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You Are What You Eat: The Worst Food Options for Your Hormones

You Are What You Eat: The Worst Food Options for Your Hormones

We all know that hormones play an important role in our health.

But few of us realize to what extent our bodily functions, from sleep to blood pressure, depend on our hormones. Every hormone has a specific role, with all your body's hormones working together as part of a well-regulated system.

When one hormone is off, it can have a knock-on effect, resulting in a hormonal imbalance. Symptoms include weight gain, mood swings, low energy, insomnia, depression, and more.

While your age and lifestyle may contribute to hormonal imbalances, one of the first factors to consider is your diet. Some foods can have a detrimental effect on endocrine function. When it comes to your hormones, you really are what you eat.

Read on to find out the worst food options for your hormones.


When we eat sugar or foods that convert to sugar (such as those rich in carbs), your body releases insulin to restore blood sugar balance. This hormonal response is perfect for dealing with the occasional complex carb or natural sugar.

For optimal functioning, the body needs a balanced intake of proteins, fats, and carbs to choose from as energy sources. A healthy body with balanced hormone levels can effectively shift between metabolizing fat and sugar.

But, when you eat a diet rich in sugary foods, like the typical American diet, your body has to overproduce insulin in an attempt to restore its balance. And so begins the negative relationship between sugar and hormones.

Eating excessive amounts of sugar forces your insulin levels to go up. The body then has to put all its focus on insulin production and neglects other important hormones. This creates an imbalance in estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and cortisol.

In the long run, a high-carb diet may cause your body to become resistant to insulin.

The high amounts of insulin the body produces have less and less effect on the blood sugar balance, and extra glucose gets left in the bloodstream. This extra glucose is then stored as fat, causing weight gain and increasing the risk of type-2 diabetes.

You should limit your intake of added sugar to no more than 10 percent of your daily calorific intake. Reducing the amount of sugar you consume will help balance both your blood glucose levels and hormone levels.

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbs, such as white bread and pasta, wreak havoc on all the body's hormones.

The combination of sugar and gluten that simple carbs contain increases inflammation in the body. This inflammation then puts stress on parts of the body that are crucial in the production of hormones. These include the adrenal glands, endocrine glands, and thyroid as well as your gut.

This stress affects the production of sex hormones, such as testosterone. It also raises cortisol and adrenaline levels as well as many other crucial hormones in the body.

Carbs also cause your body to release serotonin, the feel-good hormone. This establishes a carb-serotonin connection, causing you to crave carbs at times of stress when your cortisol levels are high.

For these reasons, it's better to consume complex carbs with a low score on the glycemic index. The lower the number, the less these carbs cause a blood-sugar spike, helping you avoid the resulting hormonal imbalance.

Foods like beans, lentils, and apples not only help keep your hormones stable but also provide essential fiber and vitamins that support optimal health.


We're sorry to break it to you, but coffee is not a friend to your hormones.

Most people who drink coffee do so because it gives them a much-needed jolt of energy. The caffeine in coffee causes an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone. 

Our cortisol levels naturally rise and fall throughout the day to regulate our sleep/wake cycle, or circadian rhythm as well as the fight-or-flight response and other functions. Cortisol is highest when we wake up and lowest before we go to sleep.

Maintaining these normal cortisol levels helps our immune system function. But, if our cortisol levels are out of whack, so are we.

The result of manipulating cortisol levels with excessive amounts of caffeine is difficulty sleeping, sluggish metabolism, reduced immunity, and poor blood sugar regulation. It can even lead to anxiety and depression.

To avoid these potential problems, limit your coffee intake to one cup in the morning. This gives your body plenty of time to regulate its cortisol levels before bedtime. Throughout the rest of the day, drinking water will keep your energy levels up without any negative effects on your hormones.

Non-Organic Meat

Meat, especially of the hormone-treated variety, is another food that can seriously mess with your hormonal health.

The FDA first approved administering hormones to livestock as a way to help them grow faster in the 1950s. It still claims that the small amounts of hormones found in meat, such as testosterone propionate, progesterone, and estradiol (an estrogen steroid hormone), pose no threat to human health. 

The EU's Scientific Committee for Veterinary Measures Relating to Public Health doesn't agree. In 1999, it stated that these growth hormones may cause "endocrine, developmental, immunological, neurobiological, immunotoxic, genotoxic and carcinogenic effects."

The EU considers that even minimal exposure to hormone-treated meat carries a risk. As a result, they banned imports of U.S. beef.

Whoever you choose to believe, most research suggests that hormone treatment has adverse effects on animals. It's logical to assume that consuming hormones from external sources would affect your body's ability to regulate its own hormones.

As conventionally grown meat is one of the foods that contain estrogen and other hormones, meat eaters should choose organic wherever possible. The same goes for other animal products, such as dairy and eggs.


Many people turn to soy products as alternatives to dairy and meat.

Yet, there is a lot of debate over the effect soy has on hormones due to the fact it contains phytoestrogens. These are plant compounds that act in a similar way to the hormone estrogen.

Phytoestrogens can help replace some of the estrogen women lose during menopause. They're found in other foods too, but soy and its derivates, such as tempeh and tofu, boast the highest levels.

Soy products are high in estrogen as the compounds they contain affect the body's estrogen levels. Phytoestrogens have the potential to prevent estrogen binding to receptors, meaning there is more estrogen floating in your blood.

Elevated levels of estrogen then affect other hormone levels, causing a decrease in testosterone and reduced thyroid function. In women, this leads to irregular periods, inability to lose weight, low energy, and mood swings. In men, too much estrogen can cause gynecomastia, erectile dysfunction, and infertility. 

Also, estrogen acts as a growth hormone. As a result, some of the risks of elevated estrogen levels include prostate and breast cancer. 

Research into the effect of soy products as estrogen-high foods shows mixed results relating to the link between phytoestrogens and cancer. But, for optimal hormone health, it's advisable to limit your intake of soy products. 


Alcohol has many negative effects on the body. It shouldn't come as a surprise to find out that it also messes up your hormone function. 

This is due to the effect that alcohol has on the brain and, in particular, on the hypothalamus and pituitary gland.

These are the parts of the brain that determine which hormones your body produces and when. As our hormones are so well-regulated, even a small interruption can have devastating consequences.

As well as causing insulin levels to spike due to the sugar it contains, alcohol derails our stress hormones. At first, it triggers a release of the feel-good hormone serotonin, but later, we often end up feeling down.

Alcohol also reduces testosterone production, which can lead to low energy in men and women, and decreased fertility in men. It causes a temporary increase in estrogen levels too.

This imbalance can disrupt a woman's menstrual cycle. And, for those of you who consider red wine to be a healthier choice, it's on the list of foods that contain estrogen.

The good news is that going for as little as 30 days without alcohol is enough to get your hormone function back on track.

The Worst Food Options for Your Hormones

Many people worry about how their diet affects their weight and physical appearance.

What you eat impacts your hormones too, not just your looks. To enjoy optimum health, avoid the worst food options, such as those listed above.

If you experience any symptoms of a hormonal imbalance, it's definitely time to take a closer look at your diet.

For more information and advice, feel free to contact us with any questions or queries.

About the author

Dr. Constance Odom, MD

4 min read