What are Therapeutic Foods
- Phytoestrogens help balance your female hormones
- How do phytoestrogens help balance your oestrogen levels?
- Phytoestrogens and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Foods that contain phytoestrogens
- Simple ways to increase phytoestrogens in your diet
- Probiotic and prebiotic foods balance your gut bacteria
- Sirtfoods activate your ‘skinny’ gene
- Key things you have learned in this article
- Watch a Relevant Video
What if you could add ingredients to your food that not only enrich the taste but also reduce your appetite, increase your sensitivity to insulin and help you absorb more nutrients? Wouldn’t it be great if there were foods that change your bacterial balance so you burn more calories and store less fat; that balance your female hormones; that boost your metabolism; that target the imbalances in your body?
The great news is, there are foods that do this! Some of them, you have already come across in other articles. In this article, we look at them in more detail and consider other foods with specific therapeutic properties.
Phytoestrogens help balance your female hormones
If your female hormones are out of balance, it is helpful to include plant substances known as phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens help bring your oestrogen levels back into balance, whether they are high or low.
How do phytoestrogens help balance your oestrogen levels?
Hormones work by binding to receptors on cells. Some cells have receptors for oestrogen. The oestrogen binds to the receptor site to exert its effect. Phytoestrogens are able to bind to oestrogen receptors, exerting a weak oestrogenic effect.
If your oestrogen levels are low, this boosts your oestrogen levels. If your oestrogen levels are high, oestrogen produced by your body is unable to bind to the receptor site, as it is blocked by the phytoestrogen. So instead of getting a stronger oestrogenic effect from your body’s oestrogen, you get a weaker oestrogenic effect from the phytoestrogen. This helps balance high oestrogen levels.
Phytoestrogens and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Increasing your phytoestrogen intake can be particularly helpful if you have polycystic ovary syndrome, as it boosts your production of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). Remember, SHBG controls your oestrogen and testosterone levels if you have PCOS and low SHBG, you are more likely to be overweight.
Foods that contain phytoestrogens
Soya (soy) is one of the best forms of phytoestrogen. But to have an oestrogenic effect, it needs to be fermented. Fermented soya includes tempeh and miso. Some soy sauces are fermented, but others are made via a chemical process.
Choose naturally fermented organic soy sauce and just have a small amount, as it is high in salt. Tofu is an unfermented soy product. However, it can be fermented by your gut bacteria, providing they are working well.
Legumes, such as lentils, chickpeas, and cooked dried beans, contain one of the best forms of phytoestrogens to help your female hormone balance. Sage, fennel, parsley, and cinnamon also contain phytoestrogens, as do sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, and flaxseeds. Phytoestrogens are also found in brown rice, oats, and some fruit and vegetables.
A word on soya
Soya has made its way into many food products; you may be consuming more processed soya than you realize. It is best to avoid raw soya and soya in processed foods.
These are not the forms in which it has traditionally been consumed. Soya in processed foods is highly processed and treated with chemicals.
Raw soya contains trypsin inhibitors, which may interfere with protein digestion. If you drink soya milk (an unfermented product), look for one that is organic and made from the whole bean. Avoid soya milk made from soya protein isolates.
Simple ways to increase phytoestrogens in your diet
Marinate tofu in garlic, ginger and fermented soy sauce and stir fry. Then sprinkle with sesame seeds. (Ginger is not a phytoestrogen, but the other ingredients are.)
Add a tablespoon of ground seeds to your breakfast cereal or stir into a smoothie. Sprinkle seeds onto salads. Dip celery sticks into hummus.
Add lentils or cooked dried beans to a stew. Stew apples and plums, then eat warm topped with a handful of oats and sunflower seeds or sugar-free granola.
Replace a cup of tea with a cup of miso soup. Add mung beans and alfalfa to a salad; it is easy to sprout your own at home. Add cinnamon to porridge or your breakfast cereal.
Probiotic and prebiotic foods balance your gut bacteria
It makes sense to try to alter your gut bacteria to favor the types found in larger numbers in lean people; the ones that don’t extract more calories from food or increase the amount of fat you store.
Fermented foods contain probiotics. These are ‘good’ bacteria. Fermented foods include miso, tempeh, natto (fermented soy), sauerkraut, live natural yogurt, cottage cheese and kefir (a fermented milk drink).
Another way to boost your ‘good’ bacteria is to eat foods that contain prebiotics. Prebiotics support the growth of bacteria that may help boost your metabolism and reduce fat storage. Foods that contain prebiotics include onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, bananas, chicory, oats, peas, beans, lentils and Jerusalem artichoke.
Sirtfoods—activate your ‘skinny’ gene
If you restrict your calories, you lose weight. Your SIRT1 gene gets activated, which represses fat storage and triggers your body to burn fat. This gene has therefore been dubbed the ‘skinny’ gene.
Research suggests that in addition to dieting there is another way to activate your ‘skinny’ gene. That is by substances in certain plant foods. If you want to burn more fat, it may be helpful to consume foods rich in these substances.
As mentioned before, these foods, found primarily in Mediterranean and Asian diets, are known as ‘sirtfoods’. Below is a list of some sirtfoods:
- Tofu Strawberries,
- persimmons and grapes Kale,
- Brussels sprouts,
- cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables Celery,
- onions and shallots
- Olive oil
- Parsley Capers
- Green tea
- Red wine
Whilst cocoa is a sirtfood, unfortunately this does not mean that chocolate will help you lose weight! If you want to eat chocolate, have a small amount of dark chocolate. This contains more cocoa (and less sugar) than milk chocolate.
If you drink alcohol, red wine in moderation may be your best choice if you are trying to lose weight. It contains resveratrol, which activates your SIRT1 gene.
Cruciferous vegetables (kale, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc.) are sirtfoods. However, if your thyroid is underactive, limit these foods and make sure they are well cooked. This is because they contain goitrogens, which hinder your body’s production of thyroid hormones.
Herbs and spices have many amazing properties. Not only do they liven up your food, but also many spices (such as turmeric, red chili, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, ginger and fenugreek) can help you lose weight.
We’ve already looked at how sage, fennel, parsley and cinnamon contain phytoestrogens. Additionally, cinnamon helps blood sugar control and reduces secretion of an appetite-stimulating hormone, ghrelin, that makes you want to eat more. Cinnamon, along with other spices such as turmeric, black pepper and ginger root, supports your liver.
It bears remembering that your liver processes old hormones, as I’ve pointed out earlier, thus helping your hormone balance. It also processes toxins, some of which may be obesogens. Chili reduces your appetite, as may black pepper. Black pepper increases absorption of nutrients when you eat a nutrient-rich diet, you feel less hungry.
Ginger helps increase insulin sensitivity, supporting blood sugar balance, and may be helpful if you have diabetes. It can also help diminish hunger. Black pepper, ginger, chili and some other spices may boost your metabolism slightly. Everyone is individual and these foods affect metabolism differently in different people no food is a magic bullet for weight loss.
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Get into the habit of using spices
- Add turmeric when cooking rice. (Try 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric per serving)
- Add cinnamon to stewed apple, yogurt or porridge.
- Add root ginger to curries, stir fries and smoothies.
- Get into the habit of sprinkling black pepper on your food.
- Add chilli (powder or fresh) to such foods as omelettes and stews. (Chilli can irritate your gut, so don’t use if you have digestive issues.)
Key things you have learned in this article
- Whether your oestrogen levels are high or low, phytoestrogens, found in some plant foods, can help balance them. Legumes and fermented soy are particularly helpful.
- To help your gut bacterial balance, include fermented foods, as they contain ‘good’ bacteria.
- Prebiotic foods support the growth of beneficial bacteria.
- Some plant foods, primarily found in the Mediterranean and Asian diets, can activate your SIRT1 ‘skinny’ gene. This gene helps reduce the amount of fat you store and increase the amount of fat you burn.
- Spices have a range of properties that can help you lose weight, from balancing your blood sugar to reducing your appetite and boosting your metabolism.
Watch a Relevant Video