Hormone-Healthy Superfoods Might Help You Look Better and Feel Younger
Simple, delicious and natural foods could help us balance hormones and renew zest for living.
You wake up in the morning feeling headachy or bloated, or with a vague sadness for what seems like no reason at all. Or maybe you notice sudden breast tenderness or an eruption of acne on your chin. These unpleasant signs could drive you to overeat or feel generally disinterested in doing the things you like to do.
On another day, you wake early with a clear head, energy to rise and no particular worry on your mind. On days when you look and feel better, you also have the motivation to engage in activities you enjoy, like exercising, seeing friends or going on a date with your boo.
The way you feel during the day is profoundly affected by your hormones, which are chemical messengers that control or regulate different functions in the body. Made by glands, hormones travel through the bloodstream and impact everything from your blood sugar to reproduction, growth and energy.
How can you improve your chances of a better day? Be aware of the link between hormones and diet, say health professionals. “As women, we are cyclical beings,” says Tiffany Lester, M.D., a holistic physician with Parsley Health. “What we eat on a day-to-day basis, a weekly basis, a monthly basis, really impacts our stress levels [and] how we sleep, and that impacts our sex hormones too.”
The quality of your diet matters as well. “If you’re eating a low-nutrient diet and you’re not getting those fruits and vegetables and all the necessary nutrients, then you may not have the available raw materials to be able to make the hormones that you need in proper levels in order to feel good,” says Melissa Groves Azzaro, R.D.N., L.D., founder of The Hormone Dietitian.
You don’t necessarily have to say goodbye to foods you love. But you can choose more of those items that promote a healthy hormonal balance and less of those that don’t.
FOODS THAT HELP
Avocados: These green fruits contain healthy monounsaturated fats, which are key to balancing our hormones. Avocados also contain the good cholesterol, a precursor to two important hormones, estrogen and progesterone, says Dr. Lester. While we don’t want our cholesterol levels to get too high, it’s not healthy for them to be low either, she explains. Plus, avocados contain healthy plant protein, as well as the hormone-balancing mineral magnesium.
Dark chocolate: This more bitter type of chocolate is also high in the mineral magnesium, which helps the body maintain hormonal balance. “Magnesium is a really important mineral that most of us are deficient in,” says Dr. Lester. Women approaching menopause or in menopause who are low in magnesium may be more prone to hormonal disorders. To avoid the sugar in chocolate, Dr. Lester recommends opting for the purest form of dark chocolate you can tolerate — 80 percent or more.
Nuts: Whether you like cashews, Brazil nuts or almonds, nuts are also a good source of both magnesium and healthy fat. “I see [magnesium] as a relaxing mineral,” says Dr. Lester. Magnesium helps to calm the nervous system, which benefits sleep. It also aids the body in managing the stress hormone cortisol, which, if out of whack, can negatively affect hormones and your overall health.
Soy: As women get older, our natural production of estrogen goes down, says Groves Azzaro. During menopause, that drop in estrogen can cause symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats. Soy products contain phytoestrogens that combine with estrogen receptors in the body and may alleviate some of those pesky symptoms. Though some believe that this added estrogen could raise the risk of breast cancer, research shows the opposite is true. To get the benefit, Groves Azzaro suggests consuming whole-food soy such as tofu, edamame and soy milk rather than heavily processed items like soy burgers.
Protein: Protein helps keep blood sugar and insulin levels stable, says Groves Azzaro. She recommends getting protein from a variety of sources but especially eggs and fish, which contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Animal-based proteins also contain nutrients like fat and cholesterol, which are necessary for the body to make hormones. Plant-based proteins like chickpeas, lentils and black beans are also good choices. While lean chicken, pork or red meat are fine, she says to avoid processed meats like sausage and bacon, which contain cancer-causing nitrates.
“Red” foods: While more research is needed to confirm the benefit, Dr. Lester says that certain red-hued foods — beets, beetroot, cranberries and pomegranates — can be nourishing to women and our hormones. The skin of these fruits and vegetables contains nutrients known as polyphenols. Besides being good for the heart, polyphenols may also help reduce blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity.
FOODS THAT DON’T
Alcohol: The drinking your body could tolerate in your 20s or 30s could wreak havoc during perimenopause or menopause. “Even one glass of wine can increase your estrogen by up to 10 percent,” says Dr. Lester. For women who are already experiencing the unpleasant effects of hormonal imbalance like hot flashes, drinking could make them worse. But if you like to imbibe, choose alcoholic beverages that contain less sugar, such as vodka, tequila or mezcal, Dr. Lester adds.
Dairy: While dairy contains the calcium we need, it can have a negative impact on our hormones. It increases a hormone known as insulin-like growth factor 1, or IGF-1. “When you have insulin imbalance, insulin resistance [or] blood sugar dysregulation, that can negatively impact your sex hormones,” says Dr. Lester. If you’re lactose intolerant and your gut is inflamed, that can also affect estrogen, which is partly detoxified in the gut. Dr. Lester recommends removing dairy from your diet for 30 days and taking note of how you feel.
Sugar: Eating more than the recommended amount of 10 percent of your daily calories from added sugars — roughly 50 grams in a 2,000-calorie diet — can lead to spikes in blood sugar and insulin, says Groves Azzaro. Consuming a high-sugar diet over time may increase your risk of prediabetes or the full-blown disease. Groves Azzaro thinks federal guidelines for sugar consumption are too high and advises eating even less: 25 grams per day. “It’s room for a small treat,” she says. While a little sugar in your favorite salad dressing might be OK (check the label), steer clear of sugar soda or that flavored coffee drink, which can easily contain more than a day’s worth of sugar.