We all know it’s important to eat a balanced diet to keep our minds and bodies nourished.
But scientists think certain foods may also play an important role in the health of our hormones.
Knowing which hormone-balancing foods to choose, and what to avoid, may be the key to reducing PMS and menopause symptoms.
The best foods for hormonal health
They’re not just a great way to boost your fibre. Wholegrain foods, such as porridge oats, wheatgerm and bran, are also rich in vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, and B2, riboflavin.
A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2011 found that women who consumed the most thiamine from their diets were 25% less likely to suffer PMS, and for women whose diets provided the most riboflavin, their incidence of PMS was reduced by as much as 35%.
It’s thought these vitamins help because they’re needed to produce the neurotransmitters, chemical messages that carry information between brain cells, that are involved in PMS.
Wholegrain foods also help keep your blood sugar steady, which can help level out premenstrual mood swings.
Read more: The best supplements to fight PMS
Nuts, flaxseed, oily fish and green leafy vegetables aren’t just healthy foods – they’re all good sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids and may actually ease cramps.
A 2012 study published in the International Journal of Gynaecology & Obstetrics gave 100 young women who experienced period pains a daily omega-3 capsule for three months.
The results showed that the omega-3 was incredibly effective at reducing the intensity of their menstrual cramps.
Dried figs, dates, apricots, plus other dried fruits, are high in iron.
A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2013 found iron-rich fruit and veg could help prevent PMS. Researchers think this may be because iron is involved in the production of the feel-good chemical serotonin.
Dried and fresh fruit and veg also contain lots of fibre, and a high-fibre diet has been credited with reducing levels of oestrogen, which can help keep your hormone levels steady.
Handpicked content: What you need to know about dried fruits
Tofu, soya beans, soya drink or milk and other foods made from soy protein are rich in phytoestrogens – or plant oestrogens – which may have a balancing effect on hormones.
Some menopausal women have reported that consuming soy isoflavones, which are compounds found in soya foods, has helped reduce both the frequency and intensity of their hot flushes.
Some people may not be so keen on the taste, but there’s no doubting the hormone health benefits of cruciferous veg, like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage.
These vegetables contain a substance called glucobrassicin, which breaks down when we eat it into indole-3-carbinol (I3C).
Scientists at Oregon State University in the USA reported that I3C has an anti-oestrogenic effect inside our bodies, helping to rebalance our hormones.
…and the worst foods
White bread, sugary drinks, cakes and other foods with a high glycaemic index can cause a surge in blood sugar.
You’re particularly sensitive to these rises and falls in blood glucose before your period, which can lead to upsetting mood swings.
Choose ‘brown’ versions of foods instead, such as granary bread and brown rice, as these will have a low glycaemic index.
Researchers think that booze has an oestrogenic effect on the body, disrupting our hormones. Some women also find that alcohol can worsen menopause symptoms, such as hot flushes.
Your cuppas and colas could be triggering hot flushes and night sweats once you’ve been through the menopause.
Scientists at the Women’s Health Clinic at the Mayo Clinic in America surveyed around 2,500 women with menopausal symptoms.
They found that women who had been through the menopause who regularly drank caffeinated drinks, like tea and coffee, were more likely to experience night sweats and hot flushes.
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
Last updated: 22 September 2021