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Hormone Balancing Diet: Nutrition for Your Menstrual Cycle

hormone foods for your cycle

Learn how to eat for your metabolism and menstrual cycle with Dr. William Li

Metabolic Coach & Women’s Health Specialist, Mia Dige sat with renowned author of "Eat to Beat Your Diet," Dr. William Li, where they delve into the intriguing conversation between how to eat for your metabolism and the menstrual cycle. In this chat, they discuss how hormonal fluctuations influence metabolism, fat stores and the significant role nutrition plays in optimizing women's health and overall well-being.

Dr. Li, shares valuable insights, uncovering how certain foods can enhance metabolism during various phases of the menstrual cycle.

Watch their conversation or dive into the transcript - either way enjoy the time to explore how you can eat for your metabolism for each phase of your cycle.

Quick Takeaways:

Harnessing the Power of Food: Optimizing Metabolism and Menstrual Health

Hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle have a significant impact on women's metabolism, affecting how the body uses fuel for energy, taps into fat stores, and utilizes carbohydrates.

From Engine to Energy: Understanding the Vital Role of Metabolism

Nutrition plays a crucial role in optimizing women's health and happiness by syncing eating habits with each phase of the menstrual cycle. By incorporating specific foods, women can replenish nutrients lost during menstruation, enhance iron absorption, consume healthy fats, choose slow-absorbing carbs, and promote better sleep and mood.

Fats: The Good, the Bad, and the Boost for Metabolism

Iron-rich foods like leafy greens, lentils, and dried fruits help replenish iron levels during the menstrual cycle. Vitamin C-rich foods, such as oranges, red bell peppers, and broccoli, aid in iron absorption.

Magnesium and Serotonin: The Secrets to Good Mood and Healthy Gut

Hydration, protein, magnesium, and foods rich in folate (leafy greens, cashews, seafood) and dietary fiber (yogurt, fruits, vegetables, nuts) contribute to overall well-being and support gut health, which is connected to the menstrual cycle and mood. Being mindful of food choices, avoiding processed foods and added sugars, and incorporating fiber-rich foods are important steps for a healthy gut.

Conversational Transcript: 

Mia : Hi everyone, and welcome to our fascinating talk today at Lumen on the connection between our metabolism and our menstrual cycle. As women, we go through hormonal fluctuations during our cycle, and these fluctuations can have a significant impact on our metabolism. They affect how our bodies use fuel for energy, how we tap into our fat stores, and how we utilize carbohydrates.

But the good news is, we can make a difference with our nutrition. We can sync our eating habits with each phase of our cycle to optimize our health and happiness.
Mia Dige, Metabolic Coach & Women's Health Expert

And today, we have Dr. William Li here to discuss the foods that can boost our metabolism during this interesting time. Welcome, Dr. Li!

Dr. Li: Thank you, Mia. It's a pleasure to be here.

Mia: Dr. Li is the author of the incredible book, "Eat to Beat Your Diet," which I highly recommend to everyone. In the book, he explains how our metabolism and certain foods can help us shed fat while staying energized. Dr. Li, you compared metabolism to the engine in our body. For our listeners who haven't read your book yet, could you explain what we mean by metabolism being the engine and why it's so important?

Dr. Li: Absolutely, Mia. Metabolism is the internal process that provides us with energy throughout our lives. It allows us to extract energy from the food we eat, utilize it in specific ways, store it when we're not eating, and draw from those stores, primarily in our fat, to power our lives.

Although we don't think about metabolism on a minute-to-minute basis, just like we don't think about the fuel in our cars driving the engine, it invisibly works to keep us going from point A to point B throughout our day and our lives.
Dr. William Li, Renowned Physician & Metabolism Expert

Mia: That's a great analogy, Dr. Li. At Lumen, we recognize that metabolism is the key driver behind achieving all our health goals. For women, experiencing hormonal fluctuations throughout our menstrual cycle and beyond, from menstruation to perimenopause.

It's crucial to focus on strengthening and improving our metabolism. We want our bodies to efficiently burn carbohydrates and fats. Now, let's dive into each week of the menstrual cycle and highlight the important foods we can incorporate.

Starting with week one, this is when we're bleeding and often experience fatigue due to blood loss and iron deficiency. So, it's important to focus on replenishing our iron levels. Are there any amazing iron-rich foods you can recommend?

Dr. Li: Absolutely, Mia. The choices we make in our diet can help replenish the micronutrients our bodies lose during the menstrual cycle, particularly iron during bleeding. Some fantastic iron-rich foods to incorporate include leafy greens like spinach, lentils and other beans, as well as dried fruits like apples, pears, and prunes. It's not just about one specific food but a variety of options that contain iron.

What's interesting is that studies have shown these foods, such as spinach, lentils, and apples, not only replenish iron but also have properties that help burn body fat, providing more energy and elevating our metabolism.
Dr. William Li, Renowned Physician & Metabolism Expert

Mia: Wow, that's fascinating! We know that vitamin C aids in iron absorption in the body, which many people may not realize. So, it's a great combination to have iron-rich foods along with efficient iron absorption. Can you suggest some vitamin C-rich foods we can incorporate during week one to enhance iron absorption?

Dr. Li: Sure, when one thinks of vitamin C, you think about orange juice for example, but orange juice actually the juice itself has a lot of sugar and sugar can actually have this contrarian event of actually making you feel more sluggish. Surprisingly, consuming too much sugar can make you feel sluggish. So instead of drinking a cup of juice, it's better to eat an orange.

When you eat the whole fruit, you not only get vitamin C, but also dietary fiber, which improves gut health, reduces inflammation, and helps burn body fat. Apples, pears, red bell peppers, broccoli, watermelon, Brussels sprouts, and bok choy are also good sources of vitamin C.

The key here is to emphasize dietary diversity and choose from a variety of foods based on our preferences and availability.
Dr. William Li, Renowned Physician & Metabolism Expert

Mia: That's a great point, Dr. Li. Now, let's talk about week two of the menstrual cycle when our estrogen levels start to rise. This increase in estrogen brings several benefits, including improved insulin sensitivity, which means our bodies become more efficient at burning fat and utilizing carbohydrates. During this phase, it's important to focus on healthy fats.

Low-fat diets can be problematic for hormonal balance because cholesterol, found in healthy fats, is a precursor to our hormones. So, incorporating healthy fats like avocados, olive oil, and other sources is crucial for hormone production and overall metabolism.

What are some healthy fats that you have studied and seen to have a significant impact on metabolism?

Dr Li: Absolutely, Mia. It's interesting that many people associate fats with being unhealthy, but in reality, fats are essential for our brain function.

Choosing the right fats is key. For example, extra virgin olive oil is a great source of monounsaturated fatty acids and also contains polyphenols that can boost metabolism and help burn harmful internal fat. Plant-based omega-3s are also beneficial, and foods like avocados, cacao, and even eggs contain these healthy fats.
Dr. William Li, Renowned Physician & Metabolism Expert

When it comes to seafood, oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies are known for their omega-3 content, which activates brown fat and helps burn white fat.

However, even less oily fish like cod, mussels, and shrimp can also have a positive metabolic effect. So, incorporating a variety of healthy fats from both plant and animal sources can be beneficial for overall health.

Mia: Wow, that's fascinating! It's surprising to learn that foods like cacao and cod can contribute to our omega-3 intake. It's important to choose high-quality eggs, and when cracked open, a rich, deep orange yolk indicates a high-quality egg filled with beneficial carotenoids. These healthy fats play a role in burning harmful fats and improving insulin sensitivity.

Seafood, especially oily fish, is known for its omega-3 content and its ability to activate brown fat for metabolic benefits. However, even less oily fish like cod, mussels, and shrimp can have a similar effect.
Mia Dige, Metabolic Coach & Women's Health Expert

It's great to have a range of options for incorporating healthy fats into our diets, especially during different phases of the menstrual cycle.

Dr Li: Absolutely, Mia. It's all about finding the most delicious ways to enjoy these plant and animal-based fats. 

Mia: Now, moving on to ovulation, we see a decrease in estrogen levels and a shift in our body's focus towards potential pregnancy. During this phase, our bodies become less efficient at burning fat and favor carbohydrates as fuel. So, it's important to focus on the quality of carbohydrates we consume. Slow-absorbing carbs can help regulate insulin and blood sugar levels, preventing energy dips and spikes. What are some slow-absorbing carbs that we can incorporate during ovulation?

Dr Li: Absolutely, Mia. Some great slow-absorbing carb options include legumes like white beans, pinto beans, black beans, lentils, and chickpeas. The Mediterranean diet offers delicious ways to cook these types of carbs and legumes. You can explore recipes online to make mouth-watering dishes with these ingredients.

Additionally, whole grains like barley and buckwheat are healthy and helpful for slow absorption. Purple maize, which is purple corn native to South and Central America, is also an unusual but tasty option.

It's important to remember that these recommendations for the menstrual cycle aren't meant to be strict diets but rather suggestions for ingredients that can enhance our meals and overall well-being.
Dr. William Li, Renowned Physician & Metabolism Expert

Mia: That's a great point, Dr. Li. Now, moving on to week three, the luteal phase, we experience hormonal fluctuations and cravings. Staying hydrated is essential, especially if we're consuming high-fiber slow-absorbing carbs. Increasing our water intake is crucial. To combat cravings and excessive snacking, incorporating adequate protein in every meal is beneficial. Protein helps preserve and build muscle mass, boost metabolism, and keep us full for longer. Dr. Li, what healthy protein sources have you found beneficial during week three?

Dr. Li: High-protein foods are important throughout our lives, including post-menopause, for healthy aging. In addition to building muscle, I look for high-protein foods that offer other benefits. Tree nuts like almonds, pistachios, cashews, and walnuts are excellent choices. They not only provide protein but also dietary fiber, promoting gut health, energy, and better healing.

Beans, lentils, chickpeas, eggs, fish, shellfish, quinoa, and seeds like pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds are also great sources of protein. If you opt for yogurt, choose the pure kind and be cautious of varieties with added sugars. Yogurt is a fermented and probiotic food that contributes to gut health.
Dr. William Li, Renowned Physician & Bestselling Author

Mia: Yeah, you make a good point about hidden sugars in healthy foods. It's important to read the labels and be aware of the sugar content. As you mentioned earlier, sugar can increase the risk of inflammation, spikes in blood sugar levels, and even prediabetes. So being mindful of the ingredients is crucial when buying food.

Now, moving on to week four of the menstrual cycle, it's the second half of the luteal phase, and it's a whole different experience. Hormones are still on a roller coaster ride during this premenstrual phase, and it can be a tough week for some women. It's fascinating how every woman's experience is unique. Some may have severe premenstrual symptoms while others may not face many challenges.

Generally, in week four, right before our period starts, fatigue tends to increase, and we might experience low mood or even be a bit grumpy. The rise in cortisol, the stress hormone, during this week can have an impact not only on our physical health but also on our mental well-being. That's why it's a great idea to focus on magnesium during this week.

Magnesium can promote better sleep and fight the fatigue we may be feeling. However, many individuals are not aware of which foods are rich in magnesium. So, it's important to understand if we need to take supplements or if we can find magnesium in certain foods.
Mia Dige, Metabolic Coach & Women's Health Expert

Dr. Li: Magnesium is a trace element found in various plants. Foods like bananas, spinach, beets, and dark chocolate with high cacao content are good sources of magnesium. Most people don’t have a problem reaching for a piece of dark chocolate.

Additionally, staying hydrated is essential. Drinking water stretches the stomach, which helps slow down our appetite.

Another strategy to prevent overeating and support our metabolism is to eat slowly and enjoy meals with others.
Dr. William Li, Renowned Physician & Bestselling Author

It's a traditional way of eating that we often overlook in our fast-paced modern society. When we eat quickly, it's easy to overeat because the food we shovel into our bodies overrides the signals from our stomach that tell the brain to slow down and stop.

Mia: Circling back to the cortisol, the stress hormone might be increasing a little here during week four. I think it's important to consider what we drink during this time, like minimizing alcohol and excessive caffeine, as they can further raise cortisol levels. It's crucial to be mindful of how our beverage choices affect our stress hormone and metabolism.

Staying hydrated is important regardless of the menstrual cycle, as it helps us feel full and prevents overeating. On another note, I mentioned experiencing low mood and feeling a bit grumpy during this week.

Serotonin, known as the happy hormone, plays a role in boosting our mood. I recently discovered that certain foods can actually increase serotonin levels. Do you know any foods that have this effect?

Dr Li: Serotonin, the "happy hormone," is primarily produced in the gut and has a significant impact on the brain through the gut-brain connection.

Foods rich in folate, such as leafy greens like spinach and kale, play a crucial role in serotonin production. Tree nuts like cashews and seafood also contribute to boosting serotonin levels.
Dr. William Li, Renowned Physician & Bestselling Author

Serotonin is not the only neurotransmitter responsible for making us feel good; dopamine and oxytocin are other important mood hormones.

Including dietary fiber in our meals can help elevate these hormones by supporting the healthy gut bacteria that communicate with our brain. Yogurt containing lactobacillus ruteri is a probiotic source of this beneficial bacteria. Moderate consumption of probiotic foods like sourdough bread and Parmesan cheese can also be beneficial.

When it comes to teas, green tea, low-caffeine options, and chamomile tea have calming properties that reduce anxiety. Pu-erh tea, a smoky fermented tea from southwest China, not only enhances brain function and mood but also aids digestion.

Being mindful of our dietary choices throughout the menstrual cycle can have a positive impact on our overall well-being.
Dr. William Li, Renowned Physician & Bestselling Author

Mia: So just going back to what you mentioned around the connection between the brain and our gut health, I feel like this is a new research out there. It's only the last few years that we've actually kind of seen how connected the two are. Just overall, you mentioned probiotics, but for anyone listening, what is important, the first two steps that they can take now health. I mean what are the two biggest impacts or foods that we can incorporate?

Dr Li: Well, when it comes to protecting gut health, I have a two-step approach. The first step is to cut down or eliminate things that harm our gut bacteria. Ultra-processed foods with artificial preservatives, flavoring, and coloring are a big no-no. These foods can actually poison our gut bacteria, just like pouring bleach on a coral reef.

Added sugars are another culprit, so reducing the intake of sugary foods and drinks is important. Diet sodas with artificial sweeteners can also harm our gut microbiome and lead to weight gain. So, it's best to stay away from those.
Dr. William Li, Renowned Physician & Metabolism Expert

Mia: That makes sense. So, what should we add to our diet to promote a healthy gut?

Dr. Li: Great question! We should incorporate fiber-rich foods like pears, avocado, apples, broccoli, and tree nuts. These foods help build up and feed our healthy gut microbiome, leading to a healthier gut, body, and brain.

Mia: That's fantastic advice. Now, I'm curious about the connection between gut health and the menstrual cycle. Can you shed some light on that?

Dr. Li: Absolutely! The menstrual cycle and metabolism go hand in hand. Let me share three foods that can help boost metabolism. First, tomatoes contain lycopene, which not only improves circulation but also triggers fat burning. Just eating one ripe tomato per day for a month can lead to losing harmful body fat.

Second, beans, especially white beans, are great for metabolism. They are versatile and can be cooked with herbs and spices to bring out amazing flavors. Lastly, tea, such as green tea and matcha, contains polyphenols called catechins that elevate metabolism and help burn fat. Matcha, in particular, is a powerhouse of polyphenols and can be even more beneficial when sourced organically.

Mia: Wow, those are some delicious options! Thank you for sharing. And I love that you mentioned Lumen, the breathalyzer device for measuring metabolism. It's incredible how technology can help us track our progress on our health journey.

Dr. Li: Yes, Lumen is an amazing tool to assess our body's metabolic state throughout the day. It's practical and provides real-time data, allowing us to make informed decisions about our diet and lifestyle. It's a great addition to the advice I've shared, and I'm glad more people can benefit from it.

Mia: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Dr. Li, for joining us today and sharing your expertise. Your book, "Eat to Beat Disease," is a must-read for everyone interested in the incredible properties of food for our health.

Dr. Li: Thank you, Mia. It's been a pleasure. Take care!

Mia: Thank you, Dr. Li. Goodbye!

Dr. William Li, renowned physician & Mia Dige, women's health expert