Certain superfoods can heal hormone imbalances -and get you slim in the process, says Julie Daniluk
Depending on how many decades you've been alive-and how many of those decades you've spent trying to control your weight-you've probably seen many diet fads come and go. The 1990s had the low-fat revolution, the cabbage-soup diet and the lemonade cleanse, to name just a few. The 2000s had the high-protein, low-carb obsession. You may even remember the high-protein, low-carb thing going around in the 1970s as well.
One of the basic principles that well-meaning health practitioners have promoted for years is that weight loss always comes down to calories in vs calories out-that whether you eat a balanced, health-promoting diet of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and lean protein or a bunch of processed junk, as long as the calories are right, you'll lose weight. But not only should you eat a healthy, whole-foods diet because it boosts your energy and reduces your risk of disease, you should also do so because a calorie is not, in fact, just a calorie.
The reason that all calories are not equal comes down to the simple (and sometimes complex) differences in the way calories from different sources react inside your body. The way you process the calories in avocado, beets or celery is far different from the way you process the calories in high-fructose corn syrup or margarine.
The missing piece to your dieting and weight-loss puzzle comes down to inflammation. As recently as the late 1990s, nutrition scientists began to discover ties between markers for inflammation and weight-related conditions like the metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Later studies began to reveal the causal relationship between persistent inflammation and being overweight or obese, in addition to the added risk of all the diseases that go along with obesity.
Of course, some inflammation is part of a normal, healthy immune response to invaders. When you come into contact with a virus, bacteria, toxin or allergen, your body launches its immune defense mechanisms. One of these mechanisms is inflammation. As part of the normal immune-system response, the purpose of inflammation is to heal injured or infected tissues. This is known as acute, or short-term, inflammation. However, the natural inflammatory process becomes harmful when the immune system doesn't appropriately shut off these tissue-rescuing mechanisms. What results is a chronic state of inflammation. Chronic, or long-term, inflammation can manifest as a variety of diseases, including cancer.
Hormones act as chemical signals, communicating and influencing virtually every physiological process. Your body makes about 70 major hormones, and they have the power to signal for inflammation, reproduction, hunger, satiety, energy levels and just about every other function we need to survive. The inflammation at the root of chronic disease, weight gain and obesity is very often the result of hormone imbalances.
The interplay of inflammation and hormone imbalances leads to a very sticky kind of weight gain. I've worked with people who have "tried everything" and yet can't seem to get rid of stubborn fat or else continue to gain weight. It is becoming the norm for people to think hormone imbalances are just part of being human-up to 70 per cent of women deal with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and men may lose up to 1.5 per cent of their testosterone production per year after the age of 30. The good news is that these hormone imbalances are avoidable and treatable when you shift your focus to living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle.
Here are the main culprits of hormone disruption, based on the latest research:
Disruption of normal biorhythms,due to inadequate rest as well as excessive exposure to computers, cell phones, TV and any other forms of electromagnetic fields (EMFs), decreases progesterone, an important hormone.
Eating hormone-treated products,such as dairy from cows injected with milk-stimulating hormones (a practice that's legal in the US, but banned in the UK, Europe and Canada), affects the balance of sex hormones in your body.
Excessive alcohol intakeburdens the liver and impairs its ability to break down and safely convert certain hormones, especially oestrogen and testosterone. Prescription drugs can directly affect hormone production- for example, oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy (HRT)-while others indirectly affect circulating hormones by inhibiting the liver's ability to break them down.
Groundwater contaminationfrom birth-control pills, prescription drugs and HRT.
Deficiencies of nutrients,especially vitamin B6 and magnesium, necessary for metabolizing oestrogen and other hormones in the liver.
Excessive calorie intakeleading to excess body fat, one consequence of which is conversion of various steroids to oestrogens.
Chemicals called xenobiotics or xenoestrogens,found in plastics, pesticides, food additives and many common household products, can affect hormone levels. Some xenobiotics promote the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines like tumour necrosis factor (TNF). These substances are the matches that light the fuse of inflammation, and pro-inflammatory cytokines-the lit matches-set the stage for free-radical tissue damage and the pain so characteristic of chronic inflammation. Some of these agents also contribute to insulin resistance, diabetes and obesity. The link between chemical toxins and obesity is so strong that it's been coined 'chemobesity' by some researchers.
The 'live-it' diet
Many women going through perimenopause and menopause are oestrogen-dominant, meaning their ratio of oestrogen to progesterone is skewed towards too much oestrogen. The resulting weight gain and water retention are evidence of out-of-whack oestrogen. Physical changes are only part of a miserable story that includes mood swings, depression and all-too-frequent bingeing on 'comfort foods'. During menopause, many women also become deficient in the very vitamins and minerals that can help reduce inflammation-vitamins like B6, and minerals like magnesium and zinc.
The reason most diets fail is because self-imposed, temporary food restriction feels unbearably and unsustainably restrictive. Instead of a diet, you need a 'live-it' food plan, a way of living and eating that supports total-body health by relying on whole, healing foods. Unlike many diets-which often emphasize a temporary regimen focused on what you have to minimize, give up and cut out of your normal eating pattern-a live-it diet emphasizes the bounty of choices that are available directly from nature.
These nutrients support the liver as it tries to clear away extra oestrogen and the xenobiotics we're all exposed to. The liver is working so hard to clear all the toxins that it uses up its stores of these critical nutrients. Oestrogen dominance can affect men too, causing decreased sperm counts, baldness, the development of breasts and weight gain.
Men with high levels of oestrogen may also have enlarged prostates, which can potentially lead to prostate cancer.
Quinoa berry granola
I created this recipe so everyone can enjoy the goodness of quinoa, even when they're crazy busy in the morning. Commercial granola is full of fat and sugar. Here, dried fruit is the main event.
If you have a nut sensitivity, use pumpkin seeds instead. This granola tastes great on top of stewed apples.
1 large ripe banana
2 Tbsp tahini
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp honey
2 cups (450 g) rolled quinoa flakes
3/4 cup (175 g) chopped almonds or hazelnuts
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cardamom
1 Tbsp ground flaxseeds
1/2 cup (120 g) dried cranberries, sweetened with apple juice
1/2 cup (120 g) goji berries
1 Preheat oven to 275^0 F (135^0 C).
2 Mash banana in a large bowl with a fork; add tahini, vanilla and honey, and stir to combine.
3 Add nuts and spices to wet mixture. Stir until combined and spread onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, breaking up large clumps with your fingers to ensure even baking.
4 Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour (or longer if you have a cool oven). Stir every 15 minutes to ensure even browning. The granola is done when it starts to crisp up and the nuts are toasty.
5 Remove granola from oven and stir in flaxseeds and dried berries. Allow granola to cool completely before transferring to an airtight container. It will get crunchy as it cools.
Makes 8 servings.
World's healthiest gluten-free lasagne
My husband, Alan, went to Italy on an exchange programme in high school. While there, his surrogate Italian mother taught him how to make the best lasagne you can imagine. I've recreated that famous recipe, keeping the flavour, but cutting the carbs and high-fat cheese.
I use courgettes (zucchini) instead of wheat pasta and the result is not only delicious, it's healthy! Carotenoids like lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene in the courgettes' skin make it a perfect anti-inflammatory vegetable.
Use dark-skinned mushrooms like Portobellos for their higher anti-inflammatory vitamin D content. If you're sensitive to nightshades, omit the tomatoes and serve as a casserole.
28-oz (800-g) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb (450 g) ground turkey
2 cups (450 g) diced red onion
1/2 tsp pink rock salt or gray sea salt
3 Tbsp Italian seasoning
2 cups (450 g) thinly sliced Portobello mushrooms
4 cloves garlic, minced
^1/^3 cup (85 g) chopped pitted olives
1 cup (225 g) chopped basil, divided
1 1/2 cups (350 g) thinly sliced
4 cups (900 g) courgettes, sliced
^1/8-inch (3-mm) thick
lengthwise on a mandoline slicer
4 cups (900 g) fresh spinach, loosely packed
1 8-oz (225-g) package Daiya cheese (dairy-free, tapioca
1 cup (225 g) Faux Ricotta Cheese (see below)
1 Drain tomatoes; set aside. Preheat oven to 175^0 C (350^0 F).
2 In a large pot, saut'e olive oil, turkey, onions, salt, Italian seasoning and mushrooms
over medium heat.
3 Once turkey is cooked (about 8 minutes), add reserved tomatoes, garlic, olives and 1/4 cup (50 g) basil and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated (about 5
minutes). Remove from heat and set aside.
4 In a 9 x 13-inch (approximately 23 x 33-cm) baking dish, layer one-fourth of the courgette strips, then a third each of the turkey mixture, peppers, cheeses, fresh basil and spinach. Repeat with two more layers. Top with a thin layer of courgettes and Daiya cheese. (The uncooked lasagne will be very high because of the raw spinach, but will cook down to half the height.)
5 Bake for 45 minutes. Let rest for 20 minutes before serving.
Makes 10 to 12 servings.
Faux ricotta cheese
This recipe is simply delicious and will bust a dairy craving. If you're sensitive to soy, try it with tahini and increase the sea salt.
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup (225 g) pine nuts or cashews
1 cup (225 g) walnuts
1 1/2 Tbsp light miso or tahini
1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 to ^1/^3 cup (60 to 90 mL) water
1/2 cup (120 g) fresh parsley
1/2 -1 tsp pink rock salt or gray
1 Add garlic to food processor; using the S-blade attachment, process into small
2 Add pine nuts and walnuts, and process into powder.
3 Add miso, nutritional yeast and lemon juice; process, adding water just until the mixture has the texture of ricotta cheese.
4 Add parsley and lightly process until combined. Add salt to taste. Will keep in
fridge for up to four days or frozen for up to three months.
Makes 4 servings.
The best no-bake apple crumble
Don't bother baking an apple pie-the nutrient value is so much higher if you keep it raw!
Make sure you leave the skin on the apples, since quercetin in the skin can reduce histamine response, a cause of painful inflammation.
5 large organic Ambrosia (or Golden Delicious) apples
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup (60 g) dried cranberries
2 Tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 Tbsp raw honey
1/4 cup (60 g) hazelnuts
1/4 cup (60 g) cashews
1/4 cup (60 g) rolled quinoa flakes
1/4 cup (60 g) dried cranberries
Pinch of pink rock salt or gray sea salt
1 cup (225 g) hazelnuts
1 cup (225 g) cashews or pecans
1/2 cup (120 g) chopped Medjool dates
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp virgin coconut oil
Note: For a nut-free version, substitute dried coconut and hemp hearts for hazelnuts
1 Slice apples with a mandoline on the thin setting and put them in a bowl with the lemon juice, cranberries, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and honey for 30 minutes.
If you don't have a mandoline, slice apples as thinly as possible.
2 To make the crust, place nuts in a food processor with dates, vanilla and cinnamon. Pulse until mixture sticks together and is the texture of crumbs. Use coconut oil to coat a 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33-cm) lasagne pan, then press in crust ingredients. Stick pan in freezer
for 20 minutes. Drain apples and place inside crust.
3 For topping, put hazelnuts, cashews, quinoa flakes and cranberries in a food
processor and pulse until fine. Spread topping ingredients over apples.
Makes 12 servings.
These and other recipes are available in Julie Daniluk's new book, Slimming Meals That Heal (Hay House UK, 2014; lb17.29).
Nutrients that help balance your hormones
Why it's important...
The best food to find it in...
Probiotic bacteria, living mostly in the large intestine, inhibit unfriendly bacteria and yeasts in the colon that make oestrogen dominance worse.
Fermented products like miso and lacto-fermented veggies, like vinegar-free sauerkraut (finely shredded cabbage fermented bybeneficial bacteria).
Important for liver detox enzymes and energy-producing reactions: vitamin B6 helps the liver metabolize excess oestrogen; choline, folic acid and vitamins B2, B6 and B12 support oestrogen-sensitive tissues and overall wellness.
Algae, avocados, beans, eggs, meat, peas, seeds and whole grains.
Increases oestradiol (good oestrogen) and decreases calcium loss; prevents post-menopausal osteoporosis by stopping caspase-3 enzymes from initiating programmed cell death in new bone cells.
Almonds, apples, asparagus, cabbage, carrots, figs, grapes, peaches, prunes, raisins and strawberries.
Brassica (cruciferous) vegetables
Containing dithiolethiones, indoles and isothiocyanates that prevent disease and fight cancer, these are also good sources of hormone- balancing nutrients like vitamin C, folic acid, carotenes and fibre.
Bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, collard greens, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, radish, rutabaga, turnip greens and watercress.
Menopausal women may need greater amounts of calcium due to reduced oestrogen. Oestrogen protects bones by promoting calcium storage in bones and so preventing osteoporosis.
Almonds, asparagus, beans, blackstrap molasses, broccoli, dark leafy greens (spinach, kale), figs, salmon, seeds (especially sesame) and tempeh.
Fibre (soluble and insoluble)
Fibre binds oestrogen derivatives (from the liver) and encourages excretion of excess oestrogen through stools. Women on high-fibre diets excrete two to three times more oestrogen this way than women who eat low-fibre, high-fat diets.
Whole, unprocessed foods, nuts and seeds like flaxseeds and chia, raw and cooked vegetables, fruit, legumes and whole grains.
Flavonoids (vitamin C and hesperidin)
Vitamin C and other phytonutrients (such as bioflavonoids like rutin and quercetin) promote liver detox of excess oestrogen; vitamin C and hesperidin can relieve hot flashes.
Amla (Indian gooseberry), berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, citrus fruit, kale, kiwi fruit, kohlrabi, mango, papaya, peas (especially raw in the pod, like snow peas, sugar peas), pineapple and sweet potato.
Eases irritability, anxiety, mood swings and insomnia, helps bones absorb calcium, raises good HDL cholesterol, and reduces premenstrual symptoms and menstrual cramps. Women taking 200 mg/day of magnesium for two months reported significantly reduced PMS symptoms due to oestrogen dominance, including fluid retention, weight gain, swelling of extremities, breast tenderness and abdominal bloating.
Almonds, cashews, halibut, spinach, pumpkin seeds, lentils, avocados, figs, raw cocoa beans, escarole, quinoa, teff, kale, kelp and hemp hearts.
Reduce inflammation, blood pressure and depression, slow heart rate, balance hormone production, increase metabolism, reduce fat storage, promote liver detox and bowel regularity, ease menstrual cramps, and protect women and men against hormone-sensitive cancers.
Cold-water and deep-sea fish, anchovies, herring,
mackerel and sardines; fish-oil supplements should be sustainable and tested for heavy metals; algae, Echium, flax, hemp, chia and sacha inchi seeds are good vegetarian sources, but must be supplemented with vitamin B6, magnesium and zinc.
Powerful antioxidant that reduces inflammation, promotes liver health and function, protects cells and cell membranes from free-radical damage, maintains cardiovascular health, relieves hot flashes and alleviates vaginal dryness. Vitamin E supplementation in 105 breast-cancer survivors (who had at least two or three hot flashes daily) led to improvement of symptoms.
Asparagus, avocado, brown rice, egg yolk, lima beans, nuts, peas, seeds and sweet potato.
These plant phenols reduce hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Metabolized into phytohormones, they help balance hormones, inactivate excess oestrogens and displace xenoestrogens, and also decrease reuptake of oestrogens and testosterone in the colon. When 21 women ate 4 Tbsp of ground flaxseeds every day for six days, their hot-flash frequency was cut in half. They also reported improved mood, reduced muscle pain, fewer chills and less sweating.
Gluten-free grains and raw seeds (hemp seeds, chia), and fruit and vegetables like broccoli and berries (modest amounts). Flaxseeds and sesame seeds are rich sources; buy whole fresh flaxseeds, grind them in a coffee grinder and sprinkle over cereal or salads.