You may blame it on your hormones — that stubborn acne, those mood swings, the weight gain. But the truth is, hormonal balance is important for so many aspects of your overall health, and the foods you eat make a difference.
Maybe you've been diagnosed with an imbalance or maybe you're just looking to change your eating habits with hormone health in mind. In any case, endocrinologists, aka the hormone experts, recommend starting your day with a bowl of savory oatmeal with leafy greens, a poached egg and some avocado.
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"So much of our hormonal balance is dictated by blood sugar," says Jaclyn Smeaton, ND, naturopathic endocrinologist for Hellowfertility.com. With that in mind, this breakfast is specifically designed to balance your levels.
And if you sprinkle on some flaxseeds, and you'll get an extra dose of hormone-balancing fats.
How Your Diet Affects Hormones
Hormones are chemical messengers that affect hundreds of mechanisms that keep your body functioning, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
The foods you eat affect the production and secretion of hormones, according to the Institute for Functional Medicine. Even minor changes in hormonal balance can have a major effect on aspects of your health (and vice versa).
In particular, your diet affects a hormone called insulin. Insulin controls the amount of sugar in your blood by signaling your cells to use that sugar as a fuel source. When we eat too much sugar, this can lead to insulin resistance or eventually, type 2 diabetes.
Insulin also plays a role in regulating reproduction, per June 2014 research in Physiology and Behavior.
Insulin resistance can affect your weight, bone health, reproductive health and brain function as well as put you at a higher risk for conditions like heart disease. Eating the right nutrients can help you manage or avoid it.
Eating for Healthy Hormones
Keeping your hormones happy means eating a balanced diet of whole, nutrient-dense foods. It also means keeping your blood sugar levels in check. Eating too many refined carbs and loading up on sugar can throw them out of whack.
A bowl of savory oats with an egg, greens and avocado provides you with lean protein, complex carbs, healthy fats, antioxidants and fiber — all of which play a role in hormone health, according to a February 2018 review in Nutrients.
Below are four ways this endocrinologist-recommended breakfast supports happy hormones.
1. It's High in Fiber
The avocado and oats in this breakfast may be beneficial for lowering your blood sugars because they contain soluble fiber.
Studies have shown that soluble fiber supports healthy insulin levels, according to an August 2019 review in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Oats are on the list of foods high in soluble fiber, making them a good option for controlling diabetes, according to a September 2016 study in Nutrients.
Smeaton recommends oat groats as they are slower to digest than traditional flaked oats and will keep blood sugar more stable. Oat groats are nutritionally similar to rolled oats, but they are less processed and have less of an effect on blood sugar, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
2. It Contains Protein
Satiety, aka how full you feel after a meal, is tied to hormone health in an intricate way. Hunger is dictated by hormones that send chemical signals to your brain which tell us it's time to eat, namely, ghrelin and leptin.
Keeping these hormones balanced is a major factor in your metabolic health. For example, high levels of ghrelin in relation to leptin may cause you to overeat, which can lead to issues like obesity over time. This can cause a vicious cycle, as obesity is linked to other hormonal imbalances.
Research shows that eating a breakfast high in protein may help regulate the secretion of ghrelin, the hormone responsible for short-term appetite regulation, per a Feburary 2006 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Serving up an egg along with your savory oatmeal supplies just enough protein to keep you full until your next meal, according to Sapna Shah, MD, a board-certified endocrinologist with Paloma Health.
Eating a high-protein diet has been tied to increased satiety and better weight management, according to May 2008 research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The researchers hypothesize that this could be because of the way dietary proteins affect hormones in the digestive tract.
Protein also promotes the secretion of insulin in the body, which may help keep blood sugar stable and ultimately, support hormone balance, according to July 2014 research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
"High-quality fats can also curb your appetite," says Shah. Good sources of healthy fats include fiber-rich avocado and flax seeds.
3. It May Improve Reproductive Health
Estrogen is a reproductive hormone in both people assigned female at birth (AFAB) and people assigned male at birth (AMAB). For people who menstruate, estrogen is the primary reproductive hormone, and it declines during menopause.
Flaxseeds contain a plant compound called phytoestrogen, which just means plant estrogen. Some research suggests that including phytoestrogens in your diet can help with hormone balance because they act like estrogen in the body, according to a September 2017 review in the British Journal of Pharmacology.
Eggs are also an estrogen-balancing food. "They contain vitamin A (a fat-soluble vitamin) which is critical for estrogen as well as progesterone balance," Smeaton says.
4. It Could Help Your Bones
This savory oatmeal bowl can easily be made with spinach or kale. Smeaton says spinach is great, but highly recommends cruciferous vegetables such as kale. "Cruciferous vegetables have rockstar compounds that help with estrogen balance," she says.
On top of its role in reproductive health, estrogen supports healthy bones. It is the hormonal regulator for bone formation and preservation, according to a November 2012 article in Trends in Endocrinology Metabolism.
Other Bone Health Benefits
More Tips for Healthy Hormones
Of course, eating a single healthy meal isn't all that's required to maintain hormonal balance. As mentioned, it's important to eat a diet that is balanced in all your micronutrients with an emphasis on lean proteins, complex carbs (particularly ones rich in fiber) and healthy fats.
Check out some other tips below.
Snack on Nuts and Seeds
Omega-3s are found in your cell membranes, and they help you make hormones that regulate inflammation, blood clotting and the function of your arteries, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Enjoy a Handful of Berries
Raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and cranberries are loaded with antioxidants, according to The Mayo Clinic. "Berries are also a good source of fiber to support healthy gut hormones and keep them in balance," says Shah.
- Cleveland Clinic: Hormones
- Science: Food as a Hormone
- International Journal of Molecular Science: Role of Insulin in Health and Disease: An Update
- Nutrients: Macronutrient Composition and Food Form Affect Glucose and Insulin Responses in Humans
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Total, Insoluble, and Soluble Dietary Fiber Intake and Insulin Resistance and Blood Pressure in Adolescents
- Nutrients: Short- and Long-Term Effects of Wholegrain Oat Intake on Weight Management and Glucolipid Metabolism in Overweight Type-2 Diabetics: A Randomized Control Trial
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Oats
- Nutrients: Using the Avocado to Test the Satiety Effects of a Fat-Fiber Combination in Place of Carbohydrate Energy in a Breakfast Meal in Overweight and Obese Men and Women: A Randomized Clinical Trial
- British Journal of Pharmacology: The Potential Health Effects of Dietary Phytoestrogens
- Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism: Estrogen and the Skeleton
- Bone Reports: The Effects of Vitamin K-rich Green Leafy Vegetables on Bone Metabolism: A 4-week Randomised Controlled Trial in Middle-aged and Older Individuals
- Harvard Health: Essential Nutrients Your Body Needs for Building Bone
- Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/vegetarian-diet/art-20046446
- USDA: https://tools.myfooddata.com/nutrition-facts/172186/wt1/1
- Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences: Phytoestrogens and Their Health Effect
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution
- USDA: Nutrient Ranking Tool: Omega 3s | Nuts and Seeds
- Mayo Clinic: Antioxidants
- Institute for Functional Medicine: Nutrition and Impacts on Hormone Signaling
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Protein, Weight Management and Satiety
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: High dietary protein intake, reducing or eliciting insulin resistance?
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Effect of a high-protein breakfast on the postprandial ghrelin response