When we talk about eating to support our health, we often focus on key organs like our brain and heart. But with hormonal health becoming a bigger and bigger topic as of late, it’s appropriate to discuss how our diet can support hormonal balance.
Incorporating certain key nutrients in our meals and snacks is an important part of supporting holistic hormone balance. Here, health experts share why these powerful chemicals are so crucial for our wellbeing, plus which nutrient-rich foods to put on your plate to promote healthy hormones.
Hormones And Your Health
When we think of hormones, we often jump straight to the sex hormones (like testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone). However, there are more than 50 hormones in the human body, each of which serves a unique function. Just a few often talked-about examples include insulin, which controls blood sugar; thyroxine, which is secreted by the thyroid gland to stimulate growth and reproduction; and melatonin, which helps regulate our circadian rhythm.
Maintaining the optimal balance of each of these hormones is just as important for good health as any other aspect of our bodily functioning, according to Canada-based naturopathic doctor and birth doula Sarah Connors, N.D. “When we have optimal hormone balance, almost all of the other systems in our body function better—our mood is more balanced, our energy is generally better, we sleep better, we can think and focus better…the list goes on,” she says.
While aspects of hormonal health are out of our control, we can help facilitate proper balance by consuming the right foods. “When we consume foods that contain the nutrients you need to stimulate hormone production, our body is better able to keep them balanced and working efficiently,” explains functional nutritional therapy practitioner Tansy Rodgers, F.N.T.P.
Foods For Happy Hormones
So, what foods should make regular appearances in your meals if you want to promote hormonal balance? Here are eight that experts recommend.
Salmon is famous for its heart and brain benefits—and it can also be impactful on your hormones. In fact, the same omega-3 fatty acids that give salmon its brain- and heart-boosting abilities can also help support healthy hormones. You see, hormones are negatively influenced by inflammation, which omega 3-rich foods like salmon can help keep at bay, explains The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Brittany Michels, R.D.N.
To make the most of those precious fats, she recommends aiming for three servings of salmon per week to cover your baseline dietary omega-3 goals.
2. Grass-Fed Beef
Contrary to some pervading shade toward red meat, grass-fed beef is an absolute gem for healthy hormone balance, according to naturopath Ashley Margeson, N.D. Grass-fed beef tends to be superior in quality, as research (including one recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition) has shown that it contains higher antioxidants than its grain-fed counterparts.
One of the biggest benefits of beef: It’s rich in iron, a nutrient that is necessary for maintaining consistency in a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle, according to Margeson. “Low levels of iron are also implicated in hypothyroidism,” she adds.
She recommends eating three or so palm-sized servings of grass-fed red meat each week.
3. Cruciferous veggies
In addition to being full of antioxidants that protect your body from free radicals, cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower, broccoli, kale, and brussels sprouts, also have beneficial effects on estrogen metabolism, explains Connors. “These vegetables contain sulforaphane, a compound that encourages estrogen detoxification, with the highest levels being found in broccoli sprouts,” she says.
And the importance of estrogen detoxification? Endocrine-disrupting plastics and other chemicals we are exposed to can cause a buildup of excess estrogen in the body, according to Connors. In women, this state—known as estrogen dominance—can contribute to everything from weight gain to a tanking sex drive.
Read More: Signs Your Estrogen Might Be Out Of Whack
Since women have higher estrogen levels than men, they tend to benefit more from the estrogen detoxification cruciferous veggies offer, Connors points out. However, men stand to benefit too, since research suggests a link between high levels of estrogen in the body and prostate cancer.
Rodgers recommends eating one to two half-cup servings of broccoli each week to support healthy hormones. Try it raw, roasted in the oven, or even thrown into soup or salad.
Gut-healthy foods like yogurt are vital to hormone production, according to Connors. “The gut not only produces certain hormones but also detoxifies hormones, such as estrogen, so it is important to nourish your gut with probiotic foods that are designed to regulate the gut microbiome (the collection of microorganisms that live in the gut),” she says.
She recommends reaching for skyr (a type of Icelandic yogurt) or Greek yogurt, which are both rich in protein and tend to contain less sugar than your standard tub.
5. Pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds are loaded with magnesium, a crucial nutrient for the production of hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, and DHEA, according to Michels. “Magnesium also calms the nervous system, which has a positive impact on our stress hormones, supports thyroid hormone production, and plays a role in regulating pancreatic hormones,” she adds.
One cup of pumpkin seeds scores you 168 milligrams of magnesium, which is nearly half the RDA for men (400 to 420 milligrams) and more than half for women (310 to 320 milligrams).
6. Pasture-raised eggs
Eggs, particularly egg yolks, are a solid source of vitamin D, which is hard to come by in food, notes Michels. “Vitamin D, although named a vitamin, is considered a master hormone, regulating the production and activity of other hormones,” she explains. “Thus, inadequate vitamin D negatively influences hormonal balance.”
To ensure your sunny-side-up staple offers as much vitamin D to support those hormones as possible, go for pasture-raised eggs. This label typically means that the chickens have direct outdoor access, per the Humane Society.
Read More: 7 Signs You Have A Vitamin D Deficiency
Research, including one study published in the journal Nutrition, has shown that since pasture-raised chickens are exposed to more sunlight, their eggs contain higher amounts of vitamin D levels than those of non-pasture-raised chickens.
That said, since “pasture-raised” isn’t a regulated term, you may want to look for a carton that’s Certified Animal Welfare Approved, which is the highest standard certification for ensuring animals are raised outdoors for their entire lives and treated with the utmost care.
In addition to incorporating pasture-raised eggs into your diet, Michels recommends getting some sunshine and supplementing with vitamin D3 as needed.
Yep, cozy oatmeal is good news for your hormones. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, oats “provide B vitamins, which are associated with hormone balance as well as the elimination of spent hormones from the body,” says Lisa Richards, C.N.C., nutritionist and author of The Candida Diet.
These whole grains also offer fiber, which supports hormone balance. One 2015 study published in Nutrition and Metabolism showed that fiber has a beneficial effect on insulin sensitivity, a hormone that is crucial for metabolic health.
A great way to get your fill of oats? Whip up overnight oats before bedtime so you’ll have breakfast ready to enjoy first thing in the morning.
8. Sweet potatoes
“Root vegetables like sweet potatoes help support healthy hormones by balancing blood sugar through their fiber,” says Margeson. “Sweet potatoes, in particular, are considered a complex carbohydrate with a low glycemic index, meaning they don’t spike your blood sugar. They also contain high amounts of vitamin C, which is required for progesterone production in the second half of women’s menstrual cycles (a.k.a. the luteal phase).”
She recommends swapping in sweet potatoes for any regular potato recipe to score the added nutritional benefits for healthy hormones that this veggie can provide.