices observed in Blue Zones. (remember the old people walking in those steep villages?) Simple adjustments, such as taking the stairs at work and engaging in household activities, can contribute to this lifestyle, reduce inflammation and improve gut health.