One of the most common descriptors I hear women use when explaining their day-to-day food intake is “I eat clean.” This brings up many feelings for me. The strongest one is confusion because how I view eating clean could be completely different from what someone is referring to. Also, what does it mean to eat clean? What foods are dirty? When you start to break it down, the phrase is a bit troubling.
My biggest concerns with clean eating are that it’s often outdated nutrition recommendations that are causing more harm than good, especially regarding hormone health.
When “Eating Clean” Goes Wrong
While clean eating can mean different things for different people, what I most often see women referring to when they say they eat clean is the following:
Before you get upset, I have 100% done ALL of these things. I am not trying to make anyone feel bad. I am trying to show you the light if you feel like you fell into the clean eating scam. We’ve all been there and most of us are still dealing with hormone problems, despite eating clean, so what’s the deal?
Let’s dig into why each of these areas is problematic for hormone health.
Avoiding Red Meat
Red meat contains more vitamins and minerals than any other protein. It’s also the highest in protein and the easiest to digest and absorb (if you make enough stomach acid). When we take out red meat and eat more chicken, poultry, etc., we miss out on a ton of essential nutrients.
I hope you know by now that we need carbohydrates to thrive. Can our body survive without them? Yes, but who wants to survive? I want to live optimally and feel my best. That requires carbohydrates since they allow us to convert thyroid hormone and support our metabolism. Without our body’s preferred fuel source, we use a back-up source that requires more energy that most of us do not have—further working out bodies into hormonal chaos.
While fruits and veggies are important for overall health, I cannot stress enough how much better my clients feel when prioritizing a balance of animal and plant foods in their diet. Meat, seafood, eggs, dairy, bone broth, and gelatin provide the most bang for your buck when it comes to vitamins and minerals per serving. You would have to eat an incredible amount of plants to meet the same micronutrient content of these foods.
Many veggies, nuts, and seeds contain phytates that bind to minerals making us absorb less, which is why they should not be relied on solely for our diet.
Lots of Raw Veggies & Salads
Raw veggies challenge digestion. Does this mean we should never eat them? I don’t think so, but I think we should be more mindful of how we feel afterward. If we are already dealing with constipation, we should ideally be cooking the majority of our veggies. They also don’t provide energy. To have healthy hormones, we NEED calories. Filling up on a ton of low-calorie veggies (especially raw) can challenge your thyroid and leave you under-eating.
Snacks on Nuts
Every woman I work with fills out a food journal, and I would say about 90% of them have a snack of nuts on there at least once a day. What’s my beef with nuts? Like I mentioned above, they have phytates that bind to minerals, which leaves us absorbing fewer nutrients from them. They also challenge digestion and are challenging to break down. Lastly, they are high in polyunsaturated fats. This specific type of fat can slow down our metabolism when eaten in excess. Most of us are doing nut-based dairy alternatives, nut flours, and eating nuts. That’s a lot of polyunsaturated fats and can throw our bodies off.
Eating Nourishing Foods Is The New Cleaning Eating
My one wish is for every woman to understand how to nourish her body. This is why I do what I do and share a ton of free information on my Instagram and in my weekly newsletter. If we all understood what it really meant to nourish our bodies we would be more resilient to stress and have healthier hormones.
When I think of nourishing foods I think of nutrient dense foods. Most people would describe nutrient density as foods that contain a lot of nutrients without a lot of calories (think vegetables). I think this is a little backwards because our bodies NEED energy in order to thrive and we only absorb a fraction of the nutrients from plant foods that we do from animal foods. Another important aspect of nourishing foods is that they are easy to digest, contain a lot of vitamins and minerals, and provide calories.
Animal proteins and organ meats- provide us with an array of minerals in an easily absorbable form. That’s the key to all of these foods. Not only do they contain an abundance of vitamins and minerals, but they are in forms that are easy for users to absorb. Many foods are touted as nutrient-dense, but those foods contain phytates and anti-nutrients that prevent us from absorbing 100% of the nutrients. One example is raw leafy greens being praised for their calcium and magnesium. They do indeed have these nutrients, but the amount we absorb from raw veggies is minimal. Cooking them helps break down some of these anti-nutrients and makes the nutrients easier to absorb. Animal foods contain more of these essential nutrients and are easy to break down and absorb.
Starchy veggies and fruit- are rich in potassium, a magical mineral that helps our cells get adequate thyroid hormone and balances our blood sugar.
Cooked veggies and leafy greens- are rich in calcium, potassium, and fibers that support healthy gut bacteria.
Bone broth, collagen, and gelatin- are specific protein-rich foods containing amino acids like glycine, support gut health and reduce inflammation in the body. Bone broth is also rich in many minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium. If you make your own, you can add extra greens and potatoes to add even more minerals. You can find my recipe for bone broth here and my gelatin recipe here.
Dairy products- this may surprise you, but not only is dairy delicious, but it’s also packed with fat-soluble vitamins and essential minerals like calcium and potassium.
The Difference Between Cleaning Eating & Nourishing Eating
I hope this has opened your eyes to what clean eating truly means and why it could be harming your hormones more than helping them. When it comes to eating for hormone health, focusing on nutrient-dense foods that fuel your body is critical. Our hormones require energy and specific nutrients to maintain or achieve balance. Rather than focusing on labeling foods as good or bad or clean or dirty, let’s focus on adding in more nourishing foods that will help us thrive.
Want to learn more about how to eat to support your hormones? Check out the podcast episode I did on this topic on the Are You Menstrual? Podcast.
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