Dietary Approaches to Balancing Your Hormones

By Dr. Joanna Rosenfeld

1. Include Healthy Fats

Fat and cholesterol provide the precursors to our sex hormones. Ensuring you get enough healthy fats in your diet is critical to hormone balance. Healthy fats help to decrease inflammation in the body, help to maintain a healthy body weight and

Healthy Fats: Olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, fish, nuts and seeds

How to do it:

  • Include 2tbsp of ground flax seed in your diet each day – you can sprinkle it on top of oatmeal, or in a smoothie. Flax seeds provide a good source of anti-inflammatory fats, aid with digestion and also help to balance estrogen levels in the body.
  • Cook with coconut oil – it has a high melting point and provides a good source of medium chain triglycerides – important for brain health and development as well as weight loss.
  • Drizzle olive oil over roasted vegetables and salads.
  • Try to consume fish 2-3 times per week. Smaller fish will accumulate less mercury, for example: anchovies, butterfish, catfish, clam, crab (domestic), crawfish/crayfish, croaker (Atlantic), flounder, haddock (Atlantic), herring, mackerel, oyster, perch (ocean), salmon (fresh, canned), sardines, scallop, shrimp, sole (Pacific), squid (Calamari), tilapia, trout (freshwater), whitefish
  • Use nuts and seeds as a snack. Chia seeds can be made into a pudding and eaten as a nice breakfast, or snack. Homemade trail mix with a mixture of walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts and cashews are a good mid-day snack to be eaten in moderation.

 

2.  Increase your Veg!

Eat all the colours of the rainbow to ensure you are getting the phytonutrients your body needs. Aim for 1 cup of each colour every day: blue, red, green, yellow/orange and white.

The cruciferous vegetables are especially beneficial for helping with estrogen balance and detoxification. These include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, rutabaga, turnips, bok choy, and chinese cabbage. Arugula, horse radish, radish, wasabi, and watercress are also cruciferous vegetables.

Eating more colourful vegetables also helps to maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can increase estrogen dominance in the body, and disrupt hormonal balance. Veggies also pack a hefty punch of dietary fiber, which helps maintain regularity, and also ensures that excess estrogens are being excreted.

How to do it:

  • Make ½ your plate veggies – lightly steaming or cooking your vegetables makes them more digestible.
  • If you enjoy a morning smoothie, fill up your blender with a mixture of vegetables: leafy greens, avocado, celery, beets and more.
  • When you make pasta sauces or stir fries, make the bulk of the sauce from vegetables, with some additional protein and fats.

3. Pack on the Protein

Proteins form the building blocks of our cells, and are important for creating hormones, maintaining a healthy immune system, achieving an ideal body composition and much more. Proteins (especially when combined with healthy fats and fiber) help to balance our blood sugar levels, which can be extremely important for reproductive health and ovulation.

How to do it:

  • Choose organic meat when possible to decrease the amount of exogenous hormones in our food.  Ensure a palm-sized amount of protein at all your meals.
  • Choose smaller fish (listed above), which contain fewer heavy metals and toxins.
  • When selecting red meat, opt for grass fed meat. The cuts from grass fed animals are less inflammatory and contain more healthy fats than traditional grain fed meats. These animals also generally come from more humane farms.
  • Choose free-run organic eggs to ensure you are getting the highest quality eggs from chickens that are not confined to small cages.
  • Vegetarian sources of protein are also a great choice, and high in additional fiber. Lentils, beans, peas and quinoa are some great options. If you find you have difficulty digesting beans or lentils, you can try soaking them overnight before eating to break down some of the hard to digest fibers. Rinsing quinoa thoroughly just before cooking will also help make it more digestible.

Foods to Avoid/Minimize:

1. Dairy

In addition to being a common allergen, dairy foods tend to upset our hormonal balance. Dairy has been associated with increased hormonal acne, more PMS and menstrual cramps and increased inflammation in the body.

2. Added Sugar

Sugar is the most inflammatory substance we can consume. It disrupts our blood sugar balance and contributes to systemic inflammation. This can wreak havoc on your menstrual cycle, mood, energy levels and immune system. Sugars are addictive, unfortunately. The more we have, the more we want. So keep your sweets to a minimum, and enjoy fresh fruit to satisfy your sweet cravings.

3. Caffeine

Caffeine can place an extra burden on the liver’s detoxification process and interfere with Caffeine should be limited to no more than 200mg in pregnancy – this is the equivalent of a “short” drip coffee from Starbucks. Better yet, switch to decaffeinated coffee or green tea, or herbal teas to help with energy levels, mood and hormone balance.

4. Alcohol

Alcoholic drinks can pack on the pounds and disturb your sleep, contributing to hormonal imbalance. Alcohol also places additional stress on the liver, making it work harder to process and break down hormones. Keep alcoholic drinks to 1/day for women, and none during pregnancy.

5. Processed Foods

Processed foods are high in sugar and simple carbohydrates, leading to blood sugar imbalances, digestive disturbances and weight gain. Processed foods are often high in sodium, contributing to high blood pressure and water retention.

Eat This, Not That

By Dr. Joanna Rosenfeld ND, RHN

Nobody likes feeling deprived, especially when it comes to food.

Restricting your diet has been shown to actually increase your cravings and the chances of overeating.
Instead of  completely removing all your favourite foods, try swapping them instead for more natural options. You’ll likely end up loving the substitutions!

Use coconut oil or olive oil, not “vegetable” oils 
Vegetable oils like canola oil, safflower oil and soybean oil are polyunsaturated fats and high in omega 6 fatty acids, which promote inflammation. Inflammation is linked to almost all chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, obesity and dementia.
Instead, opt for anti-inflammatory and heart healthy olive oil on salads and vegetables. Make sure you choose cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil to get the highest quality fats and nutrients out of your oil.
If you are cooking at high heat use coconut oil or grapeseed oil. Coconut oil has many health benefits inclduding boosting your immune system, helping your brain function optimally and assisting with weight management.

Eat butter, not margarine 
At one time it was thought that saturated fat was the cause of all heart conditions, so scientists created spreadable oil that was supposed to be healthier and taste somewhat ok. Turns out that during the manufacturing of margarine, a lot of trans fats (the worst kind of fats) were created. Trans fats promote inflammation, slow your metabolism, raise your bad cholesterol, lower your good cholesterol and increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke and obesity.
If you are having butter, choose grass fed butter (if you can find it) that has more anti-inflammatory fats than traditional butter.

Eat steel cut oats, not cold cereals and granola 
Cereals and granola contain a lot of sugar. It might be disguised as “coconut sugar” or “organic cane syrup” but rest assured – your body doesn’t know the difference. Consuming excess sugar, especially first thing in the morning, predisposes us to imbalances in blood sugar, weight gain, anxiety and more cravings for sugar later in the day. Long term it also sets the stage for diabetes and systemic inflammation.
Instead, make a big batch of steel cut oats and reheat it in the mornings. Steel cut oats are the least processed form of oats so won’t cause a spike in blood sugar and the fiber will help keep you full. Top it with chia seeds, hemp hearts, ground flax seeds, cinnamon and your favourite nuts to provide delicious flavour, protein and healthy fats – guaranteed to keep you full until lunch.

Eat vegetables, not processed carbohydrates 
Consuming lots of pasta, breads and rice provides few nutrients and unfortunately tend to disrupt our blood sugar levels, and set the stage for weight gain and fatigue. There are many ways to get those carbs from veggies instead!
Replace rice with cauliflower rice – simply chop up cauliflower into small pieces and roast in the oven with olive oil and seasoning of your choice.
Instead of pasta, experiment with using spaghetti squash.
Hamburger buns can be replaced by portabella mushrooms for a delicious burger. Get creative! You’ll be surprised at how easy it might be and fun for the whole family.

Drink green tea, not coffee 
Don’t hate me for this one, but I welcome you to give it a try. We live in a coffee-addicted world, where we don’t think twice before having another cup of coffee. However, depending on your metabolism, even drinking coffee in the morning can disrupt your sleep that night. Coffee also exacerbates anxiety, can cause digestive upset and revs up your stress hormones.
Green tea still contains some caffeine but also loads of antioxidants and an amino acid called L-theanine, which helps promote calming brain waves,  focus and concentration.

Kick Your Sugar Cravings

By Dr. Joanna Rosenfeld ND

Sugar addiction is very real, and with sugar being added to most food products, it is becoming nearly impossible to avoid. The numbers are alarming – on average Canadians consume 110g of sugar per person each day, and children aged 1-3 derive 27% of their calories from sugar! (Statistics Canada).  Sugar and high glycemic foods trigger your brains pleasure centre, which makes you feel good and drive you to seek more of that feeling.

It’s not news that sugar consumption causes obesity and is linked to most chronic health conditions, so what can you do to stop the vicious cycle and break the addiction?

Add in Real Food

Processed foods, simple carbohydrates and sweets will all spike your blood sugar, giving you an immediate boost of energy. But just a short while later, your blood sugar crashes, leaving you feeling tired, lethargic and foggy. In order to get your blood sugar back up, and quickly, our body starts to crave sugar and carbs. So how do we break this cycle?  Focus on eating protein, healthy fats and fiber at every meal and snack. This will stabilize your blood sugar, and keep you feeling full for longer.

  • Protein: fish, eggs, lean meat, quinoa, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds
  • Healthy fats: fish, olive oil, coconut oil, flax, avocado, nuts and seeds
  • Complex carbohydrates: root vegetables, quinoa, brown rice, amaranth, millet

 Cold Turkey

To break the vicious cycle of sugar addiction and retrain your taste buds, eliminate all forms of processed sugar from your diet for 3-4 weeks. Soon fruits and vegetables will begin to taste sweet, and your sugary morning cereal will taste much too sweet. It’s important that you start reading food labels so you can recognize “sugar” in all its various forms. One of the easiest ways to identify sugar on a food label is by seeing the -ose suffix. When you find words that end in -ose, there’s a good chance it is sugar.

Sugars ending in -ose include: Sucrose, Maltose, Dextrose, Fructose, Glucose, Galactose, Lactose, High fructose corn syrup, Glucose solids. There are many others as well, and don’t be fooled by “organic” sugar or cane syrup – they are all processed in the body the same way.

 Get 7-8 hours of Sleep

Lack of sleep increases cravings for sugar, because it will provide an instant energy boost when you are feeling tired. The hours you get before midnight are the most restorative, so try to go to bed early for increased benefits. Adequate sleep also helps to manage the stress response, which is important because our stress hormones can wreak havoc on blood sugar.

 Address your Stress

During stressful times, you are more likely to reach for processed and sweet foods, as these foods trigger our pleasure centres in the brain and provide an often much needed distraction. Chronic stress also causes elevations in cortisol, which increases our blood sugar levels. Stress reducing activities include exercise, yoga, meditation, or even just taking a few deep breaths when you are feeling overwhelmed.

 Sugar busting supplements

There are several safe and natural supplements that will help to curb your sugar cravings. Minerals like chromium and magnesium can have beneficial effects on blood sugar levels and cravings. Supplementing with certain strains of beneficial bacteria can trigger our reward circuitry in the brain, and decrease our reliance on sweets for pleasure. Supplementing with glutamine, an amino acid and the primary fuel source for intestinal cells, can halt sugar cravings dramatically.  Lastly, herbs that help to lower cortisol levels such as relora and rhodiola can also have beneficial effects on sugar cravings. Every person is different and some supplements will interact with medications, so make sure you consult your Naturopathic Doctor before taking any supplements