Taz Bhatia, M.D., is a functional medicine doctor, licensed acupuncturist, and the author of a number of books, including the newly released megahit Super Woman Rx. She’s also one of the lauded instructors in our first-of-its-kind Advanced Functional Nutrition Program, where we bring the best minds in nutrition together to dive deep into the healing power of food. You can find out more about Dr. Taz, the rest of the faculty (including groundbreaking doctors like Mark Hyman and Frank Lipman), and this revolutionary training here.
The 10 Definitive Rules Of A Hormone-Balancing Diet
I tend to avoid advice that dictates one-size-fits-all recommendations (in fact, I just wrote an entire book on the subject!) because I firmly believe that everybody has a unique and complex chemical and biological design that best benefits from customized plans that fit YOU (discover your distinctive type here). That said, many women do deal with common hormonal imbalances, and there are many daily food choices that help you to balance your overall hormonal picture to reduce mood swings, depression, anxiety, and irritability; increase energy and reduce fatigue; boost happiness, mental clarity, and focus; reduce weight and decrease hot flashes and night sweats; and eliminate acne and hair loss.
I know this only too well. My own journey to better health began in my late 20s, when chronic stress from an insane ER schedule and lousy food choices had my hormones way off kilter (coffee and chocolate made regular and multiple daily appearances back then). After first trying, and failing miserably, to improve my health by taking prescription medications recommended by specialists, I turned to food as a healing practice—and the success I found turned my life around! What you feed your body and how your body breaks that food down dictates what your total health looks like. That’s because you are made up of a complex symphony of hormones—insulin, estrogen, progesterone, thyroid, cortisol, and more—and these chemical messengers must play in united harmony for you to experience optimally functioning, harmonious health.
It all starts in your gut.
If you eat for good digestive health, you’ll already have a jump-start on balanced hormones. Science now shows us definitively that gut health equals hormonal balance and vice versa. So, eating for your best digestive health and elimination (bulking up good bacteria and reducing inflammatory foods), begins a cascade effect that touches how all your hormones are produced and used. Chinese, Indian, and Japanese medical traditions have known this for thousands of years; we in the West are still catching up! Below are my best tips for eating for hormonal balance, and following this list of strategies is a sample menu, so you can see healthy hormone eating in action!
1. Begin with a shot.
An apple cider vinegar (ACV) and water shot, that is—it’s a great way to wake up your digestion. In a small glass, mix together 1 tablespoon vinegar and 3 tablespoons water. Apple cider vinegar helps with fatty liver and gut health by improving your gut microbiome (environment) and helps you to metabolize fat. Choose a brand of vinegar that is raw and organic.
2. Enjoy a warming tonic.
Begin your day with a one-cup serving of a warming tea tonic to wake up your mind and your digestive system. Here’s two of my go-to’s:
• Lemon Tea: Fresh lemon wakes up your digestive system. Add boiling water to a mug with a green or black tea bag, squeeze half a lemon, and a half-teaspoon of honey. Let the tea steep for 5 minutes, remove the bag, and enjoy.
• Ginger Tea: Ginger, a natural anti-inflammatory food, wakes up your digestive system and reduces stomach upset. Put a teaspoon of peeled and finely sliced fresh ginger, a black or green tea bag, and a half-teaspoon of honey in a mug. Add boiling water, steep tea for five minutes, remove the bag, and enjoy.
3. Include probiotic foods.
These good bacteria are important in balancing your gut (which balances your hormones). They are found naturally in certain foods such as yogurt, kefir, bone broth, sourdough bread, and kombucha (a fermented drink thought to have originated in Russia). Aim to have a serving or two of these foods each day.
4. Aim for 60 grams of digestion-friendly protein.
That means skipping red, fatty meats and maximizing protein from chicken, fish, and legumes. Aim to have 15 grams from meals and 7 to 10 grams from snacks and you’ll be good to go.
5. Don't forget healthy fats.
They are building blocks of all hormones—and are especially helpful with stabilizing the production of your stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Aim to get 15 to 30 grams of healthy fats (extra-virgin olive oil, ghee, coconut oil, walnuts). Many people have trouble digesting fats and can spike triglycerides, so take a digestive enzyme with lipase to help metabolize the fats better (see the next tip).
6. Take a digestive enzyme.
These supplements help your gut break down your food into smaller particles, making it easier to process and to absorb nutrients. Take one or two caplets of digestive enzymes with your heaviest meal of the day. Look for a supplement that contains amylase (an enzyme that breaks down starch), lipase (an enzyme that breaks down fat), and protease (breaks down protein). If you’ve had your liver or gallbladder removed, look for a product that includes ox bile, since it helps with fat absorption and processing. Each enzyme is dosed differently and in different units, so it is often best to start with just one capsule per meal—if the enzyme gives you a lot of gas and/or discomfort, back down to half a capsule.
7. Avoid inflammation-causing culprits.
Inflammation is an immune response that happens when your body perceives a threat. Highly processed foods; refined sugars and carbohydrates; red, fatty meats; alcohol—and many people now find that gluten, lactose, and dairy foods can set off inflammation because these foods disrupt or damage digestion. And again, when the gut is damaged or hindered, it literally switches on an inflammatory cascade that puts your body on the defensive, which then affects your hormone balance and production.
8. Flush your liver.
Your liver is your body’s master filter and detoxifier—it’s where your body cleans out toxins you are exposed to. Your liver, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, is the powerhouse of all hormone production and metabolism—you need it healthy and humming! If your liver is clogged, it affects hormone balance throughout your body. The easiest way to promote a clean liver is to include a green smoothie as an afternoon snack. Green drinks that include antioxidant-packed fresh dandelion, parsley, and/or cilantro further flush your liver. Try this Liver Lover Smoothie: In a blender, combine 1 cup chopped raw or steamed beets, 1 chopped carrot chopped, 1 chopped rib of celery, ½ cup dandelion greens, ¼ cup parsley, ¼ cup cilantro, 1 cup water, and four ice cubes.
9. Protect your thyroid.
You can protect and support your thyroid by including the following yummy foods during your day. The key nutrients to look for are magnesium and iodine. Almonds and dark leafy greens are rich in magnesium, and you can get your iodine by adding sea vegetables like nori or kelp three times a week or by using pink or iodized salt in your recipes.
10. Create healthy plates.
Finally, this is so simple but an extremely effective and fast way to eat healthy at every meal. Use a bowl or plate and then divide it as follows: Half your plate is covered with nonstarchy vegetables (dark leafy greens are great choices), ¼ of your plate with a healthy protein (chicken, fish, legumes), and ¼ with a whole grain (brown rice, quinoa). Aim for four to six servings of vegetables each day, and limit fruit to two servings per day.
If you want to learn more about hormones and aging from Dr. Taz, be sure to check out mbg's new functional nutrition program!