Amanda: Hey, this is Amanda, women’s health dietitian.
Emily: And I’m Emily, nutritional therapy practitioner.
Amanda: And this is the Are You Menstrual? podcast where we help you navigate the confusing world of women’s hormones and teach you how to have healthy periods.
Emily: Each week we will be diving into a different topic on women’s health and sharing our perspective using nutrition, female physiology, and metabolic health.
Amanda: Our goal is to help you wade through conflicting health information and empower you on your healing journey.
Emily: We hope you enjoy it.
Amanda: In our last episode, we started to scratch the surface on a lot of the foundations of nutrition. We talked more about how to build a nourishing nutrition foundation that’s going to help support your metabolism and your hormones and your overall health. And today, we are going to dive deeper into some of the nuances of certain foods, especially the ones that you may have been surprised to hear us mention in the last episode. Like, we did mention red meat, we talked about dairy, stuff like that. So we are going to go deeper into a lot of the foods that are typically demonized by the wellness industry and diet culture. So things you may have thought are problematic might actually be good for you.
Emily: But before we jump into those details, we want to just send out a little reminder. We are all different, okay, so the foods that me and Amanda eat on a regular basis might not be what’s best for you, and that is totally fine. As always, we just ask that you take the information that we talk about from this podcast and anywhere else and filter it through those three lenses that we talked about last week. So that’s going to be female physiology, ancestral wisdom, and of course, your personal experience, which is actually the most important when it relates to these foods we’ll be talking about. So that is the only way that you’ll be able to determine whether something we’re saying is actually relevant to you.
Emily: Let’s dive in. The first one we’re going to be talking about…the first nutrition myth that we see a lot is red meat. And this is kind of an easy one because we’ve semi-covered this before on the podcast about animal proteins and how nutrient dense they are, specifically red meat and organ meats, which both provide us with an array of minerals. And what’s really important about these is that they’re easily absorbable. And that’s the key, right, when you’re eating nutrient-dense foods is eating those foods that are not only made up of nutrients but that our body can easily absorb and use. So, many foods are touted as nutrient-dense, but there are a lot of plant foods that contain phytates and anti-nutrients that prevent us from absorbing them…100% of the nutrients. So for example, raw leafy greens…it’s usually praised for its calcium levels and magnesium levels. But while these nutrients are in there, the amount we absorb from raw veggies is actually very minimal. And animal foods contain more of these essential nutrients and are easier to break down and absorb. So you get much larger amounts of these nutrients and animal products than any vegetable you can eat.
Amanda: I will say, like, Diane from The Sustainable Dish, she’s @sustainabledish on Instagram, she talks about this a lot and how you know animal foods are so important. And I…it’s so confusing, right? We often hear, like, red meat is inflammatory, and we should all be eating plant-based for our hormones, when in reality, when we’re looking…you know, we’re coming at you from that metabolic perspective and that nutrient-dense perspective, and that’s when you’ll see that animal foods are actually the most nutrient-dense. The other kind of big area that we get asked about a lot is what about the saturated fat content of meat? Isn’t that supposed to be, like, inflammatory and not good for our health? But it actually…it’s the opposite. And I know that this can be hard for your brain to grasp at first. But saturated fats are actually really good for us.
And this is what the research is showing us now. They’re kind of walking it back, just like many things around nutrition science. I feel like we, like, come out with these bold statements, and then we start to walk it back once we do more research. But saturated fats are actually very stable. And that means that they’re solid at room temperature. So if you think of like olive oil, that’s a monounsaturated fat versus butter—that’s more saturated fat based—or coconut oil. Yes, they can melt, but at room temperature they are solid. And so that just means that their cell structure is very different. Basically, they don’t have kinks in their cell structure. Whereas if you think of like a monounsaturated fat like olive oil, or a polyunsaturated fat, like in nuts and seeds…those have a lot of kinks in the little chemical structure, which means that they can wiggle and move and that’s why they’re liquid at room temperature. And so when the more of those kinks that we have the more unstable the fat is, which means that it can oxidize and then create more inflammation in the body.
And that’s why we are advocates of having more saturated fat than polyunsaturated fat. And Chris Masterjohn has a great article on this—it’s called, “Saturated fat does a body good” and it goes into why saturated fat is necessary for healthy cell structure and energy production. He also talks about how specific saturated fats act as an anchor and secure certain proteins to the cell membrane, and that saturated fats keep the proteins from floating away. And then he goes a little bit more into evidence that suggests our bodies don’t make enough saturated fats from carbohydrates so we do have to get them from our diet. So that’s just something to keep in mind. I know that it can be confusing, but in reality the fat that our body uses for energy is transferred to different systems. And that’s going to control a lot of important areas—so, like, antioxidants, detox, nutrient recycling, including important nutrients like folate and vitamin K. So, saturated fats are often demonized, but they’re actually something that we should be adding to our diet,
Emily: Right, and a lot of people will be surprised by this just because of…historically, high cholesterol and fatty liver disease, heart disease—those conditions were all blamed on the overconsumption of saturated fats, mostly, honestly, due to Ancel Keys in the 1950s. But that science, those studies that he ran have actually recently been debunked. And there are new studies that have, you know, questioned this theory and then haven’t found any significant association between saturated fat intake and the increased risk of heart disease. So, it’s important to keep this in mind, like Amanda said, when you’re choosing how to prioritize your fats. Saturated fats actually do not affect liver triglycerides [and] metabolism in a negative way. They’re actually more stable, as she mentioned, as well, so they are more naturally anti-inflammatory. And in fact, they act very similarly to progesterone inside the body, which is an interesting side note. They’re both…saturated fats and progesterone are both pro-metabolic, meaning they help boost and support a healthy metabolism.
Amanda: And so as you kind of, like, wrap your brain around that, just keep in mind that it, like, if we kind of go back through our lens where we talk about that traditional, like, ancestral way of eating too—all cultures include saturated animal fats. So that’s just, like, another, like…yes, research is important seeing how it impacts us, but we cannot be 100% research-based because it’s impossible to conduct really sound trials for everything. Like even if we think of, okay, well, then why did those studies show that saturated fat had a correlation with cholesterol? It wasn’t just saturated fat—they don’t account for, like, if the animal foods are processed or not, they don’t account for if they’re fried in polyunsaturated fats, they don’t account for if that person is smoking or if they take care of themselves in general. And this kind of goes back to that plant-based thing where they say that people live longer that eat plant-based or that are, like, vegan or vegetarian, when in reality it’s, like, most likely has nothing to do with the foods that they’re eating and much more to do with the fact that they are healthier-minded people. So, like, they’re managing their stress, they’re sleeping well, they’re not drinking and smoking a ton. You know, they’re, they’re minimizing these other areas, too. So that’s just something to kind of keep in mind as we think about. Like, I know, there’s a lot of, like, what ifs with, like, the research and stuff.
Amanda: So that is meat. And that is…hopefully you feel good about debunking the myth that red meat is not good for our hormones, because it absolutely is. And the next big area is dairy. So we mentioned this one…we kind of breezed right through it during the last episode, because we knew we were going to get more into it in this one. And there are so many arguments against dairy. But the big myth that we want to debunk is that dairy is not good for our hormones. So we’re going to go into five main arguments and kind of walk through why we recommend including dairy, but there are some nuances to that.
So argument number one—humans are the only mammals that drink another mammal’s milk and thus it is unnatural behavior. Now, I would say to this, like, we’ve been consuming milk for at least 8000 years, and I don’t think it’s…it’s not so much that it’s weird because it’s another mammal, it’s, like, they’re…it’s a very nutrient-dense food source. It’s, like, a perfect food source, which we’ll talk about. It has so many nutrients. So if you’re avoiding a nutrient-dense food because other mammals don’t drink different mammal’s milk…I just feel, like, we are humans, and so if we have that wherewithal to recognize a nutrient-dense food…I think it’s different. I don’t think it’s easy to compare the two. And studies have shown that genes of certain cultures who have regularly consumed dairy for thousands of years have actually changed to accommodate dairy products in the diet. So basically, some people have genetically adapted to dairy consumption making it more natural for them.
Emily: Right? Not to mention, as humans, we do a lot of things that other mammals don’t do, so it’s not…
Amanda: …use the Internet.
Emily: …unfortunately. Just kidding. Okay, so argument number two—milk contains hormones, therefore, it will mess with your hormones. So, yes, milk does contain trace amounts of many hormones. However, our bodies produce over 6000 times the amount of hormones that would be found in one glass of milk. So, just kind of take that in a little bit. It’s not a lot of hormones that we are consuming and our, you know, 1, 2, 3 servings of dairy a day. So research has actually shown that the tiny amount of hormones in dairy and meat do not impact hormone levels in the body. So when people make this argument, just kind of remember that this is not something to fear, it’s not something to worry about. It’s just another argument people make for argument’s sake.
Amanda: And then I would say, like, the other kind of big one that we probably hear the most often, especially on Instagram, is that dairy is inflammatory. Now, this is typically relating back to the saturated fat content, but as we have already gone through, saturated fats are not harmful to our health and they do not increase inflammation in the body. So it’s, it’s [a] much more stable form of fat. We’re also getting a lot of important fat-soluble vitamins from the fat in milk, like vitamins A, K, D; there’s also some vitamin E, especially in goat’s milk. So we’re getting a lot of important nutrients.
And the other kind of big thing to think about is that milk is a complete food. So one of the coolest things about dairy is that it has a very unique macronutrient profile, as well as micronutrients, like the vitamins and minerals. But it has a perfect balance of protein, fat, and carbs. And this makes it perfect for supporting blood sugar balance, which helps to reduce the risk of different metabolic conditions, heart health issues, blood sugar, stuff like diabetes, pre-diabetes…so keep that in mind. It’s, like, is that inflammatory? I would say no, like, if you are keeping your blood sugar balanced, if you are getting a ton of micronutrients in with this food, and it has saturated fats, then I would consider that non-inflammatory. I think that it can get confusing, because some people don’t digest milk well, which we’re going to talk about towards the end in argument number five. But if you digest milk well, then it’s not going to increase your inflammation.
I will say not all milk is created equal. So it’s similar to meat—we want to try to consume grass-fed organic milk whenever we can. If you can get raw milk, usually a lot of people tolerate that one better. Some people don’t, some people actually do better with pasteurized milk. It’s about experimenting, but you…obviously you want to do quality if you can. You can…if you look up the website realmilk.com, then you can actually put in your location and search to find raw milk or high quality milk local to you. And if you don’t necessarily have access to high quality dairy, then you could consider, like, a lower fat dairy and then consume in smaller amounts. You don’t have to drink milk in order to eat dairy. You could have cheese, you could do yogurt, cottage cheese, so many different options. So don’t necessarily feel like you have to, like, drink a glass of milk. We get so many people that are, like, “I don’t like milk.” And it’s, like, that’s fine. But maybe you use it in a smoothie or in, like, different recipes that you’re making. It doesn’t necessarily have to be drinking milk.
And the kind of last area that I wanted to mention when it comes to, like, milk being inflammatory…it actually contains a number of amino acids that are anti-inflammatory, especially if we compare the amino acids in milk to the amino acids in muscle meats. So you’re actually getting less of the more inflammatory ones. So we actually recommend balancing out your muscle meats with things like dairy, bone broth, gelatin, and collagen, because then you’re going to balance out the amino acids. And then lastly is that dairy is a great source of calcium and, I mean, a bunch of other minerals, but calcium is a big one. And it’s one of those where we’re not getting it from a lot of other foods. Like, you can definitely get it from cooked greens, bone broth, eggshell powder, that kind of stuff. But dairy is going to give us the best form of it and the most nutrient-dense, meaning that it’s paired with other micronutrients. And that’s just something to keep in mind, because we get so many women that are like supplementing with a bunch of magnesium, eating a lot of muscle meats, but they’re not getting enough calcium in…it can kind of throw the body out of balance.
Emily: For sure. The second to last argument is that dairy alternatives are healthier. And when we say dairy alternatives, we’re referring to things like almond milk and cashew milk and soy milk—all of those nut milks. But like Amanda mentioned, the macros in actual milk are so much more balanced than the macros in these other alternative milks. And, except for soy milk, all milk alternatives lack protein, which is a very important macronutrient for blood sugar and a ton of other functions in the body. So the thing about soy milk, too, is that many people have soy allergies or health concerns when it comes to soy. So it’s not necessarily a healthy choice for a lot of people anyway. And then of course, if you go to the store and look at a container of nut milk or soy milk, it also contains synthetic additives that isn’t the best flavor-wise for one, and is not good for you, right? So you don’t want to have this list of ingredients that you can’t even recognize in your milk when you could just drink a milk that’s natural and has no added synthetic ingredients.
And then lastly, one more concern about the milk alternatives, specifically like the nuts and seed milks is that they do contain the anti-nutrients called phytic acid, which binds to minerals and reduces absorption of nutrients. So things like almonds, soy…they all contain polyunsaturated fatty acids also, which are less stable as we discussed and create more stress and inflammation in the body. So overall, if you compare it to dairy, it’s just not going to live up to dairy in our opinion. And so we will say that we do like coconut milk for those people that for some reason cannot tolerate dairy. Coconut milk has a good macronutrient ratio. You can find coconut milks that do not have a lot of synthetic ingredients as well.
Amanda: Yeah, I always get the canned coconut milk. And I still use coconut milk. I think that’s what people think is, like, they can’t ever use an alternative. It’s like, like, if you make a curry, like, obviously, I’m using coconut milk. I add it to rice if we’re making rice. I even make some smoothies with it sometimes. Like, sometimes I just don’t…if I’m having other forms of dairy in that smoothie, I won’t necessarily always add milk as an extra. And I like to save it for snacks because it’s perfectly balanced, and it’s really easy. So you can use other alternatives. For coconut milk try to look for the ones that don’t have additives. What is that brand? Forest something…
Emily: Is it nature…?
Amanda: Nature’s Forest or something like that?
Amanda: Yeah, like that, that’s a great one. I think the Trader Joe’s coconut milk doesn’t have any, like, guar gum or anything in it. Ideally, there’s no gums, you know, especially if you’re…if you can’t drink milk because you have digestive issues, you’d want to avoid some of those gum additives, because it’s probably not going to do super well with your gut. But I take the canned coconut milk and I put it in a big glass jar and then add filtered water to it and shake. I usually put sea salt and, like, vanilla in there too. And then that’s how I make, like, a thinned out regular coconut milk if you want to use this to, you know, replace other milks.
Amanda: Okay, argument number five, last one for dairy. We kind of prefaced this one before, but it’s—dairy is not easily digested by the body. Now, this is a layered kind of argument because we feel that naturally dairy is pretty well-digested by most people. Digestive issues may not be related to lactose intolerance, but that’s typically the most common one that we see. And if you are someone that…basically lactose is the sugar that’s in dairy. And so if you don’t have the lactase enzyme being produced by your digestive lining, then you can’t actually break down that lactose. So of course, you might have some bloating, you might have some digestive discomfort, or if you feel like the milk goes through very quickly—that’s typically a lactose issue. And so if you work on improving your gut health and reducing inflammation within the gut, then that’s going to help you eventually tolerate that dairy better. So we’re releasing that lactase enzyme in our microvilli, so it’s at the very kind of thin lining of our gut. And so if you have inflammation, those microvilli get blunted and then you’re not releasing that enzyme. So things like bone broth, gelatin, getting plenty of whole food vitamin C from, like, adrenal cocktails—and we’re gonna have a whole mineral episode where we talk about those—those are really, really helpful for supporting your gut health in general. And then of course, we talked about, you know, slowing down at meals in our last episode, and creating that nourishing nutrition foundation—all those things are going to help improve your gut. So don’t feel like you absolutely have to start eating dairy if you cannot tolerate it. You might want to work on your gut health and support your digestion first.
Amanda: The other thing is that it might not be related to lactose at all. It could be much more related to…it’s called A1 casein. It’s a type of casein protein that is found in milk and there’s, there’s A1 and there’s A2, so A1 is typically found in cow’s milk; although there is an A2 version of cow’s milk, it’s Jersey cows, I believe, and so…or if you do goat’s milk or sheep’s milk, those are all A2 dairy. And it’s typically…it’s not as inflammatory, although I don’t think A1 is inflammatory. I think that some people just, like…you might have a little bit of an allergy or sensitivity to it. But if you can’t digest that well you could try the A2 version and see if you do better with that. I think just…if you have any dairy in a while you just want to go really slow. It..that’s the big thing. We have a blog post about kind of walking you through, like, how to add dairy back in, in small amounts, but it’s all about really tiny amounts. I would do, like, a low-lactose dairy first like Parmesan cheese or, like, hard cheeses don’t have a lot of lactose. And just literally like a little bit each day, and slowly adding that back in and building it up until you’re making more of that lactase and your digestive system can digest that better. But you might even just need some digestive bitters or apple cider vinegar before your meal. You know, it might, it might not necessarily be a dairy thing, it could be like your digestive system isn’t working properly, you’re too stressed, that sort of thing. Okay,
Emily: Okay, so now we’re going to move on to the next food, and it’s one of my favorites. It’s actually a beverage, it’s coffee. So I know a lot of you are coffee lovers…I am myself as well. And unfortunately, I feel like coffee and caffeine in general really gets a bad rap of being more of a drug than a food because of how it can be stimulating. And how a lot of us can kind of get, you know, dependent on caffeine depending where we are in our, our need for that sort of thing. A lot of people say it’s more harmful than nutritional. And if you look this up on Google, which you know…don’t, you’ll find a lot of people that just are very anti-coffee and caffeine especially for hormones. But we want to point out that contrary to this, studies have actually shown that coffee drinkers tend to have better health outcomes than their non drinker counterparts.
And we like to quote Ray Peat on some of the health benefits that he draws out in his article on caffeine. So here are just a few, and I think they’re really insightful. I did not know a lot of these, and so we want to share them with you. Caffeine can lower incidents of thyroid disease, including cancer. It protects the liver from toxins like alcohol and acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. It protects against cancer caused by radiation, chemical carcinogens, viruses, and estrogens. It increases progesterone concentration in the blood and tissues, which I found so fascinating. It lowers incidents of suicide, and it supports movement of serotonin into nerves, and there’s so much more. So there’s a lot of information out there claiming that coffee is not good for you or your hormones, and people, you know, will tell you to cut back or quit altogether in order to regain your health. But personally, I think it depends on the person, how much coffee you’re drinking, and your health history. So again, going back through that filter of personal experience…it’s super important for coffee. But I think it’s also important to understand exactly how coffee impacts our hormones. And then you can decide for yourself whether or not to drink it.
Amanda: Yeah, there’s so much amazing research around coffee. I feel like a lot of it’s around dementia…is that just me? Like dementia, Alzheimer’s, brain…like, cognitive function, basically.
Amanda: And fat burning, you know, stuff like that. But there is research around coffee and your metabolism. And then I think that’s one of the reasons why we love it so much is because it can support your metabolism. But there are some ways that coffee can impact different areas that are going to obviously have a downstream effect on our metabolism. So one is cortisol. And one of the reasons why we want to talk about this, because so many people in the hormone space demonize coffee. Like, they say, like, you have to stop drinking coffee to heal your adrenals and blah, blah, blah, when in reality it’s not the coffee that is the problem—it’s typically something deeper, like not eating enough, being super stressed, not eating enough carbohydrates, having coffee on an empty stomach, like, that sort of thing. So it can impact your cortisol levels.
Caffeine does cause a release of stress hormones, specifically cortisol, and this can lead to a stress response in the body. If our bodies are constantly stressed, like, say you’re waking up, you’re fasted, you haven’t had any breakfast yet, blood sugar is already needing support, and then you have coffee…like, of course that’s going to tax your body, right? But if you eat breakfast first, have a nice balance of protein, fat and carb, and then have your coffee…that’s so different, right? Your blood sugar’s already stable, your body’s in a fed state, and that coffee is not going to create that same cortisol level impact.
Another big area is blood sugar. So it goes back to the same thing with cortisol. The rising cortisol leads to our liver breaking down sugar for energy in order to respond to that stress that your body is interpreting. And this can lead to a rise in blood sugar, and then eventually we’re going to get a drop. But if you already have sugar in your blood because you have eaten, again, it’s not going to have the same impact on your blood sugar. Although I do have some people that feel it later in the day. So sometimes it’s like your metabolism may not be in the place to tolerate as much coffee yet, and we’ll kind of talk about things to do instead.
Coffee also impacts our liver enzymes. Kind of, like, quoted from the Ray Peat article—caffeinated coffee has been shown to reduce liver cancer by up to 50% as well as help the body process alcohol and Tylenol. It…I mean, that optimal liver health is so important for hormone health; we just see so many women that need liver support. So it’s like if you can positively impact those liver enzymes, I do think there can be a lot of benefit there.
And then the last way is how it impacts your minerals. So, caffeinated coffee can deplete certain…like, magnesium, sodium, potassium, like, our electrolytes, because it can be a diuretic. Typically, if you’re not having it on an empty stomach, it doesn’t act the same way. So magnesium is a big one, though. Like, Morley Robbins, he does say that caffeine specifically from coffee does deplete magnesium. But then like, you know, Ray Peat says that coffee has magnesium in it. So we don’t know, right? It’s not like a perfect answer. Emily and I were talking before we recorded this of how, like, we feel like it’s probably both—like most things when it comes to nutrition. But there is a big benefit when it comes to iron absorption. We are going to have a whole episode on iron, and basically how we tend to accumulate it, and it leads to a lot of inflammation, hormone problems…But coffee can actually reduce your iron absorption. So if you’re someone that is struggling with that iron overload, coffee can be a really great tool for you. So that’s just something to kind of keep in the back of your mind when we go through the episode as well. But I know it’s a lot. It’s kind of like there’s pros of coffee, there’s cons of coffee. I think the biggest thing is that if you are drinking it in a way that supports your metabolism versus, like, adds to your stress, it makes a really big difference.
Emily: Oh, definitely. And that’s why we’re going to talk about how to create a more hormone friendly version of coffee. So, as Amanda said, you don’t want to drink your coffee on an empty stomach. So, I joke about my parents in this, because my pare