Your hormones are your body's control system. But in an age when hormone-disrupting chemicals lurk in processed foods, shampoos, and even scented candles and air fresheners, it doesn't take much to throw off that delicate balance. And out-of-whack hormones could affect almost every facet of your health, making it really hard to lose weight, have babies, and even feel happy. Unhealthy hormone levels can even increase your risk of certain cancers and other chronic diseases.
We turned to Natasha Turner, ND, author of the best-selling book, The Super-Charged Hormone Diet, to help ID the best hormone-balancing foods nature has to offer--a snapshot of nutritious foods and drinks that help you achieve hormonal balance, feel satisfied, fight disease, and lose fat.
Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage, contain high amounts of phytonutrients called isothiocyanates, including indole-3-carbinol, which helps break down a harmful and potent estrogen metabolite that promotes tumor growth, especially in estrogen-sensitive breast cells.
In 2008, researchers at the University of California--Berkeley showed that indole-3-carbinol halts the growth of breast cancer cells and may also offer protection against the spread of cancer.
Dose Details: Just 2½ cups of broccoli a week is all you need to reduce your risk of several cancers, particularly those of the breast and prostate.
Flaxseed is full of lignans, phytoestrogenic compounds that have been proven to help protect us against certain kinds of cancers, especially breast, prostate, and colon.
We Like This: NOW Foods Certified Organic Golden Flax Seeds
Dose Details: Adding 2 to 3 tablespoons of flaxseed to your smoothies, oatmeal, salads, or cereals daily can reduce your cancer risk and also provide a dose of fiber and essential fatty acids.
Bonus tip: The oils in flaxseed can go rancid quickly, so be sure to purchase ground flaxseed in a vacuum-sealed package and store it in the freezer. Better yet, you can grind your own daily.
A 1999 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that green tea extract could significantly increase metabolism and fat burning. While caffeine does provide an energizing boost, the tea also offers calming effects because it contains theanine, a natural compound that blocks the release of cortisol--great for conquering belly fat!
We Like This: Stash Tea Company Organic Premium Green Tea
Dose Details: Drink 4 cups of this tasty tea daily, and you can enjoy weight loss, possibly even without a change in diet and exercise.
The antioxidant polyphenols found in the skins and seeds of grapes, especially catechins and resveratrol, aid heart health, inhibit inflammation, and help prevent the development of certain cancers.
According to researchers from Northwestern University Medical School, many benefits of resveratrol in wine are in fact due to its estrogenic properties. When consumed with or after a meal, red wine is also a good digestive aid.
Dose Details:Healthy individuals should limit wine intake to 2 to 3 glasses a week. University of California--Davis researchers found cabernet sauvignon, petit syrah, and pinot noir boasted the highest levels of disease-fighting flavonoids.
When we include them in our daily diet, monounsaturated fats such as those in olive oil encourage the release of our appetite-suppressing hormone leptin. Olive oil, in particular, has also been shown to improve our sensitivity to insulin.
We Like This: Bragg Organic Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Another perk? In a 2003 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, rats fed an olive oil--rich diet broke down more fat cells compared to the group fed soybean oil. (Soybean oil actually hindered healthy hormone production.)
Dose Details: Avoid industrial fats like margarine and use organic extra-virgin olive oil instead.
Avocados are rich in beta-sitosterol, a natural substance shown to significantly lower blood cholesterol levels. That same compound also helps to balance the stress hormone cortisol, and it may help restore low DHEA (a hormone produced by the adrenal gland) and decrease the inflammation typically associated with the stress of intense exercise.
Dose Details: Enjoy a quarter of an avocado per serving.
Apples contain quercetin, a flavonoid antioxidant and natural antihistamine. Like many other flavonoids, quercetin also has phytoestrogenic properties. A large Finnish study following more than 10,000 people for more than 30 years found eating a daily apple reduced the risk of almost every chronic disease associated with aging, including osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Dose Details: Just like the old saying, try to eat an organic apple a day to keep the doctor away!
Chia seed is a gluten-free ancient grain that can be added to just about any food. On a per-gram basis, chia seed is touted to be the highest source of omega-3s in nature and also the highest source of fiber!
We Like This: Navitas Naturals Organic Raw Chia Seeds
Chia's hormonal benefits include stabilizing blood sugar, improved insulin sensitivity, and easing metabolic syndrome symptoms like blood pressure and blood sugar spikes.
Dose Details: Just 3½ ounces of chia seed offer an amazing 20 grams of omega-3s, which is equal to the amount in 1¾ pounds of Atlantic salmon.
Like avocados, most nuts are an excellent source of the plant sterol beta-sitosterol. Almonds, in particular, contain protein, fiber, plant sterols, and several other heart-healthy nutrients. Almonds are also known to slow the absorption of carbohydrates in the body, which may help with diabetes management.
Research from the University of Texas Health Science Center published in the journal Nutrition showed that walnuts are a source of melatonin, a hormone that promotes better sleep.
Dose Details: Just a small handful five times a week will provide an adequate dose of fats that will stimulate leptin release, which helps control your appetite.
Bone density, hormonal balance, and cholesterol levels change as we age, but a daily serving of soy can help lower cholesterol, keep bones strong, improve heart health, protect the prostate, and ease the symptoms of menopause.
We Like This: Westsoy Unsweetened Organic Soymilk
The therapeutic effects of soy products--when consumed in moderation--come from the phytoestrogens naturally present in soybeans. Research from the University of Illinois also suggests soy protein may help to increase metabolism, manage weight, and limit the growth of fat cells. (Don't go for soy, however, if you've noticed it has caused you gas, bloating, or digestive problems in the past, or if you've had breast cancer.)
Dose Details: Just 1 cup of unsweetened, organic soy milk or yogurt, a handful of soy nuts, or a palm-size serving of tempeh can do the trick.
Dehydration increases the release of hormones, which stimulates our appetite. Sufficient water is crucial for preventing joint stiffness, weight gain, headaches, decreased athletic performance, and poor recovery after exercise.
Dose Details: In general, the 8-cups-a-day guideline is sufficient, but you should definitely drink more when you exercise or spend time in the sun.
Whey has been proven to promote fat loss, preserve muscle tissue, enhance immunity, aid insulin sensitivity, and support recovery after exercise. It's also a source of tryptophan, which can help raise serotonin levels and combat stress.
We Like This: Raw Organic Whey
Dose Details: This powdered supplement is the most bioavailable source of protein we can get, making a scoop or two a great addition to smoothies and shakes.
Blueberries may help lower blood sugar levels and insulin resistance, as researchers in Canada have found. In a small study, overweight men at risk of heart disease and diabetes drank 1 cup of wild blueberry juice every day for three weeks. Their blood sugar dropped by roughly 10 percent, and their insulin resistance also fell compared with that of control-group participants who drank a placebo. The benefits may come from the effect of the fruits' high levels of anthocyanins on the pancreas, which regulates blood sugar by producing insulin.
Dose Details: Don't be afraid to add exotic berries into the mix, too. Researchers at the University of Florida have recently shown tropical açaí berries to be even higher in antioxidants than blueberries. Organic goji berries are high in fiber, antioxidants, and even protein. A tablespoon or two mixed with organic low-fat cottage cheese is a fantastic snack.
Cinnamon offers wonderful insulin-balancing effects. A study published in the journal Diabetes Care showed that ceylon cinnamon could cause muscle and liver cells to respond more readily to insulin. Better response to insulin means better blood sugar balance and, therefore, less insulin in your body.
We Like This: Frontier Natural Products Organic Ceylon Cinnamon
Dose Details: Add ceylon cinnamon to your food and hot drinks (including coffee) as often as possible. Just ½ teaspoon a day for 30 days is enough to significantly improve your insulin response and trim your waistline.
Oats are a good source of many nutrients including vitamin E, zinc, selenium, copper, iron, manganese, and magnesium. They are also packed with protein and fiber, which can help balance blood sugar and insulin while reducing cholesterol and heart disease risk. According to the American Cancer Society, the phytochemicals in oats may also have cancer-fighting properties.
We Like This: Bob's Red Mill Organic Oat Bran Hot Cereal
Dose Details: Oat bran makes a nice, comfy hot cereal snack. You can easily sneak oatmeal into many recipes, too.
Buckwheat offers us an alternative to wheat, one of the most highly allergenic foods and the grain we tend to most commonly overeat. Buckwheat is a gluten-free grain, making it an excellent choice for those with celiac disease, gluten sensitivities, or food allergies, or anyone undertaking an anti-inflammatory detox. It can be used as an alternative to rice or served as porridge.
High in protein and low on the glycemic index, your body releases less insulin after eating buckwheat compared to starches like rice, wheat, and corn.
Dose Details: Try substituting rice with a serving of homemade or store-bought buckwheat noodles. (They're often sold as Soba noodles.)
As a natural source of probiotics, yogurt promotes good digestion, restores healthy bacterial balance in the gut, aids the metabolism of estrogen, and supports healthy immunity.
Yogurt may also help trim your waistline by encouraging weight loss; as you're eating it, plain yogurt sends a strong message to your brain that you're full. (If you are lactose intolerant or have other sensitivities to dairy, however, you should leave this one out of your diet.)
Dose Details: Studies have shown that just ½ cup a day can lessen the frequency and severity of colds and flu.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin have shown that pomegranate extract has anticancer, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties that are effective in suppressing cancer of the skin, breast, and colon.
The most powerful estrogen in the body, estradiol, plays an important role in the origin and development of breast cancers, most of which are hormone dependent in their early stages. Pomegranates possess natural compounds that inhibit the enzyme in women's bodies that converts the weak estrogen, estrone, into its most potent metabolite, estradiol.
Dose Details: Pure pomegranate juices or seeds are a great way to enjoy the healthy benefits of this tasty ruby-red fruit.
Herbs and spices certainly add more than zesty flavor to our meals--many offer hormone-balancing effects, too. Garlic, rosemary, thyme, turmeric, ginger, cumin, curry, and cayenne pepper are particularly beneficial.
We Like This: Indus Organics Turmeric Powder
Turmeric (also called curcumin) is one of my personal favorites because it naturally reduces inflammation, pain, and swelling.
Dose Details: Be sure to add black pepper with turmeric--it biosynthesizes to create an even more potent effect.
Ginger is another fabulous seasoning proven to prevent and treat nausea from motion sickness, pregnancy, and chemotherapy. It's a potent antioxidant that works by blocking the potentially nauseating effects of serotonin on the gut.
We Like This: Gravol Organic Ginger Chewable Lozenges
Dose Details: Add fresh or powdered ginger to smoothies or look for nausea-easing, organic ginger lozenges.
A Finnish study found babies born to women who had eaten chocolate daily during pregnancy smiled and laughed more and were more active. Even the babies of stressed women who had regularly consumed chocolate during pregnancy showed less fear of new situations than babies of stressed moms-to-be who abstained. Dark chocolate boosts our endorphins and also contains tryptophan (a building block of serotonin) and the brain chemical phenylethylamine, known to promote our feelings of attraction, excitement, and love.
We Like This: Green & Black's Organic 70 Percent Cacao Dark Chocolate Bar
Dose Details: Eat one 1-inch block of dark chocolate a day. Look for organic versions that feature at least 70 percent cocoa.