February 21, 2024

The age-old saying “you are what you eat” rings true with hormones. The types of food and beverages you consume directly correlate with your hormone levels and can have a positive or negative effect on how they move through the body. This doesn’t just mean reproductive hormones—there are other key hormones that impact overall health, such as hunger hormones (e.g., insulin, leptin, and ghrelin) that help regulate a person’s appetite, fullness, and blood sugar levels.

“It’s all connected,” says Chicago-based registered dietitian behind the recipe and nutrition blog Once Upon A Pumpkin, Maggie Michalczyk, R.D. So when it’s time for a meal or snack, you’re not just filling your stomach; you’re supporting (or hindering) your hormone functionality.

According to Michalczyk, the best meals and snacks for hormone balance are nutritionally balanced—i.e., they contain protein, healthy fat, and fiber-rich carbohydrates. Leafy greens, veggies, certain fruits (like berries), nuts, seeds, and fatty fish are all great options, Michalczyk says, as whole, unprocessed foods “can help maintain healthy levels of hormones like insulin (blood sugar hormones), cortisol (stress hormones), and others.”

Of course, too much of a good thing can also be a bad thing, so even the healthiest of foods should be eaten in moderation. For example, certain plants and seeds (e.g., flax, soy, berries, etc.) are rich in estrogen-like compounds called phytoestrogens, which some studies suggest can influence hormone levels in females. According to a 2020 Nutrients review, it’s still unclear how phytoestrogens affect the female body1, so it’s best to work with a registered dietitian or endocrinologist if you have unique hormonal health concerns.

Processed foods, refined sugars, and alcohol, on the other hand, are all foods to avoid for hormonal balance as these are known hormone disrupters and can impact inflammatory processes in the body, hormone signaling, insulin levels, and so on. 

What’s more, some food groups (like dairy and gluten) can contribute to unwanted hormonal fluctuations in certain individuals. That’s why registered nurse, holistic nutritionist, and certified women’s health coach Brooke Davis, R.N., recommends working with a nutritional professional “to identify any food sensitivities or intolerances to investigate [hormonal health concerns] further.”

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