The Power of Protein

There is a lot of talk about how important carbohydrates are for hormone health, which is true, but we can’t forget about protein.  The truth is, without quality protein to balance out carbohydrates, they aren’t as powerful to the body.  When we aren’t pairing protein and carbohydrates together, it’s like we are taking out a loan for energy for the body.  We are asking our bodies to use a backup energy source all of the time, which is only meant to be used in small amounts.  When we pair protein and carb together, we provide our bodies with the nutrients they need to thrive.  That’s why today, we are focusing on utilizing the power of protein for healthy hormones.

Why is protein so important for hormone health? 

Protein has A LOT of uses in the body.  The five below are the main functions of protein related to hormone health but are not exhaustive for everything we use amino acids for in the body. 

  • Liver Function: Protein provides amino acids that power liver function.  Our liver requires adequate protein to function optimally.  A minimum of 75-100g of animal protein daily helps to support this. 
  • Digestive Capacity: Amino acids are used to make enzymes that help us break down our food.  Our pancreas releases digestive enzymes while we are eating.  We need adequate levels of amino acids from the food we eat to build up these digestive enzymes.  Otherwise, we take these amino acids from stores in the body (aka muscle). 
  • Muscle Growth & Retention: We need adequate protein to put on muscle and to maintain it.  This also requires carbohydrates, but we require complete protein sources when it comes to building up muscle tissue.  Why are our muscles important for hormones?  It supports a healthy metabolism, which helps to have proper thyroid function.  Since every cell in the body requires thyroid hormone, this would support balanced hormones. 
  • Thyroid Conversion: To convert thyroid hormone in the liver, we need adequate levels of amino acids.  Research has shown that low protein diets lead to inadequate thyroid hormone conversion.  Remember, we require sufficient thyroid hormone to ovulate and produce enough progesterone.  Without this, we can have excess estrogen, which leads to PMS, mood swings, acne, painful/heavy periods, etc. 
  • Blood Sugar Balance: When we pair protein with carbohydrates, we support balanced blood sugar.  This allows the body to break down carbohydrates more slowly instead of rushing them into the bloodstream leading to a significant insulin release.  Protein from animal foods also increases satiety and helps regulate our hunger and fullness hormones.

Not All Protein Are Created Equally

This is very important.  Diana Rodgers, RD, and founder of Sustainable Dish, does a great job of breaking down the differences between animal proteins and plant-based proteins in this post.  When I say protein, I am referring to animal proteins.  I do not recommend plant-based forms of protein.  Why? 

  • We don’t absorb as much protein from plant foods (40-50% vs. 80-100% from animals). 
  • We don’t absorb all of the minerals from plants–many are bound to anti-nutrients that prevent this.  You can improve this by is soaking, fermenting, and cooking. 
  • Animal proteins have a higher amount of protein, vitamins, and minerals and are easier to digest and absorb.  
  • Plant-based proteins also contain many carbs, making it challenging to balance protein and carbs for optimal blood sugar. 

 When I think of eating for hormone health, I think of making things easier on the body.  Including animal protein does this since they are easier to digest and absorb nutrients from and are a complete nutrient source, meaning you won’t need to worry about specific nutrient deficiencies when eating them.  When eating a vegan diet that doesn’t contain any animal proteins, you typically make digestion harder, eat foods that don’t meet 100% of nutrient needs and have a hard time balancing blood sugar.  This pushes the body further into stress and is not ideal for hormone balance. 

My Favorite Proteins 

When I think about recommending proteins for clients to prioritize, I factor in the quality, amount of other nutrients like vitamins and minerals, and other healing properties (supporting digestion, reducing inflammation).  With all of that in mind, these are my favorite proteins to include:

  • Grass-fed beef 
  • Organ meats
  • Eggs
  • Organic dairy 
  • Bone broth, collagen, gelatin
  • Shrimp, oysters, white fish 
  • Bison
  • Lamb
  • Less frequently: chicken, turkey, pork*

​*These are higher in polyunsaturated fatty acids or PUFAs and lower in vitamins and minerals.  It doesn’t mean we should never have these foods, but many people limit red meat and eat more of these, so I always like to point this out. What is the issue with PUFAs?  They are not as stable and supportive of our hormones as saturated fats are.  If you’re thinking, “Wait, what?!  I thought saturated fats were bad,” please read this blog post.

Red meat, organs, 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 number of plants to meet the same micronutrient content of these foods.  If you aren’t currently eating animal proteins, I recommend starting with bone broth, gelatin, collagen, and eggs.  I have a blog on the benefits of gelatin that includes a recipe for delicious gummies; check it out here.  These animal protein foods are easy to digest and are a great way to ease in.  If you feel that you don’t digest animal protein well, consider using apple cider vinegar (1-2 tsp) before meals. 

 I would just like to normalize eating animal foods for hormone health since I see so many women fear these when they are the ones that often help them the most.  Protein, specifically animal protein foods, packs one powerful nutrient, especially when it comes to hormone health.  Protein is beneficial to our hormone health because it optimizes liver function, digestion, muscle growth and retention, thyroid conversion, and blood sugar balance.  I hope you found this information helpful.

Amanda Montalvo

Amanda Montalvo is a women's health dietitian who helps women find the root cause of hormone imbalances and regain healthy menstrual cycles.

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