As a grown up, I've become somewhat of an expert in hormones, but I really wish I understood more about women's health growing up. Those sex-ed classes were pointless. And as a teen, my hormones were a hot mess.
Dermatologists assured me there were no specific foods to balance hormones to improve my awful acne so I was prescribed antibiotics and retin-A instead. I had mood swings like hurricanes, and my monthly periods often had me writhing in pain and reaching for the medicine cabinet.
Despite my disastrous hormones, I generally considered myself to be healthy and robust at that time. I was a dedicated athlete – swimming at least two hours daily and running or lifting weights for at least an hour after that. I maintained an excellent grade point average, and had a reasonable social life. But when you look at what I ate, it's really a wonder I even survived…
What I ate to destroy my hormones
You see, I grew up on a Standard American Diet (also known as SAD). Before high school, I would down a cup of black tea with three spoons of white sugar and maybe a piece of white toast with butter and cinnamon sugar (heavy on the sugar). I generally felt starving all day (big surprise), so if I could scavenge one of those 4-packs of chocolate peanut butter cups from another kid's fundraiser, I'd have that as a snack.
For lunch, grossed-out by the typical cafeteria fare, I typically had some curly fries and a fluorescent Gatorade. After three hours of workouts (where I drank more Gatorade), I would make my way home, famished, and typically devour a massive plate of spaghetti with meat sauce (or two), some buttered bread, and orange juice – the first ‘somewhat' reasonable meal of the day. I'd finish it off with at least four scoops of ice cream topped with Hershey's syrup.
Yeah. I really ate like that.
Finally – a great resource for women and hormone health
Fast forward a couple of decades, and a lot of self-education and food-recovery later. I am confounded by the continued lack of good information out there regarding nutrition and women's health.
No, low fat milk is NOT good for you! [And yes, I just screamed that in my head.] The conventional remedies that are offered to modern women (pain killers, mood enhancers, and birth control pills) do not heal hormonal imbalances – they only mask the symptoms resulting in more severe health issues over time.
Luckily, my friend and fellow blogger, Lauren Geersten of Empowered Sustenance, has recently released an ebook called Quit PMS, that will help to clear up the confusion for women of all ages once and for all. If you’ve ever had questions about hormone balance, nutrition, skin care, or birth control, and are tired of suffering month after month, this book is written just for you.
One of my favorite parts of Quit PMS is the section on “Good Period Foods” where Lauren shines a light on nutritional wisdom that I surely wish someone would have tattooed on the back of my 14 year-old eyelids. This list is certainly not what most women would expect…
7 Surprising Foods to Balance Your Hormones
#1 – Dairy
Dairy is popularly demonized for causing everything from sinus infections to acne. In reality, when milk products are consumed in their most natural form (raw, full-fat, and from healthy, pasture-raised animals) they can heal many of the issues for which they take the blame.
Studies show that women who consumed more full-fat dairy before their periods had less PMS symptoms and fertility issues than women who ate less. (source) The cholesterol in full-fat dairy is necessary for building progesterone, which is commonly deficient in women who suffer from PMS and other hormone imbalances.
In addition to fat and cholesterol needed for proper hormone function, full-fat dairy from grass-fed cows will contain essential fat-soluble vitamins D, A, and K2. These nutrients are only found in animal fat, and are essential for a healthy endocrine system, among many other things.
Aside from its commonly-known role for healthy bones and teeth, calcium also plays a significant part in regulating hormones. It can reduce stress by lowering cortisol levels and balancing progesterone and estrogen. (source)
To get the most benefits from dairy, raw milk products are best, since they contain enzymes that assist in digestion and assimilation of nutrients. The next best thing would be low temperature pasteurized and non-homogenized milk. Remember the more local and less processed the better. You can read more about the health benefits of raw milk here.
#2 – Salt
Contrary to popular belief, proper salt intake does not contribute to monthly bloating, but actually can reduce it.
Getting enough salt balances hormones and helps to regulate water retention in your cells. It also reduces stress by lowering adrenaline and cortisol levels, which are big contributors to PMS symptoms. (source) Proper salt intake also prevents your body from losing vital minerals such as potassium and magnesium, which also are responsible for lowering stress levels.
In Quit PMS, Lauren points out that, “Regular table salt beats no salt, that's for sure.” (p38) But whenever you can, seek out unrefined, mineral-rich salt which will provide you with more flavor, more nutrients, and less side effects as your hormones heal.
#3 – Liver
I know liver isn't on most American's dinner plates these days, but it should be. It’s packed with vital nutrients like true vitamin A, iron, folate and all the B vitamins.
True vitamin A (not the stuff from carrots and butternut squash) is required for liver function, and a healthy liver which help your body eliminate excess estrogen that is often the cause of hormonal symptoms.
Despite the fact that it filters toxins from the body, the liver doesn't actually store toxins. To get the most nutritious liver, choose grass-fed beef, calf or chicken liver. If you’re new to eating liver, try slipping it into burger, meatloaf or this delicious shepherd's pie. Still squeamish? Create your own liver pills to take with each meal.
#4- Raw honey
Unlike table sugar which is made of sucrose, “Honey consists primarily of two simple sugars: glucose and fructose. It boasts a nearly 1:1 ratio of glucose and fructose, the perfect fuel for the liver to build glycogen [which]… is key in stabilizing stress hormones and thyroid hormones” and improving blood sugar and insulin levels. (p 47)
Low levels of glycogen in the blood stream trigger the release of cortisol and adrenaline, which are the hormones that contribute to PMS.
For best results be sure to buy raw, unpasteurized, local honey to reap the delicious, medicinal properties. Raw and unpasteurized honey is rich in antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins and minerals that help reduce PMS symptoms, many of which would have been destroyed in the pasteurization process.
#5 – Gelatin
Gelatin reduces stress by balancing amino acids and reducing estrogen dominance that cause monthly cramps, bloating, and fertility related hormone issues.
While most people think of gelatin as forming the wiggly jiggly treats of our youth, it is also released in old-fashioned broths made from simmering bones which can be used to make delicious and nourishing homemade soup, stews, and sauces.
When choosing animal products including gelatin, always seek out sources of properly raised animals so you know that they will provide quality, nourishing minerals. It’s worth it. This is the gelatin that I use.
#6 – Coconut
Coconut oil contains the perfect combination of healthy fats for increasing metabolism and promoting weight loss by reducing cravings and making you feel satisfied. It also provides the necessary building blocks for hormone production and it has dozens of other benefits, such as weight loss and anti-inflammatory properties. (source)
Choose a coconut oil that is preferably organic, minimally processed and fair trade to be sure you’re getting the best quality product. Personally, I tend to use refined coconut oil when I'd rather not have the coconutty flavor, and thanks to coconut oil's stable fat, it does not damage the quality.
There are so many ways to add coconut oil to your daily life, from using it as a cooking oil, this whipped body butter, or just eating it right off the spoon for an afternoon pick-me-up.
#7 – Eggs
Eggs are one of the most perfect foods for preventing PMS symptoms and balancing hormones because they are good sources of vitamins D, B6 and E. A study involving more than 100,000 nurses has shown that a diet containing these nutrients can help regulate the brain chemicals that contribute to monthly cramps, mood swings and bloating, while providing hormone building blocks as well. (source)
Seek out eggs from ‘Pasture-raised' hens, and be aware that labels like ‘free range' and ‘cage free‘ are not as ranging or free as you might imagine. Aside from understanding the labels, you’ll know the difference as soon as you crack the first shell – the yolks will be a rich, vibrant golden color and have tons of flavor rather than being a pale, flavorless yellow. And please – no more egg white omelets! Nearly all the good stuff is in that gorgeous yolk.
Quit PMS (and end your menstrual misery)
There seems to be a general consensus that menstruation is just miserable by nature, so you should pop a pill and get over it.
In Quit PMS, Lauren Geertsen will help you understand that the symptoms of hormone imbalance, and show you exactly what you need to restore balance again. Say good bye to debilitating cramps, monthly acne, headaches, mood swings and fertility issues.
Aside from the 7 surprising foods for balancing your hormones we revealed in this post, in Quit PMS you will learn:
- Why your hormones need to be balanced and how to do it – Finally- straight-forward, smart women's health education!
- Which foods support your cycle – and which don’t – Who knew a batch of beef short ribs or cinnamon salted ice cream could balance your hormones?
- How to detox your system so it functions optimally – Without overdoing it and causing more harm that good.
- Specific ways to reduce stress for better hormone health – Yes.
- How to have radiant skin and vibrant health – including some amazing DIY skin care recipes that will heal the effects of hormonal acne and leave you positively glowing from the inside out!
- Natural tips for a better menstrual experience – From pain relief to healthy options for sanitary products
Packed with enlightening and thorough research, delicious hormone-healthy recipes, and do-able lifestyle tips, Quit PMS is a godsend for women.