conscious eating

Taking Control of Our Hormones
Nutritional Tips to Support the Delicate Balance
by Sheila Julson

Taking Control of Our Hormones, Artem Varnitsin/AdobeStock.com
Artem Varnitsin/AdobeStock.com

Think of hormones as the body’s messengers, sending signals that affect a host of functions. Produced by the pancreas, thyroid and other endocrine glands and organs, hormones drive our metabolism, impact mood, regulate blood pressure, manage our sleep cycles, influence sexual function and more. Key players are insulin, cortisol, thyroid and growth hormones, adrenaline, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.

Keeping these hormones in proper balance is critical for health, and imbalances can lead to a wide range of effects, including diabetes, thyroid disease, unintended weight fluctuations, skin problems, fatigue, mood swings and infertility. While inactivity, stress, age and genetics impact hormone production, our food choices can significantly tip the scales.

Dr. Ann Lee is a naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. When treating hormonal, thyroid and adrenal imbalances, she says it is important to focus on foods that provide the minerals and vitamins that support those systems. For women of all ages, she recommends blueberries, asparagus, lettuce, celery and papaya. Teens and women in their 20s can also benefit from apples, bananas, mangoes, avocados, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers, sweet potatoes and most lettuce varieties.The nutrients in these vegetables and fruits become even more important as women reach 30 and for those dealing with menopause, so Lee recommends more frequent consumption of these fresh, whole foods to support the adrenal and thyroid glands.

According to Lee, it is equally important to avoid foods that interfere with hormonal nutrition. She advises women over 50 to lower their caffeine intake. Dairy products contain naturally occurring hormones that can impede human hormone balance and should be eaten in moderation. “The less external hormonal exposure you have, the easier it is for your own hormones to balance,” Lee explains.

Despite the popularity of intermittent fasting, Lee believes that the trendy eating pattern can deny the body the vitamins and minerals it needs, causing it to produce more adrenalin and cortisol to make up for the loss. “People do intermittent fasting because it might feel good to have more adrenalin, and thus more energy, but it does come at a price—your hormones,” she says.

     While inactivity, stress, age and genetics impact hormone production, our food choices can significantly tip the scales.

Most of the foods Lee recommends are low in calories. “In order to curb hunger, you have to eat them regularly, and that goes against intermittent fasting. People that do intermittent fasting often focus on proteins and fats, so they don’t have to eat for a long time, but that can cause adrenal burnout because the body is not getting what it needs,” she explains, noting that avocados and potatoes tend to help people feel full longer.

Jaclyn Downs is a functional nutrigenomics practitioner in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and author of Enhancing Fertility Through Functional Medicine: Using Nutrigenomics to Solve 'Unexplained’ Infertility. She notes that for hormones to be produced by the body, nutritional cofactors or “helper nutrients” are required. “Magnesium, zinc and B vitamins are a few of the spark plugs that move these processes and keep the wheels spinning,” she emphasizes. “Grass-fed beef liver or capsules contain all of these.”

According to Downs, menstrual problems can be an indicator of eventual fertility issues. To support female reproductive hormones, she recommends cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. These foods also support liver detoxification pathways due to their high concentrations of vitamins and sulfur. “The liver helps clear used or 'dirty’ hormones,” she notes.

Downs also recommends pomegranates, which are rich in antioxidants and fight inflammation-producing free radicals. Healthy fats from cold-water, wild-caught fish support pregnant women and growing fetuses. “Folate is often emphasized as a nutrient for pregnant women, but choline is just as important for everybody, regardless of life stage or gender,” Downs notes. Choline is found in egg yolks, sunflower lecithin and shiitake mushrooms. For 50-plus women, Downs prescribes fish or high-quality fish oil, which can benefit brain, liver and hormonal health.

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and contributor to Natural Awakenings.

Recipes to Help Support the Delicate Balance

Kale and Tempeh Tacos

 Recipe Kale Tacoscabe/Courtesy of Random HouseIn this yummy, low-carb taco recipe, cabbage leaves substitute for the tortillas and are filled with a mixture of protein-packed tempeh, veggies and lots of great spices. Compounds in tempeh called isoflavones serve as a natural remedy for menopausal relief.

Yield: 2 servings

  • 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4 oz tempeh, cubed
  • ½ tsp sea salt or more, to taste
  • ½ tsp black pepper or more, to taste
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  • ¼ tsp paprika
  • ¼ tsp cayenne
  • ¼ cup vegetable broth
  • 2 cups stemmed and chopped fresh kale
  • 4 to 6 large, green cabbage leaves, dipped for 30 seconds into hot water to soften
  • ½ avocado, sliced
  • 1 radish, sliced
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • ½ lime, cut into wedges

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic and tempeh and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the onion softens and becomes translucent. Add the salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, paprika and cayenne, stir, then add the broth and kale. Stir again to combine and cook until the broth thickens and reduces by at least one-half. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper as needed.

Spread the cabbage leaves open on a large plate. Spoon the kale mixture into the center of the leaves. Add some of the avocado, radish slices and cilantro, then fold in the sides like a taco.

Serve with lime wedges.

Adapted from MenuPause. Copyright © 2022 by Dr. Anna Cabeca. Used by permission of Rodale Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. 


Vanilla and Fig Scones With Pistachios

Recipe Fig Scones Photo courtesy of Dr. Anna CabecaA great dessert or breakfast treat, a scone is a baked good usually made with wheat flour and butter. This recipe calls for almond flour instead to reduce the carbs and increase the nutrition. The pastry has been enjoyed in Scotland since 1513, and its name probably derives from the Dutch word for bread. Figs and pistachios sweeten the scones and give them a bit of crunch.

Yield: 6 to 8

Scones

  • 2½ cups almond flour
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ⅓ cup coconut oil, melted
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup chopped dried figs, plus some for garnish
  • ½ cup pistachios, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine the almond flour, salt and baking soda. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, honey, eggs and vanilla. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until thoroughly combined. Fold in the ½ cup of figs and the pistachios.

Place the dough on the baking sheet and shape into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Cut into squares and then cut the squares diagonally into triangular wedges. Separate the wedges so they are about 1 inch apart to allow for even cooking. Press a few pieces of fig into the top of each wedge.

Bake for 12 to 17 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in a scone comes out clean. Let cool for 30 minutes on the baking sheet, then serve.

Adapted from MenuPause. Copyright © 2022 by Dr. Anna Cabeca. Used by permission of Rodale Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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