The term “hormone balance” is everywhere lately. But while influencers sell fertility-friendly supplements and skincare brands promise to nix your hormonal acne, the truth is that hormonal balance doesn’t come from a quick fix.
Below, we’re serving up 10 science-backed nutrition tips that actually support healthy hormone levels.
What is “Hormonal Balance?
The answer is there’s no real definition of “hormonal balance.” Hormonal imbalances are easier to pin down.
When levels of hormones – which are chemical messengers within the body – get out of whack, the body reacts in various ways. Here are a few common types of hormonal imbalances and their associated signs and symptoms:
- High estrogens → Breast tenderness, heavy periods, menstrual migraines, mood swings, short menstrual cycles, bloating
- Low estrogens → Brain fog, depression, low bone density, headaches, hot flashes, irritability
- Low progesterone → Anxiety, constipation, cycle breast pain, long or irregular menstrual cycles, low sex drive, bloating, fertility struggles
- High testosterone → Acne, anxiety, blood sugar issues, depression, hair loss and/or hair growth in undesirable places, oily skin/hair, irritability, fertility struggles
- High cortisol → Anxiety, irregular periods, increased visceral adipose tissue (AKA belly fat), sleep struggles, intense cravings for sugary, salty, and fatty foods
Don’t freak out if these signs hit close to home – symptoms like anxiety, cravings, and constipation can be due to a whole host of root causes. Still, if you’ve been dealing with discomfort that feels hormonally linked, we recommend asking your doctor to order labs and assess your hormone levels.
What to Eat for Hormone Balance
Spoiler alert: Despite what you see on IG, no single food or supplement is “hormone-balancing.” Trust us, we wish it were that easy too. Instead, it’s our overall diet and lifestyle choices that help our hormones thrive. Here are our top 10 nutrition tips for healthy hormones.
1. Go Fish
The healthy fats found in fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and rainbow trout have been linked to more regular ovulation and less painful periods. Why? The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA help drive down inflammation in the body, including in the uterus where inflammation may exacerbate menstrual pain.
TIP: Aim to eat two to three four-ounce servings of fatty fish weekly for hormone benefits. Not obsessed with seafood? Talk to your RD about integrating a daily fish oil supplement instead.
2. Make Flax Your BFF
In addition to being full of heart healthy fats and fiber, flax seeds also act as phytoestrogens in the body. Phytoestrogens are plant-based compounds that can mimic the hormone estrogen in the body. If estrogen levels are too high, phytoestrogens can bind to estrogen receptors to block the effects of true estrogen in the body. On the flip side, if estrogen levels are too low, phytoestrogens might help stimulate the effects of true estrogen in the body. Consider it a win-win.
TIP: Include two to four tablespoons of ground flax seeds (which are better digested than whole flax seeds) in your daily diet. Add the nutty ingredient to smoothies or oatmeal bowls for a hormone-friendly boost.
3. Be Mindful of Booze
Alcohol ain’t it when it comes to hormonal balance. In fact, alcohol abuse has been associated with infertility and low libido, as well as altered levels of the thyroid hormones T3 and T4.
TIP: Women should stick to 1 drink (think: 1.5 ounces of liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer) per day at the max. Even better, limit alcohol to just one or two nights weekly – or skip it entirely.
4. Choose Quality Carbs
ICYMI, blood sugar spikes and crashes can exacerbate hormonal imbalances, since an increase in circulating insulin is associated with an increase in testosterone production in the ovaries. Dips and valleys in blood sugar levels can also mess with the amount of the stress hormone called cortisol in the body. Because our systems’ get stressed when they aren’t being adequately nourished.
Finally, mood swings are in part caused by a decrease in serotonin levels in the brain during the premenstrual phase. But guess what boosts serotonin levels? Carbs. (You’re welcome.)
TIP: Aim to eat every three to four hours throughout the day and choose high-quality, slow-to-digest carbohydrates that promote steady energy levels. Fruits, vegetables, and legumes are all great high-fiber choices. As far as our fave starches, we’re all about oats, brown rice, sweet potatoes, quinoa, and whole wheat bread or wraps.
5. Know Your Nutrients
If you’re struggling with signs of hormonal imbalance, it’s important to know which nutrients matter most depending on your primary challenge.
TIP: You may want to include iron-rich foods like lean ground beef around your menstrual cycle if you deal with heavy periods that lead to significant blood loss. Already on your fertility journey? Make sure you’re regularly eating folate-rich foods (think: leafy greens, avocado and peanut butter) as the nutrient is critical for healthy fetal development.
6. Banish Bloat
Real talk: Being bloated sucks. You can thank dips in estrogen levels leading up to menstruation for that pesky puffiness.
TIP: Beat bloat by hydrating often. We recommend drinking half of your weight in ounces of water daily (so, at least 75 ounces of H2O for a 150-lb woman). It’s also a good idea to load up on potassium-rich foods like bananas, spinach, avocado, Greek yogurt, beans, and potatoes since the electrolyte works in opposition to sodium, meaning it helps fight fluid retention. Natural diuretics like cucumber, parsley, cilantro and dandelion tea are also welcome.
7. Go Big on Fiber
Having a bowel movement every day helps keep estrogen levels in check by regularly removing excess hormones from the body.
TIP: Make sure you’re consuming a minimum of 25 grams of fiber per day with healthy whole foods like chia seeds, avocado, leafy greens, beans, flax (duh), berries, and whole grains.
8. Press Pause on Ultra-Processed Foods
Remember how we said anti-inflammatory foods are great for healthy hormones? It should come as no surprise that proinflammatory foods are bad news for hormonal balance. Ultra-processed snacks like chips are sky-high in sodium that exacerbates bloating, while sugary treats can make those aforementioned blood sugar spikes even more pronounced.
TIP: Prioritize whole foods as much as possible and avoid packaged eats that list endless ingredients on their labels, especially “partially hydrogenated oils,” or trans-fats, which are particularly proinflammatory.
9. Be Smart About Supplements
No single supplement will fix your hormone problems, but certain nutrients have been shown to alleviate symptoms. Inositol, for example, may promote more regular ovulation and improve insulin sensitivity in women with PCOS. Vitamin B6 is another option for those dealing with severe mood swings, breast pain, or bloating during the premenstrual phase.
TIP: Don’t blindly take supplements! Talk to your doctor or a Culina Health registered dietitian to determine the best supplement regimen for you. That’s it. That’s the tip.
10. De-Stress & Move More
Don’t forget that healthy lifestyle habits are key for hormonal balance too. Research shows that exercising regularly may help lower testosterone levels, improve ovulation, increase metabolism, and support more regular menstrual cycles. Adequate sleep also contributes to better insulin sensitivity and reduces next-day cravings and caloric intake.
TIP: Engage in moderate to intense physical activity for at least 150 minutes every week (or 200-300 minutes if weight loss is your goal). And aim to clock at least seven hours of shuteye nightly.
The Bottom Line
There is no single food, diet, or supplement that is “hormone-balancing.” Instead, it’s the sum of our nutrition and lifestyle choices that support healthy hormone levels in the body. Try your best to emphasize whole foods that nourish the body and promote blood sugar stability. And yes, you can eat some chocolate when cravings come on strong! Go for a couple squares of 70% dark chocolate, pair it with some almonds, and you’re golden, girl.