Let’s talk about hormones and health. While hormones play vital roles in our bodies, they can sometimes sabotage our best health intentions. Everyone wants to be healthier. If we are in good health we want to stay that way, and if we need to become healthier we’re certainly looking for tools to help us.
Hormones are constantly in flux. Just when we think we have a handle on a pattern – boom – it changes! Most of us can relate to doing all the things that have been working and then all of a sudden they aren’t showing us the same results as before.
When your hormones shift, so should your nutrition. Ideally, any nutrition plan needs to be individualized. There’s no one size fits all, but there are some commonalities.
Which hormones are we talking about? Cortisol (the stress hormone), thyroid hormone (involved in metabolism), and estrogen (sorry men, you’ll have a different, dedicated discussion).
A key to discovering hormone shifts is paying attention to skin, teeth, and digestion. Shifts manifest through subtle, or sometimes not so subtle, cues including bloating, brain fog, cravings for salt and sugar, constipation, headaches, depression, and bleeding gums. Start a weekly journal to jot down aspects of your skin, teeth, and digestion to see how they change from week to week. Use it as an opportunity to learn about yourself for when you feel at your best and for the times when you don’t.
Let’s break down what we need in terms of food and some common supplements by macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats). Since we need all of these macronutrients for hormone health and balance, please reconsider plans that include eliminating any of the three.
Starting with carbohydrates, or carbs, it’s important to note we lose efficiency to metabolize them as we age, especially for the simple, processed kind. We need carbohydrates for the brain, and the energy and the nutrients they provide when in unprocessed forms. Choose primarily whole grains, legumes like lentils and chickpea, and fruit and starchy vegetables. Nature packs them full of antioxidants and fiber which can be useful to help curb cravings.
Carbohydrates in fruits, green vegetables, and beans give us natural folate for brain, thyroid, and heart health. This is different from synthetic folic acid, which puts an extra burden on our bodies to convert to the active folate form. If you’re going to supplement, look for methylfolate which is already converted or active. For those of you taking or seeking prenatal vitamins, good quality ones will now contain methylfolate instead of folic acid.
Protein helps stabilize blood sugar, promotes satiety, and is essential for hormone transport and metabolic reactions. Good quality protein sources include salmon and sardines (which are also good sources of omega 3 fatty acids), organic meats and poultry, hemp seeds, and quinoa. Protein powders should be plant-sourced until you know whether or not your inflammatory markers (skin, teeth, and digestion) react to animal sources. Choosing dairy in your tea or coffee or as an occasional addition to a meal or snack is different than the quantity you would get by supplementing from powders. Pay attention to your reactions, if any, to animal sources when you start weekly journaling.
Good for you fats come from olives, avocado, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseed and sunflower (and fatty fish – see above). Nuts and seeds also add needed vitamins and minerals. We’re specifically looking to add Omega-3 fatty acids to promote a better inflammatory response, support digestive health, help lower cortisol, and support a healthy mood. Omega-3s are no longer shown to be protective for heart health.
Omega-3s fall into the anticoagulant (or blood thinner) category, so it’s one supplement that may need to be stopped before medical procedures. A physician may need to monitor those taking large doses (over 2g daily).
If you’re looking for added anti-inflammatory boosters, include a variety of spices in cooking and seasoning and experiment with unsweetened herbal teas. Add pre and probiotics with regularity in the form of fermented foods. If you’re going to supplement with pre or probiotics, be sure that you include the strains that are specifically directed to reducing inflammation in the gut. A few key ones are lactobacillus helveticus, lactobacillus rhamnosus, and bifidiobacterium longum. You need the right strains to do their intended job.
Choose fewer or no artificial sweeteners and additives. Watch out for mints and gums, as they may contain commonly hidden sources. Shy away from erythritol, the artificial sweetener commonly used in pint-sized, low-calorie ice creams (I know, that one is tough for me to hear, too).
Current research supports Stevia or monk fruit limited to once daily. Keep an eye out on that research as it’s still emerging.
Lastly, be sure to include all three macronutrient categories on some level. Especially carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables and fats from nuts and seeds, which are all particularly good sources of magnesium, zinc, iodine, and copper for good hormone balance.
So, I hope you’ve learned the importance of maintaining good hormone health by choosing a variety of unprocessed food and being deliberate and specific with supplements. It’s crucial to have a better understanding of how what we eat affects how we think, feel, and function.
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In good health,