This guide is written by Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, a certified doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic and clinical nutritionist. He is also the founder of DrAxe.com, one of the most visited natural health websites in the world, and has authored several bestselling books including Eat Dirt, The Real Food Diet Cookbook, and Essential Oils Ancient Medicine. His books and programs combine recipes, herbal remedies and lifestyle improvements to help people reach their optimum level of health. His passion lies in helping people get healthy by using food as medicine. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube.
Your brain is in constant communication with the rest of your body every day via your hormones. Your hormones work together in order to help you maintain equilibrium, or homeostasis. Depending on the signals being sent to your brain, these different hormone levels are constantly fluctuating.
There are a number of reasons why you might develop a hormonal imbalance, which can happen at any stage of life. For example, hormonal imbalances tied to adrenal fatigue or PMS often affect younger women. Older women and men experience other imbalances like higher-than-normal cortisol levels, low estrogen, or low testosterone.
What causes these hormones to fluctuate? Well, many things, including:
- high stress levels
- poor gut health
- vitamin D deficiency, tied to too little UV light exposure or obesity
- a lack of sleep, or too little rest and relaxation
- too much or too little exercise
- environmental exposure to toxins
- unhealthy lifestyle choices including smoking, high alcohol consumption, or using drugs
Typically, hormonal problems are treated using medications. They may or may not work to improve symptoms depending on the person. These include:
In some cases, medications might mask the symptoms of hormonal problems and not address the underlying cause.
Many people already lead a stressful and busy life. When you factor in a poor diet and lack of nutrition, it’s no wonder that endocrine and metabolic disorders affect such a high percentage of people.
Try natural remedies for balancing hormones, especially a hormone-friendly diet. It may do a better job of addressing the root causes before you turn to medication.
The energy and nutrients you obtain from your diet are the raw materials your body needs to produce hormones and properly fuel your body. For example, many reproductive hormones are derived from cholesterol, which comes from foods like whole-fat dairy, eggs, butter, or meat.
Also, hormones always impact one another. That’s why it’s said that within the endocrine system “everything is connected.” This means if your body is producing high levels of certain hormones like cortisol, levels of other hormones will likely drop — like estrogen, progesterone, thyroid hormones, or testosterone.
Your body makes most of your hormones from precursors, which are also called prehormones. Precursors serve as shortcuts for producing hormones with less effort and time. For example, the prehormone called pregnenolone (often called a “mother hormone”) can be turned into either the reproductive hormone progesterone or the stress hormone DHEA. Depending on your body’s current needs at any given time, either one of these hormones will be produced, leaving less energy for making the other.
Here’s the thing: If your diet doesn’t supply enough energy or “materials” to make all the hormones you need, it’ll prioritize production of stress hormones first because they’re essential for survival.
Your body doesn’t consider reproductive hormones and those responsible for metabolic functions (i.e., thyroid hormones) as its first priority. Therefore, during times of high stress, you may develop unhealthy fluctuations in your hormone levels.
And stress can come from emotional or physical sources, stemming from anything like not eating enough calories, not sleeping well, or having an infection or illness.
So, how can you equip yourself against stress? Well, you can’t control which hormones your body naturally produces. But giving it a foundation to effectively handle hormone homeostasis through a high-quality, nutrient-dense diet is the first step.
Hormones — which you can think of as the body’s chemical messengers — are produced by various endocrine glands located throughout the body, including the:
Once released from these glands, hormones travel throughout the bloodstream in order to reach organs and cells to perform their many different duties.
Below are some of the most important hormones in the body, along with their key roles.
Cortisol is the main stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It prompts your body to handle sources of stress, whether physical or mental. It also impacts:
- energy expenditure
- fat storage
In both men and women, cortisol affects:
- physical characteristics
- cognitive health
- response to exercise
- cardiovascular health
- blood sugar
And while cortisol is helpful for dealing with acute, or short-term stress, chronically high levels can have many negative consequences.
When you’re very stressed you make more cortisol, but this can diminish your ability to make other hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. This imbalance is what causes negative symptoms, such as insomnia, migraines, and severe mood swings.
There are three major types of estrogen: estrone, estradiol, and estriol. Estrone and estradiol are the main type of estrogen in postmenopausal women, while estriol is the main type involved in pregnancy. Estrogen is considered one of the primary sex hormones, or reproductive hormones, because it impacts:
- physical traits such as facial hair, muscle mass, etc.
More than one location in the body produces it, including the ovaries and body fat cells. And while it’s often thought of as a female hormone, both men and women need estrogen, although women have much higher amounts.
Progesterone is another predominately female sex hormone that’s made in the adrenal glands, placenta, and ovaries. It helps to counterbalance estrogen and regulate the uterine lining in women. It also impacts:
- emotional health
Melatonin is the primary hormone secreted by the pineal gland and partly responsible for setting our sleep-wake cycle, also called the circadian rhythm. It rises at night and falls in the morning.
The pineal gland understands when to release melatonin through your body’s “internal clock,” which is affected by light. Light before you sleep can block melatonin production and disrupt your sleep.
The precursor to melatonin is serotonin, a neurotransmitter that’s derived from the amino acid tryptophan, which is one reason why low serotonin levels are associated with poor sleep.
Symptoms of melatonin dysfunction can include:
- trouble sleeping normally
- daytime fatigue
- brain fog
Melatonin has been shown to offer some assistance when it comes to getting a restful night’s sleep, which is why some people choose to take melatonin supplements as a natural sleep aid.
Like estrogen, both men and women produce testosterone, except men produce more so it’s associated as a male hormone. Testosterone is tied to:
- sex drive
- maintenance of muscle mass
Low levels are tied to sexual dysfunction, changes in body composition, and mood changes. High levels in women can be tied to reproductive problems, including infertility.
Thyroid hormones affect your metabolism and just about every system throughout your body. Changes in the levels of your thyroid hormones will impact your:
- energy levels
- resting metabolic rate
- body temperature
- sex drive
- menstrual cycle, for women
Insulin is secreted from the pancreas and has the job of moving glucose (sugar) into cells in order to lower the amount of glucose in your blood. Chronically high insulin levels are linked to an increased risk for:
- high estrogen levels
- weight gain
- appetite changes
- reproductive problems
How does your brain know when you’ve had enough to eat? Well, that’s leptin’s job. It has a direct impact on hunger and fullness signals, as well as how the body metabolizes and burns fat. It’s secreted primarily by fat cells, but also by many other organs and cells in the body, and helps to regulate the release of other hormones, including reproductive and sex hormones.
Parathyroid hormone (PTH)
PTH is a hormone that’s made by cells in the parathyroid glands. It helps control calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood.
PTH is important for bone health because it tells bones when and when not to release calcium. When calcium concentrations fall below normal, PTH helps to bring them back within the normal range. It does this by signaling the bones to release more calcium and signaling concentrations in your urine to fall.
Signs and symptoms of hormone disruption
So how do you know if you have a hormone-related problem? Some of the most common signs and symptoms of endocrine (or hormone) and metabolic disturbances include:
|low testosterone||low libido and sexual dysfunction such as impotence or erectile dysfunction in men and vaginal dryness in women|
|high cortisol||unintentional weight gain, unexplained increase in appetite, and digestive issues including: bloating, acid reflux, constipation, or diarrhea|
|high estrogen or low progesterone||very bad PMS symptoms or very heavy periods, unintentional weight gain, unexplained changes in appetite, and mood changes or depression|
|low estrogen||vaginal dryness, missed or irregular periods, and mood changes or depression|
|thyroid hormone imbalances||unintentional weight gain or loss, hair loss, and hair thinning|
|low melatonin||trouble sleeping normally, insomnia, restlessness, daytime fatigue, and brain fog|
|abnormal PTH||kidney disease, abnormal calcium levels, changes in vitamin D levels, and poor bone health, including increased risk for fractures and osteoporosis|
Other common symptoms of hormone problems include:
- infertility or difficulty getting pregnant
- changes in your mood, including symptoms of depression and anxiety
- intolerance to temperature changes, such as increased sensitivity to cold or heat
- trouble sleeping or insomnia
- unexplained changes in appetite
- signs of fluctuating blood sugar levels, including nervousness, brain fog, and weakness
- higher risk for problems like endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), or other reproductive issues in women
In the case of people living with diabetes or metabolic syndrome, they have a higher risk for complications such as nerve damage, heart disease, problems with eyesight, liver or kidney problems, etc.
First and foremost, it’s essential to address gut health and inflammation. Inflammation, which is suggested to be the root of all disease — including hormonal imbalances — usually stems from your gut. From there, it can impact nearly every aspect of your health because it forces your immune system into overdrive.
When the immune system is overactive due to high stress levels, genetics, or an inflammatory diet, you may develop autoimmune reactions as your body attacks its own tissue or glands.
And since gut health plays a significant role in hormone regulation, having a gut-related issue — such as leaky gut syndrome or irritable bowel disease — also increases your chances for hormonal imbalances.
To provide your body with enough energy and nutrients so it can make the hormones you need, eating a whole foods diet is key. Whole foods are minimally processed foods that are more nutrient dense. They’re also better for your gut.
Below are practical tips for including more whole foods in your diet, along with tips on which foods to limit or avoid in order to reduce inflammation and support healthy hormone production.
1. Eat a balance of macronutrients
Macronutrients is the term for carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, which provide the calories you obtain from your diet. All three macronutrients are essential for hormone health, as well as digestion, reproduction, and metabolic functions.
Try to eat balanced meals, with about:
- 50 percent of the plate being produce
- 25 percent protein
- 25 percent complex carbohydrates
- healthy fat incorporated throughout
You can achieve balance by including a source of all three macronutrients every time you eat. For example, your dinner may be a serving of fish (protein) with two servings of veggies and quinoa (carbohydrates), drizzled with some olive oil (fat). An unbalanced meal would be one that’s overly heavy on carbs or protein.
2. Reduce inflammatory foods
A diet high in processed foods and allergens can trigger inflammation. These foods include:
- refined grain products, such as white flour
- foods containing gluten
- hydrogenated oils
- trans fat
- sources of added sugar
- sometimes dairy products
Everyone’s different when it comes to what foods they can digest properly. Some may have trouble tolerating foods like gluten, nuts, grains, night-shade vegetables, eggs, or dairy products, while others can tolerate those foods well. An elimination diet or FODMAPs diet can help pinpoint which foods may be causing gut-related inflammation or help you control symptoms.
3. Consume probiotic foods
Probiotics are the “good bacteria” that live inside your gastrointestinal (GI) tract and aid in repairing your gut lining. They’re helpful for supporting the immune system, facilitating digestion, decreasing inflammation, and the production of hormones.
|Types of food that support healthy digestion and gut bacteria||Examples|
|fermented||yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha|
|high in fiber||vegetables, fruits, sprouted whole grains and seeds, and legumes|
|prebiotic||bananas or artichokes, chicory root, oats, garlic, onion, and legumes|
|healthy fats||coconut oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, and olive oil|
4. Aim for 25 to 30 grams of dietary fiber daily
Fiber helps to keep blood sugar and cholesterol levels in check, in addition to supporting gut health by feeding good probiotic bacteria. Moderate amounts of fiber, consumed with lots of water, is usually ideal to help prevent digestive problems or other side effects.
- 12 to 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories (24 to 48 grams for adults eating 2,000 or more calories a day)
- high fiber foods, such as avocados, raspberries, lentils, and split peas
One thing to be aware of is the relationship between fiber and reproductive hormones, including estrogen and progesterone. Very high fiber diets — such as a vegan or other low-fat diets — may lead to lower concentrations of estrogen in the blood. This may be problematic if your estrogen levels are already low.
5. Eat enough healthy fats
No matter what you hear about fats, you need to obtain a variety of fats in order to create hormones. These fats, including some saturated fats and cholesterol, are often thought of as unhealthy or fattening. But they actually have certain benefits when consumed in moderation and part of an unprocessed diet.
Fats help to fuel the brain, support reproductive health, keep inflammation levels low, boost your metabolism, satisfy hunger, and even promote weight loss.
Sources of healthy fats
- coconut oil
- olive oil
- grass-fed butter, dairy, or meat
- organic dairy products
- wild-caught salmon or other types of fatty fish
6. Drink enough water
You may have heard people say to drink 8 eight-ounce cups, but this depends on your lifestyle, age, and stage of life.
|Demographic||Daily recommended amount of water (from drinks)|
|men, 19 years and older||13 cups, or 104 total ounces|
|women, 19 years and older||9 cups, or 72 total ounces|
|pregnant women||10 cups, or 80 total ounces|
|breastfeeding women||13 cups, or 104 total ounces|
Many whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables can also keep you hydrated since they’re high in water content.
7. Avoid too much alcohol or caffeine
High alcohol consumption has been associated with estrogen dominance and problems such as:
- abnormal pancreatic functioning
- higher risk for insulin resistance
- increased risk for liver disease
- lower sex drive
- lowered testosterone
For women, drink only one alcoholic beverage per day, and aim to drink no more than seven per week. Men may drink up to two drinks per day, 14 per week. However, the less alcohol you drink, the better.
Meanwhile, high caffeine consumption may increase cortisol levels and impact the adrenal glands. This can interfere with appetite and energy, causing anxiety, sleep issues, and digestive problems. Try keeping your caffeine intake to about one to two servings daily, such as two small cups of regular coffee.
Here are some of the best foods for overcoming several specific types of common hormonal problems:
High cortisol levels are associated with chronic stress as well as poor sleep, particularly with higher levels of morning cortisol. It’s also associated with decreased immunity, trouble with work performance, and a higher susceptibility to anxiety, high calorie intake, weight gain, and depression.
To balance high cortisol levels
- Emphasize eating unprocessed foods, especially a variety of fruits and veggies high in antioxidants.
- Consume omega-3 fatty acids from fish like salmon, sardines, or mackerel.
- Include foods high in vitamin C such as leafy greens or citrus fruits.
- Eat probiotic foods, fresh herbs and spices, and healthy fats like coconut oil.
- Try adaptogen herbs like ashwagandha, ginseng, rhodiola, and medicinal mushrooms.
- Include B vitamin-rich foods like eggs, poultry, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and nutritional yeast.
Melatonin is used to treat issues related to sleep-wake cycle dysfunctions, besides just insomnia. This includes jet lag and daytime drowsiness. It’s even been shown to have benefits unrelated to sleep, such as treating:
- menopause symptoms
- heart disease risk factors
- chronic pain
- potentially certain types of cancers, including breast and prostate cancer
You can help regulate your melatonin production by:
- waking up and going to sleep at roughly the same time each day
- avoiding staying up all night if possible
- getting enough exposure to sunlight during the day
- limiting or avoiding exposure to bright lights in the evening, such as from electronic devices
Melatonin supplements can be helpful, but it’s possible to take too much melatonin. Most doctors and researchers recommend no more than five milligrams per day, and ideally not for longer than several months.
Foods that contain tryptophan to help produce melatonin:
- dairy products
- wild-caught fish
- grass-fed beef
- turkey and chicken
- ancient grains
- beans and legumes
Low estrogen — linked to menopause or HPA axis dysfunction
Low estrogen is associated with menopause, in addition to high cortisol levels in younger women. Less estradiol, a form of estrogen, is made when stress levels are high and calorie intake is too low, as these things place a burden on the body. Low-fat and low-calorie diets, too much exercise, low body fat percentage, or a history of disordered eating can also decrease estrogen levels.
To balance low estrogen levels, eat more
- phytoestrogens, which are found in fermented soy products
- fit legumes, whole grains, and flax seeds
- superfoods like maca powder, black cohosh, vitex, or chasteberry
- ginseng and valerian root
- magnesium-rich foods, like leafy greens or cocoa
- healthy fats, like organic dairy and fish
Phytoestrogens are foods that naturally mimic the effects of estrogen, so they can be helpful in this situation as long they’re tolerated well.
If you have signs of estrogen dominance, including severe PMS or trouble losing weight, reduce your intake of processed foods, sugar, unhealthy fats, and alcohol.
Increase fiber intake, especially from vegetables and fruit. Consider removing phytoestrogens — mostly found in soy products — from your diet. Aim to eat a low-glycemic diet that includes lean protein and healthy fats.
To balance high estrogen, eat more
- olive or coconut oil
- seaweeds and other greens
- resveratrol found in fruits like grapes
- green tea
- probiotic foods such as yogurt and other fermented foods
Low testosterone — linked to problems like erectile dysfunction and low libido
To balance low testosterone, eat more
- lean proteins
- legumes and beans
- leafy greens
- olive or coconut oil
Some of these foods help with the release of L-dopa, which helps make the neurotransmitter called dopamine, an important chemical for sexual arousal and pleasure. Others help to improve blood flow, decrease inflammation, help the body handle stress, and heighten the perception of the senses like touch and smell.
High androgens in women
High androgens are often linked to problems such as obesity or being overweight, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), or insulin resistance.
Some helpful foods and supplements to combat excess androgens include:
- coconut oil and other healthy fats
- low GI foods, like leafy greens and non-starchy veggies
- fiber-rich foods, like seeds and legumes
- foods high in zinc, like grass-fed beef and oysters
- green beans
- sesame seeds
- omega-3 fatty acids
- vitamin D
- saw palmetto
It’s best to eat a low-sugar diet and keep your dairy and carbohydrate intake to low-to-moderate amounts. Emphasize veggies, high-fiber foods, healthy proteins, and healthy fats instead.
Insulin resistance — tied to diabetes and metabolic syndrome
If you have insulin resistance, diabetes, prediabetes, or a metabolic syndrome, eat a low glycemic index diet. A glycemic index diet includes complex carbs that are high in fiber, as opposed to simple carbs that have been processed or have added sugar.
- processed white foods, such as white rice, white bread, and white sugar
- oods with added sugar, such as jams, desserts, and soda
- too much caffeine or alcohol
Emphasize eating fresh vegetables, some fresh fruit (berries are best), legumes, and 100 percent whole grains. For meats, stick to lean proteins like fish, grass-fed meat or poultry, and healthy fats.
Keep alcohol intake low and drink plenty of water. Talk to your doctor about trying the ketogenic diet, which causes the body to burn fat for fuel rather than glucose, or a plant-based diet which is backed by research for disease prevention and treatment.
Hypothyroidism is marked by low production of thyroid hormones and is commonly caused by the autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s disease. Hashimoto’s occurs when the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, damaging thyroid tissue and interfering with normal thyroid hormone production.
Foods for hypothyroidism symptoms
- anti-inflammatory foods like fresh veggies and fruits
- omega-3 foods
- probiotic foods
- healthy fats
- collagen protein
- bone broth
- grass-fed meats
- selenium-rich foods like oysters, Brazil nuts, and sunflower seeds
In addition to a poor diet, other root causes can include stress, over-exercising, calorie restriction, genetics, poor sleep, use of medications, and toxicity.
Hyperthyroidism — overactive thyroid
Hyperthyroidism is a condition that’s essentially the opposite of hypothyroidism. It’s less common and occurs when the thyroid gland becomes overactive, producing too much of the T4 and T3 hormones.
This can cause symptoms like:
- trouble sleeping
- digestive issues including diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- thinning hair
- irregular heartbeat
Poor gut health, allergies, genetics, stress, and toxicity can all affect or cause hyperthyroidism. Foods that may contribute to symptoms include common allergens like gluten, dairy made from A1 casein cows, sugar, trans fats, and processed foods.
Foods for hyperthyroidism symptoms
- fresh veggies and green juices, especially including kale, spinach, and spirulina
- fresh fruits
- whole grains, if tolerated
- healthy fats like butter, olive oil, and coconut oil
- lean proteins including fish, grass-fed beef, eggs, and dairy, if tolerated
- anti-inflammatory herbs like basil, ginger, turmeric, rosemary, and oregano
- bone broth
- probiotic foods
- iodine for Grave’s disease — seaweed, kelp, and iodized salt
- selenium-rich foods like oysters, Brazil nuts, and sunflower seeds
Hyperparathyroidism and hypoparathyroidism
Hyperparathyroidism and hypoparathyroidism are usually to blame for abnormal PTH levels, although osteoporosis can also be involved. Regardless of the case, vitamin D and calcium supplements are the primary treatments for PTH related problems.
Foods for PTH hormones
- dairy products, raw and organic if possible
- dark leafy green veggies like spinach and kale
- white beans
- wild seafood like sardines or salmon
As noted above, diet plays a significant role in hormone health, but it’s not the only factor. Since stress and your environment can also affect hormone health, the following lifestyle changes may also help.
Take steps to manage stress
Chronic stress actually impacts the body in ways similar to a poor diet, lack of sleep, or a sedentary lifestyle. There are therapeutic and natural ways to reduce stress. Be sure to take the time to relax and reduce tension.
Manage stress by:
- exercising regularly
- practicing yoga
- meditating or praying
- getting acupuncture
- trying cognitive behavioral therapy
- spending more time in nature
- being social
- keeping a journal to vent your feelings
- using adaptogen herbs
- practicing aromatherapy with essential oils
Get enough sleep
To maximize hormone function, try to get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. It also helps to stick with a regular sleep-wake cycle as much as possible, which will help your body acclimate to your routine.
Practicing proper sleep habits, such as turning off lights 30 minutes before bed and avoiding alcohol of caffeine two hours before sleeping, may help.
Take care of your liver
Your liver is very important for hormonal balance, as well as detoxification. In fact, the liver has hundreds of different functions in the body — including eliminating excess hormones — which makes it one of the hardest working organs we have.
To support liver health
- drink less alcohol
- refrain from smoking
- eat a diet high in plant foods
- limit the use of over-the-counter (OTC) drugs as much as possible
Get enough regular exercise
You probably already know that exercise has many anti-aging benefits, but there’s also a strong connection between exercise and hormone health.
For both older adults and younger people, getting regular exercise is one of the best things they can do to take care of their hormones, metabolism, and immune system. However, it’s important to avoid overtraining in order to keep cortisol levels in check. Here are a few more notes on exercise:
Studies have found that smoking or using tobacco products interferes with normal immunological and reproductive processes. Research also suggests that moderate smokers are at higher risk of health problems.
- higher levels of reproductive hormones
- increased risk for irregular menstrual cycles
- abnormal release of hormones from the pituitary glands
- other symptoms of endocrine disruption
Get sunlight exposure or consider supplementing with vitamin D
Vitamin D has many important roles in the body, including aiding in hormone production and supporting the immune system.
Exposing your bare skin to sunlight for about 15 to 20 minutes each day is the very best way to optimize vitamin D levels. Your skin actually makes vitamin D on its own. However, because a growing percentage of children spend almost 90 percent of their time indoors, supplementing daily with about 2,000 IU to 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 may also help.
Talk to your doctor to see if you’re deficient in vitamin D and whether or not you would benefit from taking supplements.
Avoid endocrine-disrupting chemicals
Avoid plastic food containers, Bisphenol-A, pesticides, and some cosmetics. These substances are known endocrine-disrupting chemicals and can interfere with healthy hormone production.
Every person is a bit different in terms of how quickly they can expect to see results and feel better when transitioning to a healthier diet. Initially, it’s expected that you’ll experience some minor side effects, especially if your diet is changing drastically.
Side effects might include:
- changes in digestion, like bloating or gas — especially when increasing fiber intake
- changes in appetite
- increased cravings
- low energy or weakness, such as when lowering carbohydrate intake
- brain fog
This usually only lasts for several weeks and will dissipate as your digestive system gets used to the new foods you’re eating.
Within about two to three weeks, you’ll likely notice improvements in your energy and focus, changes in your taste buds and preferences, and likely some positive changes in your sleep, mood, and body weight. If weight loss or gain is your goal, the healthy way to lose or gain is to keep the difference to about 0.5- to 2-pounds per week.
In terms of what you can expect to financially invest in your new diet supporting balanced hormones, it typically depends on factors like:
- the percentage of organic or non-GMO foods you purchase, which can be up to 47 percent more expensive
- how much you cook your meals at home, versus how much you eat out
- how many animal products you include in your diet, especially if they’re high quality foods that tend to be costlier, such as grass-fed meat or wild-caught fish
That said, ways to save on your grocery bill include buying only food for meals you have planned to avoid food waste, buying fruits and veggies that are in season, cooking from scratch instead of eating out or buying packaged foods, buying in bulk, shopping at farmer’s markets, and joining a CSA (community sponsored agriculture) group.
Below is a shopping cheat sheet to help you navigate the grocery store more easily. While every balanced diet should leave some room for flexibility and fun, the foods listed below provide majority of your calories each day:
Vegetables (3 or more servings, cooked or raw, have throughout the day)
- leafy greens like kale, chard or spinach
- beets or beet greens
- bell peppers
- bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- green beans
Almost all other vegetables will work as well.
Fruits (2 or more servings, for most people)
- berries like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries
Healthy fats (3 or more servings, at least one with each main meal)
- coconut oil or milk
- olive oil
- grass-fed butter or ghee
- palm fruit oil
- sesame oil
- walnut oil
- macadamia oil
- grape seed oil
- nuts and seeds
Other animal-derived foods can also provide a variety of fatty acids, such as organic full-fat dairy products, wild-caught salmon, or other types of fatty fish, and fattier cuts of grass-fed meat.
Complex carbohydrates (in moderation, about 2 to 3 times per day)
- 100 percent whole or ancient grains including brown or wild rice, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, teff, and millet
- beans and legumes like lentils or chickpeas
- sweet potatoes
- butternut squash
- other starchy veggies like yuca or taro
Clean proteins (at least one source with each main meal)
- grass-fed beef, bison, lamb, venison, or other wild game
- organ meats such as liver
- pasture-raised chicken, turkey, or duck
- cage-free eggs
- wild-caught fish including salmon, herring, tuna, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, bass, trout, halibut, grouper, and cod
- protein powders like A2 whey, hemp, brown rice, bone broth, collagen, or pea
Dairy products (in moderation, generally not more than 1 to 2 times per day)
Ideally those that are raw, organic and made using A2 cows’ milk, such as:
- raw cheeses
- sheep or goats milk and cheeses
- kefir or yogurt
Probiotic foods (try to have every day)
- fermented vegetables like sauerkraut or kimchi
Nuts and seeds (in moderation, about 1 to 2 times per day)
- flax seeds
- chia seeds
- hemp seeds
- pumpkin seeds
- sunflower seeds
- macadamia nuts
Herbs and spices (use freely)
Use herbs and spices either fresh or dried, including:
Other superfoods and ingredients
- sea vegetables like kelp or wakame
- wheat or barley grass
- bone broth
- apple cider vinegar
- hot sauces
- vinegars like balsamic
- stevia extract
- raw honey
- coconut palm sugar
- blackstrap molasses
- dark chocolate
- coconut aminos
- water or sparkling water
- coconut kefir or coconut water
- black coffee
- all types of tea including green, black oolong, white, and herbal
- fresh vegetable juices
- bone broth
- wine in moderation
Tips and strategies for meal preparation
Here are more tips that can help save you time, money, and create less hassle when it comes to eating a healthy diet:
1. Learn to read ingredient labels carefully. Try to avoid buying anything that contains many chemicals or synthetic additives. A general rule of thumb is that the fewer ingredients there are, the better. Keep an eye out for added sugars that goes by many different names, including:
- high fructose corn syrup
- beet juice
- cane sugar
2. Purchase quality animal products by looking for the words “wild-caught” (in the case of fish), grass-fed (meat and butter), cage-free (eggs), and pasture-raised (poultry). Organic products are also recommended if they’re available.
3. Don’t drink your calories. If you tend to consume lots of extra calories and sugar from sweetened drinks, reducing how often you have these is one of the first steps you should take. Instead, drink sparkling water with fruit slices, herbal tea, or coconut water in moderation.
4. Add cooked or raw veggies to meals however you can, allowing you to fill up on fewer calories and stay fuller for longer thanks to the extra fiber.
5. Use stevia extract instead of cane or white sugar when cooking or baking, or a bit of raw honey, coconut palm sugar, or even pureed fruit.
6. Flavor fresh foods with healthy ingredients like herbs and spices, lemon or lime juice, and vinegar and tamari, rather than buying foods that already contain lots of added sugar or sodium.
7. Consider shopping at a nearby farmer’s market, or joining a CSA in order to purchase locally-grown, seasonal fruits and vegetables.
8. Make larger batches of food at one time, then freeze leftovers so you always have a healthy meal on hand.
9. Purchase frozen fruits and veggies to save money, or buy what’s in season and freeze it yourself.
10. Practice a “nose-to-tail” approach when it comes to eating animal proteins. Try buying meats in bulk from a butcher or farmer’s market and using as many parts of the animal as you can, like the skin, organs, or bones, in order to make homemade bone broth.
Heading straight into what’s essentially a new diet and lifestyle by switching to food for your hormones may seem a bit overwhelming. But remember that you can take one small step at a time. Try incorporating one to two changes per week.
Everyone’s body is different, but to give you an idea of what this advice might look like in real life, here’s an example of an “ideal day” that would support hormone health for the majority of people:
A day of eating for hormone health
Wake up in the morning about seven to nine hours after going to bed. You should feel rested and ideally haven’t had to wake up much throughout the night — whether due to pain, needing to urinate, trouble breathing, stomachache, or other issues.
Within about one to two hours of waking up, eat a balanced breakfast. Some people may choose to skip breakfast altogether if they’re practicing intermittent fasting, although it’s best to learn about the pros and cons associated with fasting before practicing this. If you drink coffee or tea, have it with breakfast to avoid an upset stomach or spike in cortisol.
|Serving suggestion||Breakfast example|
|healthy source of protein||two eggs|
|complex carbohydrates||grain-free granola, made with seeds and nuts|
|fruits or veggies||fresh berries or sautéed veggies|
|one to two servings of healthy fat||avocado|
As you go about your day, take breaks every hour or so to move around, stand up, get outside, or relax. Most people should aim to eat something every three to four hours in order to keep your blood sugar balanced.
Snack options (ideally, one or two):
- fresh fruit
- hard-boiled eggs
- a fruit and vegetable smoothie
- avocado on sprouted toast
- raw veggies with hummus
Lunch should be balanced in a similar way to breakfast.
Sample lunch options
- a salad with grilled chicken, quinoa, and olive oil dressing
- a grass-fed burger patty without the bun, a baked sweet potato, and cooked broccoli
- some type of veggie and bean soup served with avocado
Find some time to exercise for about 30 to 60 minutes in the day, whether it’s in the morning before work or later in the day. Try to eat something about 90 minutes before exercising, and then within an hour of finishing, in order to support muscle recovery.
Your dinner will be similar to lunch and ideally eaten about three hours before you head to sleep for the night. Try limiting the amount of snacking you do after dinner, and avoid any caffeine after about 2 or 3 p.m. in order to get the best sleep.
Finish your night with a relaxing bedtime routine that helps you unwind, such as:
- walking outside to help you digest your dinner
- doing some stretching or yoga
More sample meal ideas
The more cooking and preparing you can manage to do at home, the better chance you’ll have of sticking with a nutrient-dense diet that supports hormone health. Cooking allows you to control the quality of the ingredients you’re eating, plus it’s also helpful for managing portion sizes and therefore calorie intake. Here are more sample meal ideas using the healthy foods mentioned in our shopping list:
- Smoothie made with unsweetened or plain yogurt, frozen or fresh fruit, chia, and flax seeds.
- Omelet made with 2 eggs, goat milk cheese, and lots of sautéed veggies.
- Avocado, spinach, tomato, and turkey bacon on sprouted whole grain toast.
- Grain-free pancakes made with almond and coconut flour, topped with berries.
- Sweet potato hash made with herbs, chicken sausage, peppers, and onions.
- Mixed salad with grilled chicken or fish, lots of fresh veggies, slivered almonds, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.
- Bunless grass-fed turkey or beef burger, topped with cooked mushrooms, onions, and spinach.
- Fish tacos, made with a sprouted grain tortilla, topped with mixed veggie slaw, and homemade dressing.
- Pizza made with cauliflower or coconut crust, topped with your favorite raw cheese, and plenty of veggies.
- Steak, chicken, or fish kabobs with grilled veggies and a yogurt dipping sauce.
- Salmon, half of a baked sweet potato, and a big serving of sautéed or roasted veggies.
- Bell peppers or beefsteak tomatoes stuffed with quinoa, cooked chopped meat, and diced veggies.
- Crockpot chicken soup or stew, made with potatoes, carrots, onions, and cabbage.
- Stir-fry made with veggies, black beans, or chopped meat, tamari, ginger, raw honey, and lime juice.
- Fresh piece of fruit and a small handful of nuts.
- Homemade energy bites, made in a food processor with cocoa, nuts, seeds, and dates.
- Nut and seed crackers with 1 to 2 hard-boiled eggs.
- Protein smoothie made with your choice of protein powder, fruit, and coconut milk.
To monitor your progress and track whether the changes you’re making are successful, keep a food journal or log when making changes to your diet. This way you can track how different types of meals and habits are making you feel.
Here are some key physical and mental signs and symptoms to look for as you incorporate the foods that will support your hormone health:
- higher energy levels
- improvements in your sleep such as less trouble falling or staying asleep, or with pain, hot flashes, etc.
- more stable moods
- increased libido
- lack of digestive problems such as less bloating, gas, constipation, or diarrhea
- improvements in the appearance of your skin such as less breakouts, signs of rosacea, etc.
- less aches and pains
- better concentration and focus
- increased strength and endurance during workouts
- changes in your weight
- faster growing hair and nails
- reduced PMS symptoms and regularity in terms of your menstrual cycle
If you noticed that eating for optimal hormone health is similar to eating a balanced, healthy diet, you’re not far off! Many of the foods and meal plans for eating healthy to maintain a hormone balance are also good for your overall health. Start with the basics of eating for your hormones to see if you feel any changes before narrowing your food options to eat more or less of certain foods.
Everyone is different, and what works for others may not work for you. That’s why it’s important to check your hormone levels with your doctor before you eat too much or too little of a certain food.
This content is strictly the opinion of Dr. Josh Axe, and is for informational and educational purposes only. It’s not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. Readers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. All readers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.
Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is a certified doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic and clinical nutritionist with a passion to help people get healthy by using food as medicine. In 2008, he started a functional medicine center in Nashville, which grew to become one of the most renowned clinics in the world. You can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube.