Your hormones are responsible for how you think, feel, and look. A woman with balanced hormones is sharp and upbeat with a good memory. She feels energetic without caffeine during the day, falls asleep quickly, and wakes refreshed. She is blessed with a healthy appetite and maintains a desired weight with a good diet. Her hair and skin glow. She feels emotionally balanced and responds to stress with grace and reason. When menstruating, her menses come and go with no or little PMS. She has an active sex life. She can maintain a full-term pregnancy. When entering peri- or menopause, she slides into a new phase of life with ease.
If that doesn’t describe you, your hormones are imbalanced. Don’t despair. You are not alone. Millions of women experience hormonal imbalance. The good news is, you can rebalance your hormones naturally and resolve your symptoms.
As a functional practitioner and the author of Cooking for Hormone Balance, I’ve discovered that the foundation of a good hormonal balance is these three bodily systems: your digestion, your liver (detoxification), and sugar balance. I call it the three-legged stool that hormonal balance sits on.
If you’ve ever tried to sit on a three-legged stool, you know that only when each of the three legs is even and firmly in place can you sit down comfortably and confidently. If one leg is weak or shorter than the others or goes missing, you’ll lose your balance and fall, right?
To get started, I want to show you how you can set yourself up for a foundation to start feeling the benefits in just three days. This plan was designed to help your digestion, aid your liver in detoxification, and keep your blood sugar balanced—all resulting in happier, more balanced hormones.
3-day hormone balance diet.
Upon waking: Drink apple cider vinegar or lemon juice.
Start the day increasing your stomach acid and priming your digestion for absorbing the maximum amount of nutrients from the food you are about to eat. Believe it or not, acid reflux is a sign of low stomach acid, not excessive stomach acid. Dr. Jonathan V. Wright of the Tahoma Clinic, in his book Why Stomach Acid Is Good for You(written with Lane Lenard), asserts, “When we carefully test people over age forty who’re having heartburn, indigestion and gas, over 90 percent of the time we find inadequate acid production by the stomach.”
That’s why I like to start my patients on a healthy acid hit in the morning. Dilute 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice in 8 ounces of warm or room temperature water. Women I have worked with over the years report feeling energized, experiencing better digestion and bowel movement, and even fewer allergies.
Stomach acid is essential to the breakdown of vital nutrients. It allows for the digestion and absorption of trace minerals, vital for good health, such as zinc, iron, copper, magnesium, calcium, selenium, and vitamins B3 and B12. We need certain trace minerals and vitamins for our glands to produce hormones. Sufficient stomach acid will help absorb these nutrients. Stomach acid also triggers the pancreas to produce the bile and enzymes needed to digest and absorb proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. An inability to digest fats well can lead to low cholesterol levels, and that in turn can cause an imbalance in sex hormone levels, such as estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, DHEA, and testosterone.
Stomach acid also sterilizes the stomach, which helps kill off pathogens found in food, and prevents the overgrowth of yeast, fungus, and bacteria. If you have low acid levels, it may lead to chronic bacterial or yeast infections, and you are more likely to become a host for parasites, which cause even more digestive problems down the line.Article continues below
Breakfast: Eat a PFF (protein, fat, and fiber) breakfast.
I’ve traveled to over 40 countries and discovered that healthy people around the globe only eat savory breakfasts. It’s only in Western countries that we often eat the quantity of sugar that amounts to a dessert serving.
To keep your hormones happy, you need good sugar balance—never feeling shaky, unfocused, moody when hungry. Not craving carbs and sugar. Not feeling constantly hungry even after just having eaten.
Hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia are both bad news for hormonal balance. They cause systemic inflammation, which makes your cell receptors less susceptible to receiving the hormones and letting them do their work. High blood sugar levels cause high testosterone levels(symptoms include ovarian cysts, facial hair, infertility, belly fat), estrogen dominance (PMS, fibroids, endometriosis, breast lumps), and contributes to exhausting the adrenals (which not only produce stress hormones but are also tasked with regulating blood sugar levels).
The easiest way to fix that is to start the day with a PFF breakfast, meaning making sure the first meal of your day is full of protein, fat, and fiber.
Women in my practice who follow this breakfast format feel grounded and focused. They don’t need to snack before lunch. They can easily reduce calories (especially those coming from sugar) without feeling deprived. They don’t need sugar or caffeine to “pick them up” at 3 p.m. In fact, many have reported even sleeping better too!
You can do whatever you’d like for breakfast, but check to make sure it contains some form of healthy protein (like nuts, pastured meat or eggs, whole hemp hearts, chia seeds, or more); some form of healthy fat (like coconut butter, grass-fed butter, nuts, or avocado); and fiber (any vegetables are great for this!). I love to make what I call the Farmer’s Wife’s Breakfast, a hearty mix of lamb, greens, and fermented food.
After breakfast: Sip tulsi tea.
Put away the coffee (it acidifies your body and contributes to adrenal exhaustion) and try tulsi, also known as holy basil. This ancient ayurvedic tea is a wonderful tonic and adaptogen that will help nourish your adrenals.
Tulsi tea can be purchased in most health stores, or in bulk online. Brew it like any regular herbal tea; by steeping 2 teaspoons in 8 ounces of water, for 10 to 15 minutes. Overnight steeping will increase its medicinal properties.
If you must drink coffee, have it after a meal but never on an empty stomach. Limit to no more than a cup per day.
Lunch: Make sure it’s cruciferous & detoxifying.
Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, broccoli sprouts, kale, collard greens, bok choy, arugula, mustard greens, cauliflower, and cabbage. They contain a potent ingredient called DIM—Di-indolyl-methane. It helps the liver to detoxify us from metabolized (“used up”) hormones that can cause harm (like fibroids, breast lumps, thyroid nodules, PMS, infertility, and much more).
If you are going out to lunch, skip the inflammatory gluten and dairy in a sandwich, and opt for a fresh salad made with arugula, mustard greens, or baby kale.
Be sure, though, to listen to your body; if you feel like a salad isn’t enough, add some good-quality protein such as grass-fed beef or lamb roast, free-range chicken or wild salmon.
You’ll also want to add some beets and carrots. Beets support the liver’s methylation pathway by helping detox excess estrogen, dopamine, histamine, and heavy metals. Carrots help produce more progesterone and bind the antagonistic estrogen metabolites.
If you go to a salad bar, add beets. Or make this Detoxing Beet and Carrot Salad. It is high in natural sugars, so be sure to eat it with a blood-sugar-balancing piece of protein like chicken, fish, or lamb.
Detoxing Beet and Carrot Salad
Makes 4 to 6 servings
- 2 cups peeled, shredded raw beets
- 2 cups shredded carrots
- 1 cup chopped raw walnuts
- ¼ cup chopped scallions
- ¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Zest of one orange
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt
- To make the salad, in a large bowl, combine all of the salad ingredients.
- To make the dressing, in a jar, place all the dressing ingredients. Seal the lid and shake until well-combined.
- Pour the dressing over the salad and toss until well-coated.
- Serve at room temperature or chilled. Keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
WITH DR. SARA GOTTFRIED
Dinner: Keep things light and early.
An ancient Chinese proverb shares this wisdom: “Make breakfast your best friend, lunch your acquaintance and dinner your enemy.” I could not agree more. Eating late dinner and going to bed with a belly full of hard-to-digest food such as a fatty steak won’t result in a restful, deep, and refreshing sleep.
To balance your hormones, sleep is just as important as food. Your body cells regenerate and your liver detoxes—but only if you sleep well.
Keep dinner light and early. I try not to eat after 6:30 p.m. unless I’m traveling or socializing with some night-owl friends. Experiment and see how different you feel when you eat a light and early meal.
For a light and early dinner, I especially recommend soup. Soups are quick to prepare and easy to digest—a double win!
This green detox soup contains more of those sulfur-rich cruciferous vegetables.
This three-ingredient soup can be customized based on whatever ingredients you have on hand.
This carrot and miso soup contains tons of fiber and gut-healing probiotics.
This immune-boosting soup is mushroom-y and perfect for winter.
I also recommend having an herbal tea before bed, which will support your liver in the detoxification process, helping stabilize hormones. My favorites are:
- Fresh ginger with a slice of lemon (including the rind), which soothes the gut
- Dandelion root tea, a liver tonic
- Fennel tea, supports good digestion
- Chamomile and mugwort, helps calm the body before bed
- Ashwagandha Latte: an adaptogen that can help you fall asleep
Alternate them and tune in to your body to find out which tea makes you feel good and sleep best.
One final note: Avoid eating sugar before bedtime. Eating dessert at the end of the day can cause sugar spikes and waking between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. (and if you eat a square of dark chocolate, you’re consuming a fair amount of caffeine as well.
Follow this plan for three days, adapting it to suit your needs and tastes, and you’ll likely want to keep going even longer, as you start to feel a drastic change in your health!
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