If there is anything that this past year has taught me, it's the importance of listening to my body. I experienced quite a wake up call last year and chose to find healing through a holistic journey as opposed to choosing the band-aid approach. I have never and will never look back after choosing this lifestyle for myself that has truly raised my own awareness of hormonal health and how important it is to nourish the endocrine system with foods that work with my body, not against it. With that, I have decided to deepen my knowledge of holistic health by taking a year-long journey with the Integrative Institute for Nutrition to become a holistic health coach. I look forward to sharing the knowledge that I gain in order to educate others and help women that may be struggling with similar issues (from PMS to endometriosis and beyond) to find relief and healing on their own terms as well.
So, quick little ditty on our endocrine system. It's a network of glands in our bodies that regulate our hormones, including responses to stress and injury, growth and development, absorption of nutrients, energy metabolism, water and electrolyte balance, reproduction and so forth. When our hormones are out of whack and we knowingly or unknowingly continue to wreak havoc on them, we may experience deeply rooted issues that could turn into chronic illness or disease. I had always assumed that the heightened PMS symptoms that I was experiencing on a monthly basis were normal, but after they became so debilitating and I was finally able to speak to reliable specialists about it, I learned that those symptoms are in fact not normal and can be reversed with proper nourishment and lifestyle habits.
If I were to sit down with the younger version of myself, explaining to her that my life, and my approach to it, has completely changed through acupuncture, meditation, yoga and a diet that supports my endocrine system and overall wellbeing, she would have laughed at me and asked "who are you?" As with anything in life, it was all things in time before I shifted gears and started putting myself and my health first. When I actually began to listen to my body, I was noticing that the foods I ate were directly correlated to how I felt. That's how I was finally able to realize that dairy was a major culprit in wreaking havoc on my body, inside and out.
Think of your pantry and your refrigerator as your medicine cabinet. You can choose to reach for something that will provide you with energy (think wholesome ingredients and complex carbohydrates) or opt for something that you know will make you feel sluggish (think refined sugars and artificial ingredients). For women especially, how we stock our pantries can be crucial in how we navigate through that time of the month. For me, I know that my body needs extra nourishment, so I usually increase my consumption of fats (avocados, coconut oil), dark leafy greens, plant-based protein, fish (such as salmon), the occasional egg or two (the yolk is so rich in nutrients) and magnesium rich cacao to calm my sweet cravings -- tossing a scoop into smoothies or batching raw chocolate to keep in the freezer for a quick fix. Our wonky symptoms and cravings are the body's way of letting us know that we are deficient in certain nutrients that we need to help support hormonal fluctuations. When we listen, it works in our favor, not against it.
That said, here are some nutrient-rich foods (and recipe ideas for how to enjoy them) that will help with balancing your hormones. Pick, choose, mix and match to find a nourishing combination that works best for you and your palate.
Clean Protein such as beans, seeds, quinoa, lentils, pasture-raised eggs and wild-caught fish such as salmon. And here's a new one for you: millet. Millet is a gluten-free grain (actually, it's a seed) that's packed with vitamins and minerals. It provides serotonin to calm and soothe your mood and is alkaline and easy for your body to digest. It contains a laundry list of beneficial nutrients, including: magnesium, calcium, fiber, B vitamins and antioxidants.
Try experimenting with millet or quinoa in this Falafel Bowl. You can even sub the falafel for a fried egg to create a warming breakfast bowl.
Healthy fats such as coconut oil, olive oil and avocados. Coconut oil contains lauric acid which is extremely beneficial for hormonal production while the fat in avocados helps our bodies to absorb and use nutrients.
You can't really go wrong with how you use any of these ingredients, especially avocados. Use them to make hummus, salad dressing, a delicious anytime toast, throw them into tacos or combine them with lentils for a light & fresh salad (above) to enjoy with grilled fish.
Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale and collard greens. Also, antioxidant-rich vegetables including broccoli and asparagus. My acupuncturist (Maegan Hodge, she ROCKS) suggested sautéing collard greens in a skillet with a bit of olive oil, which I've enjoyed during these cold winter months. Toss them over a bed of spinach and add a source of clean protein along with avocado for a complete hormone-friendly meal.
Collard greens are also wonderful for making wraps and you can pretty much fill them up with anything and everything. I'm loving the sound of these Black Eyed Pea Collard Wraps with Ginger Peanut Sauce as well as these Tempeh Collard Wraps.
And speaking of ginger, spices & herbs such as cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne, cumin, garlic and ginger are so healing and nice additions to any meal that could use a little extra flavor kick.
And of course, cacao (think chocolate). It is so, so rich in magnesium which is one of the most crucial minerals that women are usually very deficient in, especially that time of the month. Which is why we typically have all the cravings for all the chocolate. What better way to satisfy those cravings than with some extra fudgy brownies? They're made with coconut oil and avocados for an extra boost of healthy fats. And trust me, avocados do nothing to the taste, they only add some nice rich creaminess.
You can get very creative with cacao, like using it to make yourself a nice stack of pancakes, an energizing (and libido-boosting) shake, this out of the world banana bread and some nice little energy bites to take with you on the go.
When given the nutrients that we need to flourish, our bodies have an incredible ability to heal and remain in balance. Moods will become stable, energy will be consistent, your skin will glow and your hormones will be functioning as they should be, so that you can go about your life in a normal, healthy fashion.
I encourage you to start tuning in, listening to your body and feeding it properly to notice any shifts or changes over time. There's no such thing as feeling perfect and amazing every single day, and our individual symptoms and needs may vary from month to month, but the more that you pay attention and adapt, the more your body will reap the benefits and work with you.
Feel free to share any thoughts and/or experiences in the comments below as to how you may have experimented with any of these foods to achieve hormonal health, lifestyle habits that have helped you along the way, or questions that you may have as you navigate that time of the month. I'm an open book and am always here to listen and help where I can!
And for further reading & inspiration:
MindBodyGreen: Foods To Balance Your Hormones & Give You Glowing Skin
The Chalkboard Magazine: PMS + The Mineral Deficiency Everyone's Talking About
The Chalkboard Magazine: 7 Keys To Resetting Your Hormones + Metabolism
Be well my lovely readers. You rock and you should know it.