Estrogenic foods contain substances that mimic estrogen, a hormone that plays an important role in female sexual health and reproduction. Although many of these foods are nutritious and research findings on the potential benefits and risks of the foods are mixed, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, your doctor may suggest limiting your intake if you have an estrogen-related condition, such as breast cancer, high estrogen levels or fibroids.
Soy and Soy Products
Soybeans are rich in protein and isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens -- the term used to describe estrogenlike compounds in plants. They can either strengthen or minimize the effects of estrogen in your body, says UMMC. While soy products may help lower your risk for developing breast cancer, some research shows that it may stimulate breast cancer cell growth once you have the disease. A study published in the "Journal of the National Cancer Institute" in April 2006, for example, analyzed 18 studies on breast cancer and soy between 1978 and 2004. The research showed a statistically significant link between breast cancer risk and soy protein intake in premenopausal women. Rich sources of soy include whole soybeans, soy milk, soy-based meat substitutes and tofu, which is soybean curd.
Flaxseeds are tiny seeds of the flax plant, known dietetically for their rich content of fiber and essential omega-3 fats. Flaxseeds also contain lignans, substances with estrogenic properties. If you have history of an estrogen-sensitive cancer, such as uterine or breast, they may not be safe, says NYU Langone Medical Center -- a few test tube studies suggest lignans may stimulate certain cancer cells. On the other hand, lignans may inhibit cancer cell growth in some people, depending on the cancer type, hormone levels and how much flaxseed is consumed. Ask your doctor if you should avoid flaxseeds. These little seeds are found in whole and ground form and added to a variety of prepared foods, such as certain whole-grain cereals, crackers and breads.
Fatty, High-Carb Processed Food
A high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet can also raise estrogen levels, according to Dr. Christiane Northrup, a physician and author or "The Wisdom of Menopause." Avoiding foods and meals excessive in fat and carbohydrates, particularly saturated fat and processed carbs, can help reduce bodily inflammation, rid your body of excess estrogen and minimize breast tenderness -- a common condition in women. High-carbohydrate, fatty foods include pastries, french fries, milkshakes and fried chicken. Avoid refined-grain products as well, such as white or enriched bread, instant rice and pretzels, which leave little room in your diet for beneficial fiber-rich foods.
Foods to Focus On
When you omit nutritious foods from your diet, replace them with equally nutritious alternatives to prevent deficiencies. Because soy products are high in calcium, replace them with other calcium-rich foods, such as canned salmon or fortified almond milk, to prevent deficiencies. For omega-3 fats minus the estrogenic properties of flaxseeds, eat cold-water fish, such as salmon. And while you're cutting back on processed grains and unhealthy fats, increase your fiber intake. High-fiber, low-glycemic foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, quinoa and brown rice, can help lower inflammation in your body and guard against risks and complications of high estrogen levels.
- PubMed Health: Estrogen
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Soy
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Calcium Fact Sheet
- NYU Langone Medical Center: Flaxseed
- Dr. Northrup: Relief for Common Breast Symptoms
- Linus Pauling Institute: Two Faces of Inflammation
- Harvard Health Publications: Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load for 100+ Foods
- Journal of the National Cancer Institute: Meta-Analysis of Soy Intake and Breast Cancer Risk