Whenever I see a patient at the Women to Women clinic, who is experiencing life-disrupting symptoms, one of the first things we talk about is her diet. I have learned over the years that the old adage “you are what you eat” is so very true, especially during the transition before and after menopause.
When I ask my patients about their diets and begin to suggest some changes, women sometimes tell me it’s too hard. But even small changes can make a big difference, and once they get started, they soon realize it’s not nearly as hard as they think.
Eating plenty of healthy proteins such as grass fed beef, bison, and wild caught fish, organic fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats such as grass-fed butter, coconut oil, avocados, and olive oil always makes my patients feel better. That’s because these “real” foods provide the nutrients a body needs to stay healthy, heal, and keep hormones in balance.
Common Sources of Dietary Imbalance
If you are experiencing especially uncomfortable symptoms, it may well be your diet is severely imbalanced. Usually I find that it’s one of three main concerns. First, you may be eating too much sugar. Too much sugar will prevent estrogen, progesterone and testosterone from being balanced because balancing insulin will take precedence.
Or you may be eating too many packaged and processed foods that (in addition to sugar) contain unhealthy vegetable oils and artificial ingredients. These food choices are not only not providing the nutritional support your body needs, they are introducing other ingredients such as chemicals and substances that will impair healthy body function and hormone balance.
Or perhaps you have bought into the low-fat diet myth and you’re not eating enough good healthy fat, something the body (and especially the brain) needs to function optimally and stay in balance.
Foods That May Be Causing Hormone Disruption
I know that there is more to being symptom-free than just your diet, but I can’t emphasize enough the role your food choices play. Every once in awhile, though, I’ll see a woman who is doing a good job eating healthy whole foods and still finds herself struggling with hormonal balance. That may be because many of the foods we eat contain ingredients that can disrupt our hormones and some of them may come as a surprise to you.
Media headlines have told us not to eat red meat (something that has been misunderstood and misinterpreted; we’ll talk about this more soon). Many women have turned to chicken instead, thinking it’s a healthier protein choice. In fact, the biggest concern about the animal foods we eat is what those animals themselves are eating: when we eat animals and animal products, we take in whatever they have eaten or been exposed to because it remains in their fat cells. That’s why animals eating a natural diet such as grass-fed beef, bison, pastured pork and wild caught fish make the best choices.
A chicken’s natural diet is grass and bugs, a combination of healthy protein and grass that has soaked up the vitamin D and energy of the sun. It is extremely difficult to find a chicken or turkey that has been allowed to eat a natural diet these days, unless you go to a small local farm and they sell it to you directly. Even organic chicken and turkey is raised on feed.
The problem is that the feed chickens receive contains soy which is laden with estrogen-like substances and is likely genetically modified; corn that is not food grade and contains GMOs; cereals often including wheat and GMOs; and processed oils, such as canola oil. Poultry farms are not looking for high quality feed ingredients; they are looking for the cheapest possible protein and fat sources they can find.
Heavy use of soy means that you are ingesting high doses of estrogen, which can be especially disruptive to your hormone cycles (we’ll talk more about this in a minute).
In addition, most chicken is raised on antibiotics in order to resist disease in the close quarters of a chicken farm. If you eat chicken or turkey, it is important that you choose organic.
Even free-range (which only means they have some outdoor exposure) organic chicken receives feed – but at least the organic version is fed a vegetarian diet (not a chicken’s natural diet, but without animal waste products) that is without genetically modified ingredients (to the extent we know; most soy and corn today is genetically modified and not always identified as such) or toxic synthetic pesticides.
USDA organic chicken can also only receive antibiotics during their first day of life or if they fall ill, not on an ongoing basis as traditional factory farm chickens do.
If you eat a lot of chicken (or eggs), choose organic but look to reintroduce more grass-fed meat, bison and fish into your diet as well.
I just mentioned the fact that soy is a very common ingredient in chicken feed today and soy contains phytoestrogens which can mimic real estrogen. These substances may sit on the receptor sites of our cells, which were designed to take in estrogen, blocking the needed estrogen from entering, which leaves it to wander around through the blood instead.
These estrogen-like substances can also impact the thyroid, which controls our hormones and may lead to suppressed thyroid function. Heavy soy consumption has also been shown to impact fat gain, muscle loss, infertility, mood swings and sexual dysfunction. Unfermented soy products such as tempeh and miso are fine, but tofu and soymilk products should be avoided. Try nuts and nut milks, such as almond milk, raw milk and grass-fed cheeses instead.
While we all need vitamin D to stay healthy, the best way to get it isn’t from dairy: it’s naturally, from small doses of skin exposure to sunlight instead. And fat-free dairy won’t enable vitamin D, which requires fat to be processed, to be absorbed. In order to maximize dairy output, cows are kept pregnant, resulting in high levels of estrogen that can not only wreak havoc on your hormones, but cause early puberty for your daughter, breast development for your son, and belly fat concerns for your husband. As with soy, higher levels of reproductive cancers are also found among heavy dairy consumers.
Americans consume enormous amounts of dairy products, especially cheese, so we can all look to cut back. If you must consume dairy, be sure it is organic, preferably grass-fed. Most European cheese comes from grass-fed cows so there are lots of inexpensive choices. Nut milks, such as almond milk, also make delicious substitutes.
If you love licorice or licorice-derived products such as fennel, Pernod, and anise, you should know that licorice has estrogenic properties so high they are even stronger than contraceptives (but please do not use licorice as birth control!). In fact, licorice is currently being evaluated for possible anti-testosterone drug purposes. So if you have a licorice addiction and you are experiencing symptoms of hormonal imbalance, you might want to cut back on your habit and see what happens.
At the Women to Women clinic, we’ve helped thousands of women to restore their hormonal balance over the last 3 decades. We’ve seen first-hand how important diet and nutritional supplementation are to relieving your uncomfortable symptoms and enabling you to finally feel like yourself again. That’s why in addition to good eating habits, I recommend every woman take a high quality multi-vitamin to ensure she gets the support her body needs during times of transition or imbalance.
I also suggest a high-quality omega 3 supplement to ensure your body (and your brain) receives the healthy fat required for optimal functioning; it’s hard to get the nutrition we need from our food supply today and healthy fat options are not easy (or cheap) to find.
The good news is that with some diet and lifestyle changes, coupled with high-quality nutritional support, your body can heal and you can alleviate your symptoms. I’ve helped so many women to finally feel good again — I can help you too!
To read my article on healthy diet click here.
Check out my Menopause Program here to get on the fast track to feeling good again.