Are your hormones out of whack? Often the best place to start balancing hormones is with food. Though some hormonal imbalances may benefit from specific and targeted doses of nutrients in the form of supplements, nothing replaces a nourishing diet. Here are some top hormone-balancing foods — and what not to eat.
1. Brassica Vegetables
This superstar genus of vegetables contains not only vitamins, minerals and fiber, but also substances unique to this botanical family — substances such as indoles and glucoraphanin, the latter of which gets converted into the ultra-superstar substance sulforaphane. These substances support the optimal functioning of some of our most important biochemical pathways – phase two liver detoxification pathways in particular, which are key for estrogen metabolism. As such, they help to support efficient clearance of estrogen, which is essential, as too much estrogen in relation to progesterone can lead to many sex hormone imbalance symptoms. Also known as cruciferous vegetables, vegetables in the Brassica family include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, bok choy, cabbage, and radishes.
2. Brazil Nuts
These delicious nuts are one of the best dietary sources of selenium. The essential mineral has important antioxidant actions in the body and it’s critical for optimal thyroid gland function. Research suggests that eating just two to six Brazil nuts per day provides an adequate selenium intake for most people.
3. Pumpkin Seeds
Also called pepitas, these seeds are one of the best plant-based sources of zinc, a mineral critical for many biochemical processes in our body, including sex hormone production, digestion, and thyroid function. Zinc is also needed for skin healing, so it’s an important nutrient for those struggling with hormonal breakouts. However, the zinc content is still fairly minimal in a handful of these seeds compared to a serving of zinc-rich animal food (such as red meat and oysters), so if you eat a plant-based diet, it may be necessary to supplement zinc.
4. Iodized Salt
Not all salt contains iodine, so check the label. Iodine is an essential nutrient that is required for thyroid hormone production. However, it’s important not to alter your iodine intake if you have an overactive thyroid or an autoimmune thyroid condition (both overactive and underactive) unless you are under the guidance of a qualified health professional. Always choose a good-quality salt such as Celtic sea salt or Himalayan pink salt.
5. Leafy Greens
Green leafy vegetables (think: spinach, rocket, silverbeet, kale) are sources of magnesium, a mineral that can be depleted with excessive stress hormone production. Leafy greens are also a plant-based source of iron, which is important for normal thyroid function. Many women also find it challenging to maintain their iron levels due to excessive menstrual losses, which can occur when sex hormone balance isn’t optimal. To enhance your body’s ability to absorb the iron from your greens, include a source of vitamin C in the meal, such as red bell pepper or some freshly squeezed lemon or orange juice in a dressing. Or, if you like to have green smoothies, try adding strawberries to boost the vitamin C content. The adrenal glands also love vitamin C.
What to Avoid or Minimize
What you avoid or minimize consuming is just as important as what you eat. If you feel that your hormones need support — whether stress, sex, or thyroid — consider taking a break from caffeine and alcohol for at least two to three menstrual cycles to see if your issues subside. Also keep poor-quality fats (such as trans fats), refined sugars, and highly processed foods to a minimum, as these often contain problematic substances that can interfere with good hormonal balance.
Other Important Nutrients
Vitamin A deficiency, while rare in the Western world, is linked to heavy menstrual bleeding and cervical problems. Plant sources of vitamin A (actually beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A) include carrots, pumpkin, dark leafy greens, and apricots. Poor vitamin E intake is also linked to fertility challenges and changes in the menstrual cycle as well as excessive estrogen. The best sources include eggs, whole grains (such as brown rice), nuts, and seeds (particularly sunflower seeds).
A version of this article originally appeared on foodmatters.com. It has been reprinted with permission.