Healthy Hormone Foods
Healthy Hormone Foods for Women: Beyond Broccoli
The best way to keep your hormones, your cycle, and your whole body healthy is with an overall healthy diet like the PMS Balance Diet, which is modeled on the famous and scientifically proven heart-healthy Mediterranean Diet. But even when you have a healthy diet, some foods stand out as women’s superfoods for hormonal health. Eating more of these superfoods harnesses nature’s power to help you get and stay healthy, and to maintain a balanced hormonal cycle.
Broccoli & Cruciferous Vegetables
The broccoli family, more accurately described as the cabbage family, is the number one hormone-healthy food group. These cruciferous vegetables—that is their scientific name—help your body rid itself of excess estrogen and turn unhealthy estrogen molecules into the healthy type—this involves complex biochemistry which we won’t bother to get into here. While broccoli is the most popular member of the cabbage family, and is one of the most popular of all vegetables, other cruciferi are equally healthy for you:
- Broccoli Raab
- Cabbage, all kinds
- Collard Greens
- Kale, all kinds
- Mustard Greens
The cabbage family is high in antioxidants; the green ones are high in beta-carotene and other important phytonutrients; and they can be important sources of vitamin C and calcium. Spinach, parsley, chard, and other greens aren’t cruciferous, and while they’ve very healthy, they don’t have the same estrogen-balancing benefits you’ll find in broccoli and the other cabbage family vegetables. If you’re not sure what to do with kale, collard, and other greens, check out our kale recipe and our crispy kale chips recipe.
Soy: Tofu, Tempeh, & Edamame
Soy is famous as a heart healthy protein source, and as a remedy for menopausal hot flashes. In Japan, rates of breast cancer are extremely low, a fact often attributed to the high soy consumption among Japanese women. Soy contains phytoestrogens and isoflavones, which may protect the body against excessive estrogen levels. One theory about PMS and PMDD is that they stem from excess estrogen. Soy is also often the go-to protein source for vegetarians. You can enjoy soy as soy milk, edamame, tempeh, or tofu. Texturized vegetable protein, or TVP, and isolated soy proteinare made from soy but contain no isoflavones or phytoestrogens, so they don’t have the same hormonal benefits.
Many people would like to try soy, but besides using soy milk, aren’t sure how to include it in their diet. Try our marinated tofu recipe as one possibility.
Flaxseed is one of nature’s miracle foods for women’s health. However, there is a right way and a wrong way to get the hormone benefits of flax. Eating the whole seed doesn’t help much, because your body can’t break down the thick coating of the seeds, so they pass right through your digestive system. Plus, if you have the bowel condition, diverticulitis—you probably know if you do—you have to avoid all whole seeds. Flaxseed oil, a popular but flawed source of Omega-3 fatty acids—it’s better to use fish oil as a source of Omega 3s—doesn’t contain the important flax lignans and fiber that are so beneficial for women.
The best form of flax is pre-ground flaxseed packaged in a lightproof bag or jar, and ideally nitrogen-flushed to keep out oxygen. We prefer the pre-ground variety which when milled at low temperature, preserves the essential qualities of the oil. If you grind flax yourself in an electric grinder, the heat may damage the oil. You can grind it by hand, if you prefer, in a flour mill, though this is inconvenient and time-consuming.
Flaxseed lignans are a special form of fiber that may protect breast tissue from the effects of excess estrogen, thus possibly reducing breast cancer risk. Of course, fiber from flax and other sources—including soy and cruciferous vegetables—helps keep you regular, making them natural detoxifiers. You can add ground flaxseed to cereal, on rice or grains, on vegetables, on top of main dishes, in salads, or in shakes and smoothies.
Probiotics and Cultured Foods
What do yogurt, sauerkraut, and tempeh have in common? All are cultured foods that, when prepared properly, contain live beneficial bacteria that populate your digestive tract, helping you to ward off infections, allergies, and gastrointestinal diseases. Some new research even suggests that a healthy colony of probiotics living in your intestinal tract is important to maintaining healthy weight!
By keeping your digestive tract healthy, probiotics keep your liver healthy—and since your liver filters all the blood from your digestive tract, the healthier your gut is, the healthier your liver is, and, probably, the healthier you are. A healthy liver helps keep your hormones in balance. The healthier your digestive flora, the healthier you will be overall, with better immunity, less allergies, and less susceptibility to infections. If all this sounds complicated, just remember: healthy digestive flora -> healthy digestive tract -> healthy liver -> healthy hormones.
Foods can be excellent sources of probiotics, though the sauerkraut you get on the shelf of your local supermarket is probably not "alive" anymore. It is really just pickled cabbage. You can get live sauerkraut at the health food store, from the refrigerator section. It is expensive but tangy and comes in interesting flavors, and you only need to add a little bit to your plate as a garnish to get all the benefits and to enjoy the flavor. Most yogurt is alive, though if it is flavored with fruit or chocolate or vanilla and the like, then it is probably laden with sugar, so the benefit from it is questionable—too much sugar isn’t good for anyone. Many people are unfamiliar with tempeh, which is a cultured form of soybean and is usually considered a probiotic food, even though it is eaten cooked, not raw. These living beneficial foods are true superfoods.
All Fiber: Beans, Nuts, Whole Grains, Veggies, and Fruits
Another essential factor to digestive and liver health, including bowel regularity, is the fiber in your diet. Fiber always comes from foods in the plant kingdom, never from animal foods. While whole grains, vegetables, and fruits are probably the most important sources of fiber, don’t forget about beans, nuts and seeds too. Beans, nuts, and seeds tend to be high in sterols, a special kind of phytochemical that can naturally lower your cholesterol. There is a lot more to plant foods than just fiber—in fact, a list of the benefits would take up more space than we have room for here—but a high-fiber, plant-food-based diet keeps your digestive tract, not to mention your blood vessels, healthy. This results in healthy hormones, as well. A diet high in natural fiber and rich in plant foods may prevent diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. It is also an essential part of the healthy digestive tract: healthy liver, healthy hormones triangle.
Fish, Fish Oil, & Omega-3 Supplements
Omega 3 fats from fish or fish oil supplements are the best source of these essential oils, better than flaxseed or chia seeds. And while it is generally healthy to eat fish, some types can be contaminated with mercury or pesticides (as, for example, in the case of swordfish and farmed salmon, respectively). Omega 3 fats are potent anti-inflammatory agents, so they are important to help ward off chronic diseases. They can also help reduce some of the worst symptoms of hormonal imbalance: pain, bloating, and depression. By reducing inflammation, you’ll be healthier overall, and your body and mind (and hormones) will thank you for getting enough omega 3s.
Pomegranates, Carrots and Other Pigment-Rich Foods
Nature often packages its phytonutrients and antioxidants in the form of colors or pigments in fruits and vegetables. So, for instance, a deep red strawberry is higher in these superhealthy pigments than, say, a banana, and the rich color of a pomegranate aril is an indication that it contains more antioxidants than a pale yellow mango. Similarly, red or concord grapes are better than white grapes; blueberries are better than coconut (though they don’t have as much vitamin C); and a cantaloupe has more beta-carotene and other helpful pigments than a green-fleshed honeydew.
Some have referred to the principle of eating highly colored foods as "eating the rainbow." In general, the more colors in your diet and on your plate, the better. This plant-based palette of beautiful colors will do much more than just look pretty: it can protect you from cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other common health problems. While these colors don’t directly relieve menstrual cramps or cure PMDD anxiety, a naturally rainbow colored diet will ensure you eat a healthy plant-based diet—and that will go a long way towards preventing and treating PMS and PMDD symptoms.
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Principal Author: Daniel J. Heller, N.D.
Last Modified: January 9, 2013