Each one of us has had to face our hormones dealing out some really mean blows at least once in our lives. Remember the time you tossed and turned in bed, unable to fall asleep or had to work extra hard to fend off food cravings? If you’re a woman, you’re obviously well aware of how awful those premenstrual syndrome phases can be. If any or all of this sounds familiar to you, you’ve witnessed the kind of havoc your hormones are capable of wreaking firsthand.
When it comes to treating hormonal imbalance and its related issues, we don’t usually think of turning to food as a remedy. But it turns out, certain foods can help restore your hormones’ natural balance to bring your health, mood, and overall lifestyle back to normal. Foods that are rich in protein are particularly important to keep your hormonal levels in check. This is simply because dietary proteins are needed by your body to make essential amino acids that it can’t produce on its own. These amino acids, in turn, manufacture our hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, insulin, and adrenaline.
Therefore, this calls for a list of healthy protein sources to keep your hormonal levels in check. However, before we get to that, here are some basic thumb rules about proteins and the effect they can have on certain important hormones that are responsible for a majority of functions in your body.
Protein And Estrogen
Estrogen is a hormone that ensures smooth and normal sexual and reproductive development in women. Everything that distinguishes women from men – the long hair, our breasts, the curvature of the hips is thanks to estrogen. Our bodies are naturally designed for clean sources of proteins, fruits and veggies, nuts, and seeds. And while meat is an important source of protein, most of the meats that you find at supermarkets are not quite the best for your estrogen levels.
For one, most of the animals that are your meat sources are not free-range, meaning they’re raised on grain. They’re also injected with various hormones, and their bodies may even carry various pests and worms that you don’t want to be eating. Besides, eating a lot of meat also interferes with the microbial biome in the guts. Either one of these factors, or even a combination of all end up raising the levels of estrogen in a woman’s body. And unlike in vegetarian women, who eat a lot of fiber and excrete much of this excess out of their systems, the bodies of meat-eating women tend to hold on to the excess. This is why the estrogen levels in the blood of vegetarians are about 15-20 percent lower than in that of omnivore women.1
Going meatless isn’t an option, for this will bring down the levels of estrogen drastically, which isn’t good for health either. So your best bet is to eat red meat in moderation, along with plenty of veggies and other sources of dietary fiber which will help keep your estrogen levels in check.
Protein And Insulin
While studies haven’t been able to prove whether red meat is the cause of blood sugar related problems, research has reported that women who are regular consumers of red meat report a higher rate of blood sugar issues.2
One reason for this could be that meat-eating people usually eat half as much less fiber as compared to vegetarians.3 And it’s a well-known fact by now that fiber is very important in preventing insulin resistance or block, thus, in turn, keeping your blood sugar levels in check.
Diets like the Paleo diet and Ketogenic diet that allow the consumption of lean meats along with fruits and veggies have shown to occasionally help reset insulin resistance, though the research comes with fairly hazy conclusions.
Protein And Thyroid
All the metabolic functions taking place in your body are carried out by the thyroid hormone. A drop in the thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) comes with symptoms like fatigue, constipation, fluid retention, and dry skin. An overdose (hyperthyroidism) can cause nervousness, unhealthy weight loss, fast heart rate, and increased bowel movements.
Protein sources that are high in gluten content and infected with mercury are the main offenders when it comes to thyroid imbalance. Gluten is linked to an increase in the risk of autoimmune thyroiditis – one of the leading causes of hypothyroidism, while mercury acts as an endocrine disruptor to not just thyroid but also estrogen. It acts as a xenoestrogen, mimicking and blocking our natural estrogen receptors. As for mercury, it confuses the thyroid gland into thinking that it’s iodine since the two elements are so biochemically similar. For this reason, the thyroid gland ends up absorbing and storing large quantities of mercury – leading to mercury poisoning.
Protein sources that are high in mercury content are usually fish from mercury-laden water bodies – namely swordfish, tuna, and shark. Processed and prepared versions of your favorite meats are usually high in gluten content so you need to steer clear from these as well.
If you love seafood, you can go for cod, Alaskan salmon, tilapia, snapper, trout, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, flounder, herring, crab, oysters, clams, and scallops – these are safe sources of marine protein. As far as choosing gluten-free protein is concerned, going for fresh lean cuts of meat are your safest bet.
Best Protein Sources For Vegans
- Legumes and lentils: Some of these may cause inflammation in certain people, so consult your nutritionist for advise
- Pea Protein: Choose one that’s gluten and dairy-free and low in sugar
- Hemp Protein: Particularly helpful for solving gut-related problems
- Seeds: Include lots of flax, sunflower, and chia seeds
- Nuts: Try Brazil and Macadamia nuts; they are less carb-ridden.
Avoid: All things gluten and inflammatory like rye, seitan, oats, barley, and wheat. Wheat-based derivatives like wheat starch, cracked wheat, wheat germ, wheat bran, kamut, semolina, farina, spelt, and graham flour also contain fair amounts of gluten, so you need to stay away from these as well.
Best Protein Sources For Meat-Eaters
- Wild-caught fish and crustaceans: Anchovies, salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, oysters, crab, and clams
- Red meat: Always check if the animals were wild or grass-fed
- Pastured eggs and poultry
- Vegan sources: All those mentioned earlier
Avoid: Processed grain-fed meat or poultry, mercury-laden fish such as tuna, shark, and swordfish and dairy if you’re lactose intolerant
Note: If you eat the same type of food for a long time, your body eventually develops an intolerance for it and will no longer be able to get the same nutritional benefits as it used to earlier. To prevent this from happening, focus on adopting a diet that allows for a healthy rotation of different foods and species.
|↑1||Gorbach, Sherwood L., and Barry R. Goldin. “Diet and the excretion and enterohepatic cycling of estrogens.” Preventive medicine 16, no. 4 (1987): 525-531.|
|↑2||Pan, An, Qi Sun, Adam M. Bernstein, JoAnn E. Manson, Walter C. Willett, and Frank B. Hu. “Changes in red meat consumption and subsequent risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus: three cohorts of US men and women.” JAMA internal medicine 173, no. 14 (2013): 1328-1335.|
|↑3||Goldin, Barry R., Herman Adlercreutz, Sherwood L. Gorbach, James H. Warram, Johanna T. Dwyer, Linda Swenson, and Margo N. Woods. “Estrogen excretion patterns and plasma levels in vegetarian and omnivorous women.” New England Journal of Medicine 307, no. 25 (1982): 1542-1547.|