Wondering what you should eat for balanced hormones? The most common question I get as a dietitian is: “what should I eat?” To be perfectly honest, the answer often is: “it depends!” Nutrition is highly individual, but I wanted to put together some basics that almost everyone could benefit from.
Whether you have PCOS, hypothyroidism, hormonal imbalances, or are simply looking for ways to feel more satisfied and energized, then this framework is for you! This is often one of the first things I focus on with my clients because balanced meals are an important foundation to build upon.
Let’s start out with the basics. Macronutrients are the substances in food that we need in large amounts (macro) to provide us with energy. There are 3 different macronutrients:
What are each of these macronutrients important for? What do they do for our bodies?
Carbohydrates or “carbs” are the body’s main source of energy. Carbs are needed for brain function, mood stabilization, memory, digestion, conversion of thyroid hormones, & regulation of blood sugar. Carbs can be classified as “simple” or “complex,” which are basically categorized depending on how quickly they are broken down into sugar in the body. This has to do with the fiber content within carbohydrates. Carbs are the only macronutrient that contain fiber, which is essential for digestion and gut health. Fiber also slows down the release of sugar into our bloodstream because it takes longer to digest.
Take table sugar versus a sweet potato. Both are carbohydrates, however, the table sugar does not contain fiber, whereas the sweet potato does. The table sugar is considered a “simple” carbohydrate because it is quickly broken down in the body and will likely raise blood sugar fairly quickly. The sweet potato, on the other hand, will take longer to digest because of the fiber content, and therefore will release a slower, more consistent amount of sugar into the bloodstream over time versus a quick spike.
This is not to say that all simple carbs are bad! Sometimes we need that quick boost of energy or we need to increase a low blood sugar. One is not inherently better than the other. However, in order to prevent low blood sugars and to keep ourselves satisfied and satiated, it’s better to have more complex carbohydrates in our diets.
Carbs often have a bad reputation because they are vilified by many diets. When it comes to hormone health for those who menstruate, our bodies NEED carbohydrates. They are necessary for regular menstrual cycles, controlled blood sugars, good sleep, energy, fertility, and balanced hormones. The key is to balance carbohydrates with the other macronutrients, which I’ll talk about below.
Fats are the building blocks of our hormones! AKA we need them in our diets. Fat is also important for regulating body temperature, helps stabilize blood sugar by slowing digestion of carbohydrates, important for absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K, promotes healthy skin, essential for brain function, protects your organs, and fats are also a backup source of energy.
This is yet another nutrient I’ve seen demonized by diet culture. No, fat will not make you fat! If anything, fat actually contributes to that satisfaction factor at meals and snacks and can keep you fuller for longer.
Ideally, we want to get our fats in the most whole form, and not super processed or refined.
Probably the least controversial of the macronutrients is protein, yet I consistently see women not eating enough of it. Protein also helps keep your blood sugar stable when combined with carbs and fats. It helps keep you full, promotes muscle growth and maintenance of lean muscle mass, and is important for stimulating your metabolism.
In general, it is good to get a variety of protein sources from both animals and plants. There are many micronutrients in animal proteins that are not in plant sources. Animal proteins also tend to have more bioavailable forms of nutrients, which means your body is able to absorb and use them better. When possible, opting for organic, grass-fed, or free range sources of animal protein ensures you’re getting good quality and the highest amount of nutrients.
Not technically a macronutrient, but important to include with all (or most) meals! Veggies have fiber in them, and as I mentioned above, fiber is incredibly important for blood sugar balance, balancing hormones, satiety, and gut health. The greater variety of vegetables in the diet, the better! I like to think about what we can add to the diet and not what we need to take out. If that works for you, think about where you might add some more vegetables.
Now that you know the basics, let’s put it all together. Ideally, at a meal, we should have one of every category listed above. For snacks, pick at least 2.
A balanced meal could look very different from day to day and meal to meal, so let’s show a few examples.
1. Salmon Dinner
Fat: Dressing and Salmon
Protein: Protein Powder
Carb: Frozen berries
Fat: Almond butter
Carb: Roasted Sweet potatoes
Fat: Butter to scramble eggs
Veggie: Mushrooms, tomatoes, onions
4. Burrito Bowl:
Carb: Brown Rice
Veggie: Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers
5. Stuffed Squash
Protein: Ground turkey
Carb: Acorn Squash
Fat: Avocado oil for cooking
Veggie: Kale, onions, mushrooms, celery
Remember, not every single meal is going to look perfect all the time. Practicing this framework can help you feel more satisfied with meals and have sustained energy throughout the day. It is possible to have balanced hormones, and the first step is balancing your plate!