I don’t have to tell you that hormones can be a bee-och: Whether we’re on our period or not, it can feel like we’re at their beck and call. They affect everything from our emotions and mood to sexual function and sleep, after all! The good news is we can keep our hormones in check naturally (music to my ears) and live our best lives PMS-free with some simple tweaks in the kitchen. Thanks to functional nutrition and women’s hormone expert and creator of The Cycle SyncingⓇ Method, Alisa Vitti, I’ve got the holy grail of balancing hormones down to each phase of our cycles, and I’m letting you in on it. Ahead, the foods to hack your way to hormonal bliss, proving once and for all that food is medicine.
How does diet affect hormonal balance?
Let’s face it: What we eat can make the difference between optimal health and not functioning at our best (and who doesn’t want to be their happiest and healthiest self?). When it comes to balancing those pesky hormones, your eating habits make the call. “Diet is one of the main drivers of hormonal balance—what you eat affects your insulin, cortisol, estrogen, and progesterone levels—and so any issues you are having with your hormones, skin, weight, moods, cycle are all tied to your diet and can all be improved dramatically by using food strategically to support and optimize endocrine function,” Vitti explained.
Vitti revealed that women have an unknown second biological clock called the Infradian Rhythm, which we experience over the course of our monthly cycles, and it affects everything from your metabolism, brain, and immune and stress response to your libido, fertility, and cycle. And, yes, your diet plays a major role in supporting the Infradian Rhythm. The moral of the story? “Change the foods you eat and caloric levels to match the four phases of your cycle to optimize blood sugar stability and hormonal balance.” Read on to learn how to do just that.
What to eat in each of the four phases of the cycle
During the follicular phase, the metabolism is slower, so focus on fresh, vibrant, and light foods that will make you feel more energized. Prioritize healthy fats that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and cruciferous vegetables that can help flush out excess estrogen. As for fresh produce, opt for artichokes, broccoli, carrots, parsley, green peas, string beans, and zucchini, which have a lot of the nutrients needed during this phase. Vitti recommends trying these easy, yet tasty, meals:
- Overnight oats with cashews, goji berries, and cinnamon
- Lentil tomato quinoa pilaf
- Chicken veggie buddha bowl
Fill up on raw veggies for fiber and fruit for high levels of glutathione to ensure your body easily metabolizes and eliminates any estrogen surplus. If you experience any cramping or acne during this time, you may have issues breaking down estrogen in your liver and gut. Eating fiber-rich and cruciferous vegetables during this time helps flush excess estrogen from the body. Load up on asparagus, brussels sprouts, chard, escarole, scallions, and spinach during this phase. Channel your inner Ina Garten and try out these recipes:
- Sweet green protein smoothie
- Hearty greens salad with salmon toasts
- Zucchini noodles with pumpkin seed basil pesto and grilled chicken
During the luteal phase, your metabolism speeds up, so you should eat more nutrient-rich calories daily to maintain stable blood sugar, which helps balance insulin (a critical hormone that greatly affects the degree of PMS). Emphasize foods rich in B vitamins to stave off sugar cravings, eat leafy greens to boost your calcium and magnesium, and add roasted or baked root vegetables to help your liver and large intestine flush out estrogen. Think:
- Avocado sweet potato toast with eggs
- Turkey tacos with corn, cassava, or cauliflower tortillas
- Chickpea pasta with garlic kale
Your hormone levels are at their lowest, so it’s important to eat adequate calories and get plenty of protein and healthy fat during your bleed. Protein, fats, as well as low glycemic veggies and fruits, will keep your blood sugar steady while adding fiber and antioxidants. Add in foods high in iron, like red meat and kidney beans, and some seafood or mineral-rich seaweed that helps replenish mineral levels in your body. Whip up the following eats that are sure to get a chef’s kiss:
- Cream of buckwheat with almond butter and raisins
- Salmon soba miso bento
- Bunless bison burgers with mushrooms, baby spinach, and avocado