Making dietary changes to nourish your body can be confusing, especially when you’re bombarded with marketing misconceptions. You’ve got certain influential foundations ‘educating’ about the dangers of saturated fat, whilst providing ticks (now stars) for trans-fat and additive ridden food items. You are also conditioned to opt for high grain intake, meanwhile nasty toxins such as artificial sweeteners are not given the negative press they deserve. If you’re into educating yourself with top nutrition reads such as Grain Brain; Wheat Belly; Good Calories, Bad Calories and Sweet Poison, then you’ll identify these lies and manipulations from big companies who are out to make a dollar.
So what should you believe?
An effective first step when optimising your nutrition for healthy hormones, is to look at the food items you’re purchasing and consuming in your diet. Ask yourself what process it would have taken to produce the end product. Aim to include on your shopping list those foods closest to their natural state, or mixed with other recognisable whole-foods.
This may seem pretty obvious, but all too often I’m seeing clever marketing get the better of women’s health choices. Let’s start with two major players when it comes to focusing on a nutritious diet- salt and spreads.
Salt has had a bad wrap, but let me clear the air in explaining there are different types and therefore qualities of salt on offer. Most salt is processed and refined (including bleached), removing it’s natural health promoting minerals. This results in a substance that is either straight or predominantly sodium chloride. Not a healthy substance at all.
Sodium chloride attracts water and will lead to fluid retention in the body and can contribute to tissue oedema, cardiovascular health issues such as high blood pressure and poor circulation, as well as gallbladder and kidney stone formation.
If consumed in its natural form, salt will provide a whole range of minerals, along with sodium. In this balanced form, salt is a healthy addition to add flavour to meals, as the minerals it contains are essential for your hormone health.
Sources of sodium
Don’t think you add processed salt to meals?
Take a look at any foods in your home (learn more about reading the labels here), which are packaged such as cheese, biscuits, bread, cakes, stock, cereals, sauces and canned meals. These foods are high in sodium and should be considered when weighing up your processed salt intake.
When you are craving salty foods, this may be a sign of adrenal stress or fatigue. As salt is required for adrenal function, you do want to be meeting your sodium needs, through nutritious foods.
For a naturally salty taste through your meals, opt for foods such as:
- Salty fish, including anchovies, sardines and oysters. Just be sure (if you are unable to source them fresh), the fish are in a glass jar or tin containing olive or or brine, not sunflower, soy, cottonseed or any other rancid poor quality vegetable oil
- Include seaweeds to your meals, such as salads, soups and stir-fries. Try out common varieties such as wakame, dulse, arame, kelp (kombu) and nori. These will have the added bonus of nourishing your thyroid gland, for healthy metabolism, energy and circulation
Replace table salt (even if its iodised) and processed sea salt with these natural types:
- Himalayan Rock or Crystal Salt (this will be pink in colour)
- Celtic Sea Salt
- Peruvian Pink Salt
- Better yet, my favourite hand harvested himalayan salt has added seaweed (for the thyroid health mineral, iodine). You can source it here.
One of my favourite places to start when looking over my patients diets, is what spreads they are using. After questioning them about the option they are including in their diets, it is evident that marketing has played a massive influence in the end spread purchase. Spreads are a food item that are often used daily, so if a less than nutritious choice is made, this can potentially be an ongoing driver for inflammation in your body.
How can this be? Firstly, I must introduce the process of manufacturing margarine.
How Margarine Is Made
To gain biggest profits, companies produce cost effective margarine (yes, that includes Nutelex), from cheap, poor quality oils. These oils have been exposed to heat, light and air, causing the oil to go rancid. Rancid oil contributes to high levels of free radical formation, which is detrimental to your health.
This oil is then exposed to extremely high heat and pressure, to enable the process of hydrogen molecules being pumped into the oil. The end result is an oil (which is naturally runny), to instead be solid at room temperature, have a longer shelf life and is therefore commercially easier to package and market.
It is when the chemical structures of fats (through hydrogenation) have been altered, that they come at at cost to your health.
Trans-fatty Acid Production
The process of hydrogenation produces an altered chemical structure of the unsaturated fat. Your body cannot recognise this altered chemical structure, called trans-fatty acids and therefore has toxic effects.
Trans-fats may increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and inflammatory conditions. In the cardiovascular system, trans-fats promote inflammation and cause damage to the lining of the blood vessels, increase the LDL cholesterol, reduce HDL cholesterol and slow the conversion of omega 3s into beneficial DH. Trans-fats are also linked to age-related macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s disease, compromised immune system, fertility problems with both men and women and low birth weight babies. (1,2)
The Bleaching Process
Once hydrogenation is complete, the end product is grey in colour and has an unpleasant smell. To create a more appealing substance for you to purchase and consume, manufacturers bleach, deodorise, artificially flavour and dye the product yellow, to produce the appetising spread we call margarine.
Now can I see any cringes?
The Nutritious Option
Butter is made from churning cream. Yep that’s it! The saturated fat in butter is naturally solid at room temperature because the carbon atoms that the fat consists of, all contain hydrogen atoms. What this means is that butter does not need to go through any toxin producing processes such as hydrogenation and is not vulnerable to free radical formation (oxidation).
A friend recently was letting me that she bought butter from the shops, only to get home and find it was a butter & veg oil blend. She said she felt like throwing it on the floor she was that upset. We had a good laugh about it, but I completely understood as I too have been fooled before. Always double check for any sneaky butter AND vegetable oil blends. Leave those ones on the shelf.
Saturated fat consumption (such as in butter), should not be a health concern. It is instead the grain and sugar products, which will convert to fat in the body, raising triglyceride levels and the risk of inflammatory diseases. If you are an active individual who is eating a healthy diet seldom of the starch and sugar laden foods, saturated fat will be used as an energy source over the day.
The saturated fat in coconut oil (medium chain triglycerides) is used by the body in a different way again, and will actually stimulate fat loss, through a process called thermogenesis. A topic for another day!
To help you transition from margarine and any spreadable vegetable oil blends, more nutritious options include:
- Organic, grass fed butter (if you deal with dairy ok) See other ways you can use this over here.
- Organic, grass fed ghee (clarified butter, which is generally tolerated with dairy intolerances)
- Cold pressed, organic coconut oil
- Organic nut butters
- Tahini or other seed spreads
- Macadamia, olive and avocado oil
- Homemade dips, such as hummus, pesto or beetroot dip
The Way Nature Intended
Nature has provided us with foods to use as medicine and allow us to thrive. When sourcing foods to make up your daily diet and truely nourish your body, opt for those which closely resemble their most natural form. For salt, this is unprocessed Celtic sea, Peruvian Pink or Himalayan rock salt (for an added bonus, use one like this with added seaweed). When searching for a spread to go on your fav seed crackers, look for unprocessed oils (in their natural state), organic and grass fed butter or ghee, avocado or homemade foods such as dips and nut butters, made from natural wholesome ingredients.
Be toxin and additive free, optimise your vitamin and mineral intake, encourage healthy detoxification and keep your hormones balanced by using traditional, nourishing foods your grandparents (or great grandparents) grew up on. You can learn more about foods for hormone health in my book: Balanced, The Natural Way To Healthy Hormones.
What are your favourite food swaps you’ve made for improving your hormone health?
Love, health & happiness,
(1) Fife. B, CN, ND, ‘The Coconut Oil Miracle’ 4th edition, Picadilly Books, USA, pg.39,41
(2) Hyperhealth Pro 2008 (V8.0)