If you are struggling to lose weight, feel overwhelmed by stress, or wake up tired in the morning, a hormone imbalance could very likely be the culprit. Hormones are chemical messengers that dictate basically all aspects of the human function, including mood, wakefulness, fat burning, and muscle building. Thus, they impact energy levels, the ability to sleep, hunger and libido.
Improve your hormone balance
One of the best ways to set yourself up for an improved hormone balance is with food, which can then optimise the endocrine system. Nutrition directly impacts levels of almost every hormone in the body including:
- metabolic hormones: insulin and glucagon
- hunger hormones: leptin and ghrelin
- sex hormones: testosterone and estrogen
- stress hormones: cortisol and epinephrine and;
- the sleep hormone: melatonin
Optimising your nutrition is essential for improving the balance of your hormones that play a role in many aspects of your life, including:
- energy levels
- cognitive and physical performance
- appetite and hunger
- motivation and mood
- sleep and wakefulness
- body composition
- metabolism and energy expenditure
- immune function and risk of disease.
The easy plan
Planning to use nutrition to balance hormones requires only a few basic steps.
Following these steps allows your body to synthesize hormones effectively and provide the antioxidants and other nutrients necessary to clear hormones the body doesn’t need anymore.
1. Plan meals around whole proteins, healthy fats and vegetables
Every meal should prioritize the highest quality protein to mitigate hunger and regulate blood sugar while sustaining lean mass. Healthy fats and vegetables ensure the optimal digestion of protein foods while adding flavour and promoting satiety. This macronutrient combination comes with a range of hormone balancing benefits.
Always eat whole proteins that contain healthy fat. Although pure proteins, such as egg whites or other lean meats appear beneficial for body composition, the gut does not necessarily handle them well; reducing digestibility and absorption. You will notice that protein always occurs in nature with fat: meat, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts and even plant proteins, always providing fat along with amino acids. It’s this combination that humans have evolved to digest optimally.
2. Incorporate a wide variety of whole carbs based on energy needs
Eating a diverse diet of colourful plants will ensure you aren’t missing out on necessary nutrients that are necessary for hormone balance. Berries, green vegetables, leafy greens, legumes, lentils and heirloom grains are just some of the whole carbohydrates you can add to meals for flavour, texture, and improved nutrition. The key is also to optimise carb intake based on activity levels. Highly active individuals can favour higher carb foods, whereas those who are sedentary will want to get the bulk of their carbs from lower glycemic sources; save starchy carbs for special occasions.
3. Supplement to fill nutrient gaps
Even with the right diet, it’s necessary to supplement, particularly if are trying to overcome imbalanced hormones, such as high cortisol or elevated insulin levels. For example, magnesium is often deficient in individuals with poor blood sugar management. This nutrient is also necessary for the metabolism of cortisol, meaning if you suffer from massive stress and blood sugar dysregulation or diabetes, you probably need extra.
4. Avoid inflammatory foods.
It’s worth the effort to avoid foods that cause inflammation as it hinders hormone balance. These will be somewhat different for each person as it depends on genetics and health conditions, such as obesity, prediabetes, or heart disease. However, a basic list of foods to watch out for include the following:
- gluten grains and foods made from gluten-based flour
- artificial colourings and sweeteners
- hydrogenated oils
- soy and corn
5. Swap out refined foods in favour of whole foods
Replacing refined and processed foods with whole foods in their most natural state has several powerful benefits. First, refined foods are virtually absent of the deal-breaking nutrients necessary for hormone balance, including magnesium, B vitamins, bioavailable zinc and iron.
Second, these foods often contain artificial additives or sugar, which alters hormone balance.
Finally, consumption of these foods is associated with obesity and impaired insulin sensitivity.
Although not a complete list of foods to avoid, you want to stay away from the following:
- milk chocolate
- sweetened beverages
- refined grains (bread, pasta, cereal, cookies, crackers, chips, pastries and cakes).
Healthy substitutes can make it happen
With this information in mind, consider healthy substitutes for unhealthy foods including:
- lean, wild fish that is not fried
- leafy greens
- organic meat
- cruciferous vegetables
- lemon and citrus fruits
- blueberries and tart cherries
- green tea
- 70% and above dark chocolate.
Designing meals around these foods will allow you to get your hormones balanced for easier fat loss, improved energy, overall well-being, and better every-day performance.
Take control of what you eat
If you feel like you have no control when it comes to food, something needs to change. Maybe you need up the proportions of proteins or fats, or you’ve been restricting yourself of high-quality carbohydrates in your meal. Make sure you aren’t choosing hyperpalatable foods that are designed to stimulate food intake, making it much harder for you to eat smaller portions e.g. pizza, cookies or chips.
Unrestricted eating isn’t a healthy way to live, psychologically or metabolically. It can be difficult to take control when faced by so many opinions and articles about diets. However, you’re the one who has to deal with your food choices and thus, you can make the right ones.
To get healthy and enjoy your diet, find a way of eating that allows you to avoid cravings and feel satisfied after meals.
Food should be a pleasurable experience that adds value to your life, not the other way round.