Hormones play an important role in different vital processes in our bodies. Hormones send signals to our brain to let us know how much or how little to eat and kickstart bodily functions. When these hormones are not signaling properly it can lead to obesity.
Key hormones that control eating are Ghrelin, which is termed the ‘hunger hormone’, tells our brain that we’re hungry. It is produced by the stomach where it promotes appetite, how food is turned into energy and storage of fat. Fat cells produce Leptin when we eat and signals to the brain that we’re full. The way we eat affects more hormones than just these examples. Some more include insulin, which allows you to use the energy from food or thyroid hormone, which controls metabolism. Eating foods with your hormones in mind can help regulate eating and increase overall health.
A great way to improve hormone balance is with the Mediterranean Diet. The word diet comes with a negative connotation of restriction and limited eating, the Mediterranean Diet is far from it. Rather, it’s a heart-healthy eating pattern that is high in fiber, lean protein and healthy fats. This pattern of eating provides lots of food options and has been shown to be a great way to rebalance hormones and improve health. The goal is to remove inflammatory foods from your diet. Inflammatory foods include things like sugars, alcohol and caffeine. This lowers fat in the body which lowers stress hormones like cortisol and progesterone.
People living in the Mediterranean region are often healthier, having less cardiovascular diseases and lower rates of cancer. Traditional foods and flavors found along the Mediterranean sea are a contributing factor to such good health. Things like beans and lentils, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and unsaturated oils are staples in the Mediterranean diet. Fish, poultry and dairy are eaten occasionally in smaller amounts. Fish provides a source of healthy fat through Omega-3 fatty acids helping to fight inflammation in the body. Lean protein is necessary for muscle support and helps control appetite. Nuts and olive oil are also forms of healthy fats that work in the body to lower cholesterol.
You may associate the Mediterranean diet with drinking red wine but it should be a very small part of your overall consumption. In general, you want to limit alcohol, fried foods, processed foods, artificial sweeteners, and high saturated fat foods. Without these, it lowers your levels of bad cholesterol in turn increasing heart health and improving blood sugar control. A study comparing a vegetarian diet to a Mediterranean Diet with their effects on hormones showed a significant decrease in leptin levels, the hormone that tells us we are full.
When first taking steps to try a new way of eating it may be more manageable to start with an 80:20 eating ratio: 80% whole, nutrition-focused foods, and 20% fun foods. It will also help to make small changes at first and then move gradually into larger changes. First, you could start using olive oil instead of butter while cooking. Or you could aim to eat fish twice a week. The Mediterranean diet is a well rounded eating approach that isn’t restrictive and can help improve your hormonal health. Not to mention that it was ranked No.1 for Best Diets Overall in the 2020 U.S. News & World Report.
So if you feel your hormones may be out of whack, look into the Mediterranean diet and start incorporating foods that support hormone regulation.