Food to Balance Hormones: Avoid These 4 Foods for Optimal Hormone Health
When your hormones are happy, you’re happy. But when they’re wonky, you’re a mess. You’re tired, bloated, losing hair, and packing on pounds. You have mood swings and “brain fog,” you can’t sleep, you look old, and your sex drives drops to zero.
If your symptoms are severe, you may need a doctor’s help to tackle the problem and get your life back on track. But if they’re mild, some simple changes in your diet might just do the trick.
So here’s my advice: Eat a clean diet—lean proteins, healthy fats, and big servings of non-starchy veggies plus a little fruit. And at the same time, cut out the four foods that your hormones hate the most.
Four Foods High In Estrogen (or high producing)
Sugary foods—including “healthy” whole grains.
These foods are at the top of my “no” list because they wreak havoc on your hormones. Here’s why I want you to steer clear of them.
When you eat lots of sugary foods—including so-called “healthy” grains, which turn directly into sugar in your body—you constantly spike your levels of the hormone insulin. Normally, insulin ushers sugar into your cells, which burn this sugar for energy—but when there’s too much insulin, your cells eventually say “enough” and slam the door shut. When this happens, insulin ferries the sugar back to your liver, which converts it into fat.
This is bad news, because fat cells are estrogen factories. The more stored fat you have, the more estrogen your fat cells crank out, and the higher your estrogen levels get. This throws off your estrogen-progesterone balance, making you miserable and raising your risk for breast cancer. And that’s not all—excess insulin increases your production of testosterone, which your body converts to even more estrogen.
And that’s just part of the story, because high levels of insulin also raise your levels of another hormone called leptin. I call leptin your “hunger trigger” because when your levels are low, it makes you crave food. Eating sugary foods hikes your leptin levels, which sounds like a good thing—but when this happens all the time, your brain stops listening to leptin’s message. So it keeps telling you that you’re starving, making you reach for more sugary foods… and the vicious hormone cycle continues. To break this cycle, you need to kiss sugar and grains goodbye.
And here’s a bonus to eliminating grains: you eliminate gluten. Gluten is a leading cause of “leaky” gut, which allows toxins to escape from your intestines, where they trigger inflammation—and inflammation, in turn, leads to hormone imbalances.
Let me say up-front here that I have no problem with eating small amounts of organic, fermented, minimally processed soy. This is what people in Asian countries typically do.
But here’s what I don’t want you to do: I don’t want you to load up on soy “Frankenfoods” and soy milk. These foods can mess with your thyroid big-time, putting you at higher risk for autoimmune thyroid disease or other thyroid issues.
What’s more, it doesn’t take much to overdo it with soy. Here’s what the National Academy of Hypothyroidism has to say about it:
Studies suggest that the thyroid-disrupting effects of soy occur when intake of isoflavones found in soy surpass 30 mg per day. This is concerning as recent research indicates that some individuals in the United States consume between 80 to 100 milligrams of soy isoflavones daily, which is likely to trigger notable thyroid disruption.
Avoiding soy in your diet can be tricky, because manufacturers put it in thousands of products from chocolate to chicken broth. Watch out for foods that list these ingredients, because all of them contain soy:
Hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP)
Hydrolyzed soy protein
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
Miso natural flavoring
Textured soy flour (TSF)
Textured soy protein (TSP)
Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
Tofu vegetable broth
I know that if you have a sweet tooth, it’s tough to give up sugar—and now I’m asking you to go even further, and say no to “fake” sugars as well. But there are lots of reasons why these sugars are bad for you—and one is that they throw a monkey wrench into your hormones.
First, artificial sweeteners mess with your gut microbiome—and your gut microbiome influences your levels of hormones including leptin and estrogen. So when your gut microbiome gets unbalanced, your hormones get unbalanced, too.
Second, in some cases, artificial sweeteners may actually cause Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, one of the most common autoimmune problems I see. Here’s a report from the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) documenting the case of a woman whose Hashimoto’s syndrome disappeared when she stopped consuming sugar substitutes. Another doctor reported at an AACE annual meeting that two of three of his patients with Hashimoto’s who stopped using artificial sweeteners had a “complete reversal” of their disease. And a study involving 100 patients with Hashimoto’s and 125 controls showed that the patients used far more artificial sweetener than the controls.
Yes, these findings are preliminary—but I say, why take a chance? Instead, try natural sweeteners such as stevia and monk fruit, or satisfy your sweet tooth with berries and other fruits.
Researchers estimate that 60 to 80% of the estrogen we get from food comes from milk and other dairy products, and there’s evidence that this extra estrogen dose may contribute to everything from acne to an increase in the rate of recurrence after breast cancer. Anecdotally, I can tell you that the majority of the women I’ve treated for hormone imbalances do better when they give up dairy products.
Oh, and p.s.— limit alcohol
Don’t worry—you don’t need to cut out alcohol completely. (That’s why it’s not on my “no” list above.) However, you do want to minimize it. Here’s why.
Alcohol is estrogenic, so it can lead to excess estrogen levels. In addition, it hurts your gut microbes—and as I said earlier, these microbes help to keep your hormones under control. And finally, too much alcohol can damage your liver, which converts the inactive T4 thyroid hormone into the active T3 version. A sick liver can’t do this as well as it should.
So enjoy a drink (or maybe two) on a weekend date or a girl’s night out… but give your gut microbes and your liver a rest for the remainder of the week.
The bottom line
Happy hormones are one of the biggest keys to a happy life. So give your hormones the foods they need—healthy proteins, fats, veggies, and fruits—and kick sugar, soy, artificial sweeteners, and dairy to the curb. (Also, say “no” to that third cocktail—even if it hurts a little.) Believe me…. you AND your hormones are going to love the results!