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12 Feb, 2020

Eating for your hormones

Hormones are governed by the brain to communicate with the rest of your body and are constantly fluctuating to help maintain equilibrium. These chemical messengers play a huge role in controlling things such as weight, mood and appetite. Rob Hobson outlines how diet may help balance your hormones.

Health

When things get out of balance

Hormones have a profound impact on mental, physical and emotional health. Younger women suffering from PMS or middle-aged women during the menopause are good examples of common hormone imbalances that can affect mood or more specific symptoms such as hot flushes or night sweats. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition in women that causes a set of symptoms due to elevated testosterone such as excess body hair, irregular periods, adult acne and difficulty getting pregnant.

What causes a fluctuation in hormones?

Hormonal fluctuations may be cause by any number of reasons such as:

  • High stress
  • Poor gut health
  • Lack of sleep
  • Too little or excessive exercise
  • Underweight/overweight
  • Environmental toxins
  • Poor diet and other lifestyle choices such as smoking

How are hormonal imbalances dealt with?

Mostly, hormonal imbalances are treated with medication such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT), birth control pills, insulin (the hormone that controls blood sugar) injections or fertility drugs. How effective these are can differ between persons.

Diet, however, is important as it provides the body with raw materials and the fuel it needs to make hormones. If someone’s diet is not very good and they’re making poor lifestyle choices alongside leading a stressful life, then it’s little wonder that they may be affected by some sort of endocrine (hormone) or metabolic disorder.

Four natural ways diet may help to balance your hormones

1. Make sure you include plenty of protein in your diet

Proteins are made up of amino acids, but several are not able to be synthesised in the body. These essential amino acids must be obtained from the diet everyday in order to maintain muscle, bone and skin health. Protein also plays a role in the release of hormones that influence appetite and food intake such as leptin and ghrelin.

Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has shown that protein in a meal reduces the levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin whilst also stimulating other hormones that help to maintain satiety.

Protein is found in foods such as eggs, poultry and fish, as well as plant sources such as beans, pulses, nuts and seeds. For a delicious protein boost, why not try these flatbreads with spinach and egg, or for a plant-based option how about this lentil, courgette and pesto salad?

2. Ditch the white stuff

We all know by now that sugar intake is linked to poor health. Including too much sugar in your diet can lead to weight gain which is a risk factor for many other conditions including diabetes and heart disease as well as incurring hormonal imbalances. All sweeteners are classed as being ‘added sugars’ and this includes table sugar, maple syrup, fruit molasses, honey and agave. Keep these foods to a bare minimum and try to eat them with your meals to lessen the impact on blood sugar levels.

Refined carbohydrate foods should also be limited in the diet in favour of high-fibre varieties such as whole grains. Following a low glycaemic load (GL) diet has been shown to be an effective way of eating for women with PCOS as insulin in the body encourages the production of testosterone. Choosing high-fibre foods (like this stuffed sweet potato or this pumpkin fejoda) over those that are quickly broken down such as sugar, white pasta, bread and rice can have less of an impact on blood sugar levels and as such the release of insulin.

3. Be sure to include omega 3 fatty acids in your diet regularly

Omega 3 fatty acids, found in oily fish, nuts and seeds, must be obtained from the diet as the body is unable to make them. These fatty acids possess impressive anti-inflammatory properties that help to quell inflammation in the body which is often at work in people with hormonal imbalances. For an omega 3-rich recipe, look no further than this delicious squash bread which is packed with sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and flax seeds. If you fancy getting your omega 3 from fish, why not try these salmon burgers for a satisfying, nutritious supper?

Research has suggested that these fats may benefit hormonal health by reducing the levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Further research has also suggested that increasing your intake of omega 3 may help to reduce insulin resistance related to obesity and PCOS.

4. Get plenty of fibre

Most people still don’t get enough fibre in their diet as findings from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey in the UK show that only 4% of women and 9% of men manage to eat the recommended 30g per day.

Research published in the Journal of Nutrition has shown that fibre increases insulin sensitivity and stimulates the production of hormones that trigger satiety and fullness. Fibre can also help to remove excess hormones from the body which may be beneficial for women who experience heavy painful periods that can be exacerbated by surges in oestrogen.

To get more fibre in your diet, fill up on vegetables, beans, pulses and whole-grains with recipes like this artichoke, radish and brown rice salad. For more information, you can read our Lowdown on Fibre article here.



Diet is just one branch of the factors that impact on hormone imbalances. If you do struggle with any condition linked to hormonal health then make sure you also address other issues such as stress levels, sleep and exercise to give your body the best chance to regain balance.

Rob Hobson is a registered nutritionist (BSc, MSc, AFN), published author and food writer. Rob has 15 years of experience working with some of the UK’s leading food companies, government agencies, NHS and private clients as well as regularly writing in the media for publications including the Daily Mail online.

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