From our friends at HeyPumpkin: I’ve written a lot recently about hormone health, because it’s just a sad fact that most of the be-uterined among us are in need of some extra support in that area. We’ve discussed how to love up your hormones with the right supplements, the right workouts at the right time, and even what foods your body can best tolerate depending on where you’re at in your cycle.
And today we’re looking at specific foods that can have a serious effect on our hormone levels. Have you ever heard the quote “Let food be thy medicine”? “Hormones control nearly every aspect of how we feel, and insulin, serotonin, cortisol, and dopamine, not to mention estrogen and testosterone, can all be affected by food choices we make,” says registered dietitian Marci Clow, M.S., R.D. “Each macronutrient (fat, carbohydrate and protein) plays a role in how hormones function and how they are synthesized in the body.”
So let’s look at 7 superfoods that could help to keep your hormones in check, and how best to work them into your diet.
All hail the avocado, right? Aside from being absolutely delicious, they can actually help to manage your stress hormones.
“Avocados are loaded with beta-sitosterol, which can affect blood cholesterol levels and help balance the stress hormone cortisol,” says Clow. Studies have also shown that avocados increase healthy cholesterol, which mitigates the risk of heart issues or stroke.
Add a half of an avocado to your smoothies in the morning, to some whole grain toast, or just as a side to your next meal. And don’t skip the guac at Chipotle.
Flaxseeds are a great source of phytoestrogens — plant-based, estrogen-like compounds. The phytoestrogen in flaxseed is called lignans. “Lignans have both an estrogenic and antiestrogenic effect, and they have been suggested to have protective benefits against certain types of cancer,” says Clow.
The Journal of Food Science and Technology also found that diets rich in phytoestrogens can lower your risk of breast cancer, osteoporosis, and heart disease. Flaxseeds also provide antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber.
Buy flaxseed ground into a meal and whip it up with your smoothies or oatmeal in the mornings, bake it into muffins or bread, or sprinkle it on top of your yogurt.
Broccoli is absolutely lousy with health benefits, but among them, it can help to maintain estrogen balance. Cruciferous vegetables contain a phytoestrogenic compound called indole03-carbinol, which studies have shown is a potential blocker of cancer cells, specifically hormone-driven cancers like breast cancer. It’s also very high in calcium, which can help to ease the symptoms associated with PMS.
Steam some broccoli with a little butter and lemon as a side dish, make it the star in a veggie stir fry, or eat it raw with hummus or a yogurt-based tzatziki dip.
We’ve heard about pomegranate for heart health, but they’re hormone supporting powerhouses as well. They’re chalk full of antioxidants, which can block excess estrogen production according to a Cancer Prevention Research study in 2010.
“Pomegranates have a natural compound that may inhibit the enzyme in women’s bodies that converts estrogen into estradiol, which is a powerful estrogen that may play a role in the origin of hormone dependent cancers,” Clow says. Reach for pomegranate juice (but be wary of the sugar content), or sprinkle the seeds over salads, yogurts, and side dishes to reap their health benefits.
The American Heart Association says that a 3.5 ounce of salmon per week can keep your heart healthy and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. But the good fats it contains can also improve your hormonal health. Several studies on polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) have focused on fish oil, and have shown that Omega-3s can help to balance hormones and regulate menstrual cycles.
If you’re not into eating fish, though, find a good fish oil supplement or vegan alternative.
Dark, Leafy Greens
Leafy greens are filled with antioxidants, which means that they help prevent inflammation and keep your cortisol levels in check. They also help to balance estrogen levels, similar to broccoli. Greens like collards, Swiss chard, spinach, kale, dandelion greens, and beet greens all contain high levels of iron. And iron is something we can really use during our menstrual cycles. Iron deficiency can lead to headaches, fatigue, and brain fog. Sound familiar?
Add your greens to juices, salads, steam them, sauté them, or braise them. No matter how they’re delicious and far too beneficial to pass up.
We already know turmeric is a great natural anti-inflammatory. Its main component, called curcumin, is also an anti-estrogen and anti-androgen. That means it could be useful in staving off hormonal cancers like breast cancer. Its anti-inflammatory properties mean it’s also great for minimizing period cramps. Add turmeric to broths, curries, or make yummy golden milk to unwind in the evenings.
So next time you’re racking your brain over what to meal prep for the week, take a cue from this list and give your hormones a little extra love. They’ll greatly appreciate it, and you’ll reap the benefits.