When it comes to hormonal health, a few key players - testosterone, estrogen, and thyroid hormones - dominate the conversation. But did you know that our bodies use hundreds of hormones to control every process from sleep and digestion to stress responses, and they can even tell us when we’re hungry or full?
The nervous system uses neurotransmitters to communicate, but the endocrine system uses hormones. Here’s a breakdown of a few other hormones that deserve special mention:
Insulin - helps our cells turn food into energy and controls blood sugar levels
DHEA - precursor to estrogen and testosterone
Cortisol - released by the adrenal glands during times of stress
Melatonin - promotes a healthy sleep cycle
Ghrelin - stimulates appetite and makes us feel hungry
Leptin - tells the brain when it’s time to stop eating and makes us feel full
With so many hormones maintaining a delicate balance, trying to keep everything in sync can feel incredibly overwhelming. Fortunately, we can use the impact that environment and lifestyle have on our hormones to our advantage - meaning that the choices we make can throw our hormones off, but they can also help restore balance! Today we’re focusing on how we can do that, starting in the kitchen.
How do Food Groups Affect Our Hormones?
It’s true - simple carbohydrates can raise blood sugar levels, causing your energy to spike and then plummet, leaving you hungry and sluggish an hour later. But they’re not all bad. The right carbohydrates are essential for brain function and they’re also ideal for hormone balance. Nutrient-dense, complex carbohydrates help stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce cortisol. Because it doesn’t break down the way simple carbs do, fiber is great at providing a steady supply of energy without raising blood sugar or causing a crash later on.
Protein doesn’t just build muscle - it helps slow down digestion, keeping us full longer and stabilizing blood sugar by promoting insulin secretion. It also influences the release of those hunger and fullness hormones - ghrelin and leptin - and protein consumption can increase leptin sensitivity, meaning you’re more in-tune with your fullness cues.
Studies show that eating healthy fats at meal times triggers the release of hormones that help us feel satisfied, which helps curb snacking and overeating. Consumption of healthy, natural fats can also help lower insulin resistance and improve hormone communication.
Hormone Balancing Foods to Start Eating Now
Wild-caught fatty fish, such as salmon, lake trout, sardines, and mackerel, help stabilize blood sugar and regulate ghrelin, the hunger hormone. They also contain cholesterol and vitamin D, both of which are important for the production and regulation of many hormones. The healthy fats contained in these fish also help our endocrine system communicate with the brain more efficiently, which can improve cognitive function and mood.
The antioxidants contained in leafy greens like spinach, chard, and collard greens are powerful weapons against inflammation. They help balance estrogen and lower cortisol levels, which can help reduce stress, and their fiber content contributes to better digestive and all-around hormonal health.
High Quality Animal Protein
High quality protein sources (think pastured eggs, grass-fed beef and dairy, and organic poultry) deliver excellent protein content rich with nutrients. Prioritizing these foods can help your body with blood sugar balance, DNA repair, muscle growth and maintenance, and metabolism. When you eat these nutrient-dense options, you’re benefitting from a higher concentration of healthy omega-3 fatty acids and less pesticide contamination.
These vegetables, including broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kale, balance hormones by helping to process and remove excess estrogen from the bloodstream. They are also rich with other vital nutrients, like calcium, vitamins C/E/K, beta-carotene, and folate - and they support a healthy menstrual cycle.
Avocados are rich in healthy fats, as well as beta-sitosterol, a natural compound that can help lower cholesterol and cortisol levels. Avocados can also help positively influence estrogen and progesterone production. They’re rich in minerals like potassium and magnesium, fiber, folic acid, Vitamin E, and B vitamins.
Tart cherries are one of the few natural whole food sources of melatonin. Eating tart cherries or drinking tart cherry juice an hour before bedtime is thought to improve melatonin production and sleep quality.
High Fiber Foods
As we noted above, fiber helps slow digestion, and it binds excess hormones in the digestive tract so that they are excreted instead of absorbed. This guarantees maximum nutrient absorption without being overburdened by excess hormones. Flaxseeds and chia seeds contain phytonutrients, minerals, and vitamins that are essential to hormone function in addition to about 2 grams of fiber per tablespoon. Artichokes are high in fiber and support liver function - the liver is the body’s natural “detox” organ, eliminating waste and toxins to keep things running smoothly. Fiber-rich grains like oats, quinoa, and millet are also highly beneficial for fiber content. These foods help make both our gut and our hormones happy!
Diet plays just one part in balancing hormones, but if applied properly, it can be an incredibly useful tool. Incorporating a healthy diet into a lifestyle that prioritizes sleep, daily movement, sunlight exposure, and stress management can help you on your way to better hormonal health.
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