Your hormones are involved in every aspect of your health – mentally and physically. For your body to function optimally your glandular system requires specific foods to keep them in check. Consuming nutritious foods, exercising on a regular basis and engaging in other healthy behaviours can go a long way toward improving your hormonal health. Let’s look at how food can support you through the decades from menarche to menopause.
These years can be a tricky time for women. There are new obstacles to navigate such as newfound independence, more responsibility at school and at home, and of course, the surging hormones that cause physical and mental changes.
- Heathy fats every day! You can yield these from foods such as coconut oil, fish, nuts and seeds, raw olive oil, eggs and avocados. Increasing healthy fats in the diet can help to keep those adolescent mood-swings at bay. Not only do good fats build and help to regulate the production of sex hormones, but also help to support optimal brain function and mood.
- A varied diet! Variety is the spice of life so a diet rich in fresh produce and whole foods is key. Eat all the colours of the rainbow to ensure that the nutritional quota is met. This time of rapid growth and development increases the need for vitamins and minerals, and the best source of nutrients is from fresh produce and whole foods.
- Avoid processed foods! A tricky one when it comes to teenagers who may succumb to temptations by media and their peers to eat foods high in sugar and refined carbs, packaged foods and soft drinks. The way to satisfy your appetite is with real, unprocessed foods. Having an abundance of healthy choices available to snack on will help you avoid reaching out for the processed foods that are high in sugar and low in nutrients. Fresh fruit and vegetables are your best choices, but snacks such as hummus, trail mix (nuts, seeds and dried fruit) and chia puddings contain great nutrients and are easy to prepare.
- Reduce refined sugar intake. High consumption of refined sugars is associated with a myriad of health issues. But in relation to hormones, it will often lead to a rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows due to a dramatic fall and rise in insulin levels (blood sugar levels). Refined sugar consumption has been shown to alter hormonal development in pre-pubescent girls and even cause the early onset of menstruation. It is also associated with acne.
- Build your nutrient status. Many symptoms of premenstrual tension (PMT) can be linked to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, so simply creating a healthier diet can help in time to reduce these issues. Increase foods rich in Vitamin C, Magnesium, B vitamins and zinc. During this decade many women may experience PMT issues which can be attributed to nutrient deficiencies.
- Consuming sources of vitamin C (such as broccoli, strawberries and kiwi fruits) and Zinc (such as nuts, seeds, grass fed meat, fish and free-range poultry) is highly beneficial.
- Including plenty of Magnesium rich foods can help to reduce cramps associated with period pains (green leafy vegetables, nuts, brewers yeast, wholegrain cereals, molasses).
- Another part of the puzzle is the B Vitamins as these are essential for hormonal balance and provide a co-factor to hormone synthesis (whole grains, organic meat and dairy, legumes, seeds, nuts, dark leafy vegetables, avocados, bananas).
What to eat during your 30’s
By this time a woman’s reproductive cycle should be well established and the relationship a woman has with her body can be deeply intuitive and positive. To reinforce the healthy alignment of the hormones during this decade concentrating on ensuring a clean system and optimal nutritional status is paramount.
- Reduce the toxic load. Sticking to mostly organic or chemical free produce means less inflammation and congestion. Some conventional produce may carry the residues of pesticides used in farming and production that contain chemicals known to disrupt hormone function and development.
- Eat enough protein at every meal. Consuming an adequate amount of protein, carbs and healthy fats is extremely important. Dietary protein provides essential amino acids that your body can’t make on its own and must be consumed every day in order to maintain muscle, bone and skin health. In addition, protein influences the release of hormones that control appetite and food intake. The addition of a small amount of carbohydrates and quality essential fatty acids is also important for a well balanced plate to support hormones. Protein is found in abundance in meat products however can be found in super healthy amounts when you learn to protein combine with grains, legumes and nuts/ seeds.
- Avoid sugar and refined Carbs. Sugar and refined carbs have been linked to a number of health problems. Indeed, avoiding or minimising these foods may be instrumental in optimising hormone function and avoiding obesity, diabetes and other diseases. Studies have consistently shown that fructose can increase insulin levels and promote insulin resistance, especially in overweight and obese people with pre-diabetes or diabetes.
- Avoid Overeating and Under-eating. Eating too much or too little may result in hormonal shifts that lead to weight problems. Overeating is shown to increase insulin levels and reduce insulin sensitivity. On the other hand, cutting your calorie intake too much can increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is known to promote weight gain when it’s elevated.
- Eat loads of Avocados. High in heart-healthy fats, avocados can help you maintain normal cholesterol levels, which is essential for the production of many important hormones in the body.
- Join the green juice craze. The inclusion of greens in your diet such as Broccoli and Kale can support hormonal clearance to reduce Oestrogen excess issues. These are loaded with micronutrients, reduce inflammation and promote liver cleansing. Add greens to your juices, smoothies and every meal if you can.
- Add fermented foods to your daily eating habits. Fermented foods improve gut health, the place where the happy hormones are created. Fermented foods such as tempeh, kimchi, sauerkraut, yoghurt, kefir and miso can not only greatly improve your digestion and gut health but also help your gut produce more Seratonin.
- Include warming spices in your day! Keeping your gut and womb warm with circulatory tonics such as Cinnamon, Cardamom, Cloves, Black Pepper and Turmeric (think a spicy chai!). The inclusion of these spices in your diet can help to reduce pain, congestion and aches associated with the menstrual cycle by providing better circulation and blood/ energy to the pelvic area.
What to eat during your 40’s
This decade is a critical one for hormonal health as it is the time that a woman starts to transition into the beginning of premenopausal stages. How you have nourished your body in the past two decades will compound how you move through this natural transition.
- Drink Green Tea as it is one of the healthiest beverages around. In addition to providing small amounts of metabolism-boosting caffeine, it contains an antioxidant known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which has been credited with several health benefits. Research suggests that consuming green tea may increase insulin sensitivity and lower insulin levels in both healthy people and those with insulin-resistant conditions like obesity and diabetes.
- Boost your anti-oxidant status. Berries and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and phenolic compounds. These components provide the anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic and anti-mutagenic properties that are responsible for the many health benefits of these foods. They are also a rich source of dietary fibre and other phenolic compounds such as flavonoids, catechins, procyanidins, carotenoids and Vitamin C. These compounds protect the plant against diseases and also provide the vibrant red, purple or blue colours, flavours and aromas of the antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. • Fruits – blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, boysenberries, loganberries, mulberries, pomegranates, raspberries, plums, oranges, cherries, grapes, goji berries and cranberries
• Vegetables – capsicums, artichokes, carrots, kale, spinach, Brussel sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, broccoli, beetroot and onions
• Spices and herbs – turmeric, ginger, garlic, coriander, basil, parsley, green tea, cayenne, cloves, cinnamon, cumin and oregano
• Other foods – cacao, red wine and kidney beans
- Eat fatty fish often. Fatty fish is by far the best source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which have impressive anti-inflammatory properties. Research suggests they may also have beneficial effects on hormonal health, including reducing levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
- Consume a high fibre diet. Fibre, especially the soluble type, is an important component of a healthy diet. Studies have found that it increases insulin sensitivity and stimulates the production of hormones that make you feel full and satisfied. Food high in fibre include oats, barley, figs, sweet potatoes, bran, fruits and vegetables, legumes, psyllium, nuts and seeds.
- Avoid trigger foods. If you’re having hot flashes during the perimenopause, you may find it helps to avoid certain “trigger” foods and drinks, like spicy foods, caffeine, preservatives and alcohol. Ensure that you are drinking sufficient amounts of water may also help to regulate your temperature.
- Experiment with Tempeh. This fermented soy product is high in phytoestrogens, a plant compound that imitates the effects of Oestrogen in the body. Because Oestrogen levels begin to decline with age, eating foods like tempeh could help balance hormone levels as you get older.
- Add Flaxseed. Ground flaxseed is another good sourceTrusted Source of phytoestrogens and has been shown to be as effective as hormone replacement therapy in reducing some symptoms of menopause.
- Yogurt. This dairy product is high in calcium, an important mineralTrusted Source when it comes to bone health. It may helpTrusted Source by regulating levels of parathyroid hormone, a hormone that controls the amount of calcium in your bones and blood.
What to eat during your 50’s
The transition into menopause occurs around this age and although the menstrual cycle is all over, this doesn’t mean that you need to give up and let the reins loose on your diet and lifestyle. If you have any symptoms of perimenopause or residue of menstrual complaints continuing the support of your hormones can help to minimise these ongoing.
- Get enough calcium. Calcium is an important mineral for ladies moving through to menopause as the hormone Oestrogen is bone protective. Once this decline in Calcium starts you can benefit from ensuring enough Calcium is sourced from the diet. Follow a low acid diet/ anti-inflammatory diet is also beneficial to ensure that this mineral isn’t leeched from the bones to act as an antacid. Calcium is found in dairy products, fish with bones (such as sardines and canned salmon), broccoli, green leafy vegetables and legumes.
- Get enough fibre. Help yourself to foods high in fibre, such as whole-grain breads, cereals, pasta, rice, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Most adult women should get about 21 grams of fibre a day. Fibre and exercise are essential for daily healthy bowel movements and to reduce cholesterol levels.
- Cut back on high-fat foods. Fat should provide 25% to 35% or less of your total daily calories. Saturated fat raises cholesterol and boosts your risk for heart disease. It’s found in fatty meats, whole milk, ice cream, and cheese. And watch out for trans fats, found in vegetable oils, many baked goods, and some margarine. Trans fat also raises cholesterol and increases your risk for heart disease.
- Use sugar and salt in moderation. Too much Sodium in the diet is linked to high blood pressure. Also, go easy on smoked, salt-cured, and charbroiled foods – these foods have high levels of nitrates, which have been linked to cancer.
- Eat more plant-based foods. These have Isoflavones (plant Oestrogens) work in the body like a weak form of Oestrogen. Some may help lower cholesterol levels and have been suggested to relieve hot flashes and night sweats. Isoflavones can be found in foods such as tofu and soy milk however better sources are found in legumes, including soybeans, chickpeas, fava beans, pistachios, peanuts, and other fruits and nuts.
- Embrace the sunshine. Vitamin D plays an important role in maintaining skeletal health and bone density. Ten minutes of sun exposure on the arms and legs is all you need daily. You can also increase your vitamin D rich foods such as fatty fish (tuna, mackerel and salmon), egg yolks, beef liver, broccoli, avocado, mangoes, sweet potato, papaya, squash and carrots.