If you are struggling to lose fat, feel overwhelmed by stress, or wake up tired in the morning, a hormone imbalance may be the reason. Part of the endocrine system in the body, hormones are chemical messengers that dictate all aspects of human function, including mood, wakefulness, fat burning, and muscle building. They impact energy levels, ability to sleep, hunger, and libido.
The cool thing about the endocrine system is that one of the best ways to set yourself up for improved hormone balance is with food. Nutrition directly impacts levels of almost every hormone in the body including the following:
The metabolic hormones insulin and glucagon
The hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin
The sex hormones testosterone and estrogen
The stress hormones, cortisol and epinephrine
The sleep hormone melatonin
There are several ways that hormones impact these hormones:
First, food provides the nutrients the body uses to synthesize hormones, such as cholesterol and amino acids.
Second, food supplies the antioxidants and other nutrients necessary for the body to clear hormones from the body once you don’t need them anymore.
Third, the calories in food impact metabolic function and regulate circadian function, which translates into energy levels, sleepiness, and wakefulness.
Fourth, refined foods that are high in sugar and other processed ingredients can impair metabolic function, leading to an altered endocrine system.
By adopting a well-designed, simple hormone balancing nutrition plan, it’s possible to provide the body with the energy and nutrients it needs, without falling prey to the pitfalls of unhealthy foods or excess calories. What follows are five valuable nutrition habits that will allow you to set your body up for balanced hormones.
#1: Plan meals around whole protein, healthy fat, 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 optimal digestion of protein foods, while adding flavor and promoting satiety. This macronutrient combination has other hormone-balancing benefits, which are highlighted in the Food section.
Always eat whole proteins that contain healthy fat. Although pure proteins, such as egg whites or super lean meat, appear beneficial for body composition, the gut does not handle them well, reducing digestibility and absorption. Notice that protein never occurs in nature without fat: Meat, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, and even plant proteins always provide fat along with amino acids, and it is 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 colorful plants will ensure you aren’t missing out on necessary nutrients that are necessary for hormone balance. Berries, apples, citrus, pears, stone fruit, green vegetables, tubers, leafy greens, eggplant, cucumbers, legumes, lentils, and heirloom grains are just some of the whole carbohydrates you can add to meals for flavor, texture, and improved nutrition. The key is to optimize carb intake based on activity levels: Highly active individuals can favor higher carb foods whereas those who are sedentary will want to get the bulk of their carbs from lower glycemic sources, saving starchy carbs and grains for special occasions.
#3: Supplement to pad nutrient holes.
Ideally, you can get the majority of the nutrients necessary for hormone balance from food, but occasionally, it’s necessary to supplement, particularly if you 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, and this nutrient is also necessary for the metabolism of cortisol, so if you suffer from massive stress and blood sugar dysregulation or diabetes, you probably need extra.
#4: Avoid inflammatory foods.
Because hormone balance is often impaired by inflammation, it’s worth the effort to avoid foods that cause inflammation. These will be somewhat different for each person, depending 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 colorings and sweeteners
Soy and corn
Dairy in certain cases
#5: Swap out refined foods in favor 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, and bioavailable zinc and iron.
Second, these foods often contain artificial additives or sugar, which alters hormone balance.
Finally, consumption of these foods are associated with obesity and impaired insulin sensitivity.
Although not a complete list of foods to avoid, you want to stay away from soda and sugar sweetened beverages, refined grains (bread, pasta, cereal, cookies, crackers, chips, pastries, cookies, cakes), sweets and desserts, processed fats, including soybean and corn oil, and anything made from flour or with added sugar.
Make It Happen: With those actions in mind, check out this list of 15 delicious foods that you can use to swap out unhealthy foods. Designing meals around these foods will allow you to get your hormones balanced for easier fat loss, improved energy, overall well-being, and better performance.