Updated: Jan 14
Nutrients found in whole foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are fuel and instructions for hormone production in the body. There are certain foods everyone should limit or avoid, such as added sugars and highly processed foods; but what foods are helpful for hormone balance?
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Before we dive into the foods that help keep hormones healthy and balanced, let's first touch on a couple important factors that can disrupt hormones. Factors include chemicals found in our environment through the air, water, foods, personal care products, cleaning products, and even fragrances.
We also can positively and negatively disrupt hormones through changes in our diet, lifestyle, and most importantly stress.
Now that we have a better idea as to what may be negatively affecting our hormones, let's focus on a few foods (seeds) in particular that can be a huge help in regulating menstrual cycles, PMS symptoms, mood changes, and overall nutrients.
Nutrients found in whole foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are fuel and instructions for hormone production in the body. This means eating a diet rich in whole foods and particularly plants can be one of the most beneficial changes you can make. But to get more specific and keep recommendations simple I want to focus on seeds you can incorporate into your daily diet to help balance hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Seed Cycling is the practice of adding in 2 tablespoons of specific seeds daily. There are a variety of ways you can add in seeds to your diet. I included my favorite ways at the end of this article.
What is Seed Cycling?
Seed cycling is eating a small amount of specific seeds daily according to where you are in your menstrual cycle. The seeds used in seed cycling are pumpkin, flax, sesame, and sunflower. These seeds have specific properties that help to promote estrogen and progesterone production properly.
Let's start with the two main parts of your menstrual cycle, the follicular and luteal phases.
The Follicular Phase begins on day 1 of your cycle (first day of your period), and goes until ovulation occurs. Ovulation can range anywhere from day 11 to day 21. If you are not sure when you ovulate but you have a normal 27-32 day cycle, use day 15 as your ovulation day.
During the follicular phase, we want our bodies to be making more estrogen than progesterone. Pumpkin and flax seeds contain phytoestrogens, which are the plant's natural estrogen.
Phytoestrogens help to support estrogen balance, as well as help to clear excess estrogen from the body to prevent imbalance. Pumpkin and flax are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids and zinc to help reduce inflammation, support the immune system, and produce follicle stimulating hormone (FSH).
The Luteal Phase begins the day after ovulation and continues until the end of your cycle, when you get your period. Typical cycle lengths can range from 27 days to 35 days.
During the luteal phase, we want our bodies to be making more progesterone. Sesame and sunflower seeds are high in lignans, which help to keep the proper balance of progesterone to estrogen.
Sesame seeds are rich in zinc and sunflower seeds are rich in vitamin E. These two nutrients together help to support progesterone production. These seeds also both contain selenium and omega-6 fatty acids, which convert to gamma-linolenic acid in the body - another nutrient that helps to promote progesterone levels.
What if you aren't getting your period? You have irregular cycles, PCOS, or are in menopause?
If you do not menstruate monthly or are in menopause, you can start seed rotation at any time and follow an ideal follicular phase (days 1-14) and luteal phase (days 15-30)
How to Start Seed Cycling
We are splitting up the seeds into two cycles, the folliculare phase and the luteal phase. The follicular phase is the first half of your menstrual cycle before ovulation occurs. The luteal phase is the second half of your cycle, after ovulation occurs.
If you are not sure when you ovulate, we can estimate. To do this let's take the average number of days your cycle lasts, for example let's say your cycle is 30 days. We can estimate that ovulation occurs 14 days before your period, so in this case that would be day 16.
Follow the follicular phase seeds from days 1 to 15, then switch to the luteal phase seeds days 16 to 30 or until you get your period. If your cycle is irregular, then you will want to follow this strict schedule for seed cycling to try and get your body on a monthly cycle.
Days 1-14, Follicular Phase: add 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds + 1 tablespoon flax seeds daily to a meal, smoothie, yogurt, or see below for other options.
Days 15-30, Luteal Phase: add 1 tablespoon sesame seeds + 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds daily to a meal, smoothie, yogurt, or see below for other options.
Keep in Mind: Natural support of hormone balance takes time. It may be a few months of seed cycling before you see any change or benefit. I recommend tracking your cycle and symptoms, so you can more easily monitor changes.
Tips to Purchasing and Storing Seeds
Purchase raw, organic seeds for the highest quality and to ensure potency of nutrients
Store seeds in a cool, dark place away from sunlight and warm temperatures because seeds are high in fats and they can oxidize easily.
Grinding your seeds fresh daily is best, but if you are unable to do so you can grind seeds ahead for the week and store in the freezer to prevent oxidation.
My Favorite Ways to Add Seeds to Your Diet
Try them in a smoothie, salad, soup, or grain bowl. If you’re eating them with warm foods, add them to the dish after cooking to avoid denaturing the nutrients.
Add seeds to a smoothie
Add seeds to your oatmeal or yogurt
Grind seeds up to make seed butter and spread on fruit or toast
Sprinkle seeds on a salad or in a wrap
Add seeds to overnight oats or avocado pudding
Make energy bites and add seeds to bites (make sure to measure enough to get 1 tbsp. each seed in one serving of bites)
Roast sweet potatoes and sprinkle on top, or on a baked sweet potato
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Liz Riesen, Registered Dietitian
specializes in digestive and hormone imbalances. Often these conditions coexist and share common disruptive symptoms including mood changes, bloating, pain, irregular cycles, inflammation, and more. Liz is trained in identifying and healing food sensitivities, as well as balancing hormones naturally through nutrition and lifestyle.
Follow me @thehormonehub