Our food choices and how we feel every day are so interconnected, it’s almost frightening. But if we look at food as a way to empower and replenish our health instead of fear how it will affect us, we can easily improve the way we feel just by what we eat. Hormones control nearly every aspect of how you feel, or are directly affected by life and how you eat. It’s as simple as that, despite how complicated hormones can be. Insulin, serotonin, cortisol, and dopamine, not to mention estrogen and testosterone are each affected by the food choices we make.
Though not one type of diet will work for everyone, implementing certain care tips for your hormones can work for just about any of us, no matter what life stage we are in, what circumstances we are going through, or the changes our bodies are going through.
Here are some tips that will optimize hormones:
Don’t Skip Meals
It’s best to eat when you’re hungry for a meal, but whatever you do, don’t skip meals. When you do, you’re setting your insulin up for a rollercoaster ride. This makes your blood sugar drop, then soar, then drop rapidly again. It also makes you moody, jittery, anxious, and even tired in the meantime. It can also set you up for metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and possibly weight gain or overeating. Choose a smart, simple healthy breakfast and eat at least every 4-5 hours throughout the day.
Get Enough Sleep
Overnight, your sleep cycle resets your hormones and controls the way two hormones work: leptin and ghrelin. These two hormones control how hungry you are the next day and control how fast you get full once you do eat. It’s best to get at least seven to eight hours at best so you’re feeling refreshed and have a normal appetite the next day.
Watch the Sugar Intake
Refined sugar is an obvious no-no for caring for your insulin, but you’ll also want to watch how much natural sugar you take in to, depending on how active you are. While athletes and runners may need more natural dense sources of sugary foods like dried fruit, energy bars, and starchy/sugary cereals or granolas, the every day eater only needs one or two servings if any at all. Emphasize veggies, greens, beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds for optimal blood sugar over dense sources of sugary foods. Also watch the amount of natural sweeteners you use since all sugar sources affect your insulin and affect your blood sugar as a result. Choose naturally sweet foods to enjoy instead, such as fresh fruit, sweet vegetables, and simple whole grains which have a naturally sweet flavor.
Eat a Balance of Cooked and Raw Foods
Most of us need both cooked and raw foods to maintain a balance. Raw foods energize the body and cooked foods tend to calm the body. This is especially true for root vegetables and grains, which have an incredibly balancing effect on the body in cooked form. This helps lower cortisol (the stress hormone), improves serotonin levels which lifts your mood, and will nourish your whole endocrine system. If you don’t tolerate grains or gluten, emphasize beets, sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, and carrots instead.
Skip the Dairy (and Refined Grains)
It’s also good to skip foods that raise blood sugar directly and have been linked to diabetes and blood sugar problems. Aside from refined sugar (and even excess added natural sugars), dairy and refined grains are two foods to give up. Dairy contributes to extensive hormonal problems and can also lead to acne and diabetes as a result. The growth hormones (even in dairy without added hormones) contribute to the problem, along with the lactose and/or cholesterol-raising fats they contain. You’ll also want to skip refined grains since they don’t take very long to digest and raise blood sugar quickly as the result of being an empty source of whole food carbohydrates. They may also affect your estrogen and testosterone levels, which will also affect your mood, weight and energy.
Include All Your Macros at Each Meal
Proteins, carbs, and healthy fats shouldn’t be avoided by anyone. Each of these play a role in how your hormones function and even how they form and are made in the body. It’s best to include plant-based proteins like hemp, chia, flax, almonds, beans, legumes, and some whole grains like quinoa, oats, and teff (all good sources of protein), and then emphasize as many fresh vegetables and leafy greens as possible. Just don’t forget about healthy carbs like sweet potatoes, squash, and fruit, not to mention healthy fats from avocados, nuts, seeds, olives, and coconut. Remember, you don’t need a lot of any macronutrient to go a long way in balancing your hormones. Include some at each meal, and use whole food sources whenever possible.
Keep it Simple
Keep your food simple, no matter how creative you decide to make your dishes. For instance, just choose whole foods versus processed foods. The body knows the difference and serotonin, dopamine, insulin, cortisol, and all your other hormones can all be cared for directly through eating a whole foods, plant-based diet. These foods contain phytochemicals such as vitamins and minerals, not to mention antioxidants, fiber, and natural proteins and carbs your body desires to eat. These foods are also good for your digestion and other areas of your health outside your hormones.
If you need some meal suggestions, check out our recipe section, and how-to tips for how to transition into a whole foods diet. You’ll likely feel so different within just a week of eating this way. Many people report sleeping better, having better blood sugar, and many even lose weight. No matter what your goal, taking care of your hormones is always a good idea, so empower your diet and lifestyle with whole food choices as much as absolutely possible.