Did you know that there’s estrogen in soy?
Soy is only one example of the many hidden food sources of estrogen. Foods that you eat on a regular basis. Foods that many people have told you are healthy…
The environment we live in today is fraught with estrogen-mimicking compounds. It seems like no matter what you do, you’re going to be exposed to synthetic estrogen. It’s as though estrogen dominance is almost inevitable.
Allow me to be your guide through the complicated world of estrogen. I’ll show you how to drastically limit your intake of environmental estrogens and create a nutrition plan that will help you reverse estrogen dominance.
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out my post on 7 hidden causes of hormone imbalances. If you’re dealing with estrogen dominance, you’re going to need more than a healthy diet to remove that excess estrogen.
A brief introduction to estrogen dominance
When I’m referring to estrogen in foods, I’m talking about specific compounds in the foods that look very similar to the estrogen hormone in your body. So similar that these compounds bind to estrogen receptors in your body and actually exert a biological effect – just like the estrogen hormone would!
Since you have estrogen receptors all over your body, excess estrogen can cause symptoms in many different body systems. Some of the common areas that contain estrogen receptors in your body include:
- Reproductive organs (men and women)
- Bladder and kidneys
- Fat cells
- Immune cells
For example, imagine your body secretes one hundred units of estrogen per day which is a healthy limit. But through food and environmental exposure, you’re receiving an extra one hundred units of estrogenic substances. This dramatically raises your estrogen levels.
Over time, you start experiencing symptoms in some of the areas I listed above. You have your hormone levels run and your estrogen is incredibly high. Then your practitioner diagnoses you with estrogen dominance.
Estrogenic substances bind to your estrogen receptors telling them to exert the instructions of estrogen. In moderation, this is no issue. But when you’re estrogen dominant, your body is flooded with estrogen. That’s when symptoms start to arise.
This is worth knowing about estrogenic foods
Below, I’m going to provide you with a list of highly estrogenic foods. I recommend that you do whatever it takes to ensure these foods are not in your diet as it’s the only way to overcome estrogen dominance.
To better prepare you, I want you to know about two different kinds of estrogens found in foods:
For the record, there is a third type of estrogenic compound found in plants called coumestan. But coumestan is so low in food/plant sources that I won’t bother explaining it in detail.
Isoflavones are exclusive to the bean family. All that phytoestrogen in soybeans comes in the form of isoflavones.
If food is estrogenic but low in isoflavones, the estrogenic effect will be coming from lignans. Lignans are a type of polyphenol found in plants.
In all likelihood, your ancient ancestors were exposed to lignans. That exposure has resulted in adaptations in your gut bacteria. These adaptations allow the bacteria to break down some of the estrogenic compounds. The keyword here is some. Not all.
I suppose lignans are better than isoflavones. But if you’re estrogen dominant, you still need to restrict your lignan intake.
Ok, now you know the basics of estrogens found in food. Let’s get you started on your very own estrogen dominance diet.
Getting started on your estrogen dominance diet
I’m going to make this post more of a how-to guide. To better help you identify which foods to avoid and which foods to consume, I’ve broken the next section into two categories:
- Foods to avoid if you have estrogen dominance
- Foods to include if you have estrogen dominance
In section 1 – foods to avoid if you have estrogen dominance – these are the foods you need to avoid. This is not an 80/20 rule. You need to avoid these foods 100% of the time. Do not eat them. Ever.
In section 2 – foods to include if you have estrogen dominance – these are foods you need to eat. There are specific compounds in these foods that help your body remove excess estrogens. You need to eat these foods regularly, daily if possible.
The estrogen dominance diet – foods to avoid
If you take away just one thing from this post, let it be that you need to avoid phytoestrogens in your diet. Especially if you’re dealing with estrogen dominance.
Phytoestrogen is just a fancy word for estrogenic compounds found in plants. They bind to your estrogen receptors and exert hormonal effects. This is not something you want happening if you’re estrogen dominant.
Below, I list the top foods based on their estrogen content ranked in order of severity. If you’re dealing with estrogen dominance, these foods cannot be in your diet. Avoid them completely.
For a complete list of the estrogen content in all foods, be sure to check out this study!
I bet you thought soy was going to be at the top of the list. In reality, flaxseed has more than 3x the amount of phytoestrogens than soy. (1) For every 100g of flaxseed, you’ll be exposed to 379,380 micrograms of estrogen. That’s a massive dose of phytoestrogens. Massive!
No surprise here. We all know soybeans contain phytoestrogens. For every 100g of soybeans you eat, you’re going to be exposed to 103,920 micrograms of phytoestrogens.
I’m looking at you, vegans. You may want to rethink your protein powder choices. Soy protein contains 8,840 micrograms of phytoestrogens per 100g.
Processed soy products
A simple rule to follow: don’t consume processed soy products. Processing increases phytoestrogens. Some of the really bad processed soy products include:
- Miso paste
- Soy milk
- Soy yogurt
- Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
I doubt you eat sesame seeds by the handful. But if you do, you may want to rethink that strategy. Sesame seeds contained more than 8000 micrograms of phytoestrogens per 100g.
I didn’t expect to see this on the list. But 100g of black licorice contains more than 800 micrograms of phytoestrogens.
Refined and/or processed food products
This study focused primarily on the phytoestrogen content of whole or real foods products but did not examine the phytoestrogen content of processed/refined foods. These are the foods that you’ll find down the middle aisle of your local grocer – think soups, sauces, pastes, condiments.
They did however examine black bean sauce. Interestingly, black beans themselves contain only 9 micrograms of phytoestrogen per 100g. Not much at all. But black bean sauce contained more than 5000 micrograms of phytoestrogens per 100g. Whoa!
Does this mean all processed foods contain high levels of phytoestrogens?
I can’t make that statement for sure, but I suspect a lot of processed and/or refined foods use additives like soy in their products. If soy is used, you can bet that the estrogenic activity of that product is high.
Estrogens aside, I’m sure you know that refined and processed foods are not great for your health. Avoiding refined or processed foods will serve you well.
I don’t think you should be eating bread, but that’s an entirely different discussion. In the context of overcoming estrogen dominance, you’re going to want to avoid multigrain bread and flaxseed bread. Both of these breads contain high levels of phytoestrogens.
As much as I hate to say it, in the context of estrogen dominance, opt for white bread. It’s incredibly low in phytoestrogens. It’s also incredibly low in just about every other aspect of nutrition, but it won’t worsen your estrogen. So, if you need to eat bread, go for the white stuff.
In this study, fast food was defined as food obtained from restaurants without waiter/waitress service, or from pizza restaurants regardless of waiter/waitress service. All carryout and delivery foods were also considered fast food. Foods from all other sources, including restaurants with waiters/waitresses, bars, taverns, lounges, vending machines, and mail or packaged foods, were not considered fast food. (2)
The more fast food you consume the higher the level of estrogenic compounds in your blood. Average fast food consumption raised estrogenic compounds in your blood by 40%!
I know it’s convenient. But if you want to balance your hormones, you need to stop eating fast food.
Hidden sources of estrogen in the food supply
The above foods contain high levels of phytoestrogens within them. This next list of foods has to do with something called mycoestrogens. Mycoestrogens are estrogens produced by fungi. Think molds and yeasts that produce estrogenic compounds. Fun!
Foods that are left in dark and damp storage containers are likely to experience the growth of molds or yeasts. The replicating mold and yeast species excrete a substance known as zearalenone (ZEA). Zearalenone is highly estrogenic. (3)
What does this mean for you?
Well, I’d encourage you to limit your intake of grains as they have a high likelihood of containing mold toxins. Coffee drinkers are going to want to purchase high-quality coffee beans. Organic and fair-trade are worthwhile certifications for coffee beans. Perhaps even more important is ensuring the beans are transported and roasted in small batches.
Cheap coffee beans end up sitting in large, dark, and damp storage containers. There’s a high probability of mold growth. Those coffee jitters might actually be due to mold, not caffeine. Read more info on coffee and mold here.
Red dyes #3 and #40 are the most researched and suggest there to be proof of estrogenic activity. (4) But I’m suspicious of all artificial food dyes and I think you’d be wise to eliminate them from your diet.
Ok, now that you know all the foods to avoid in order to reduce your estrogen dominance let’s look at the foods you need to include.
The estrogen dominance diet – foods to include
If you’re finding my dietary suggestions overwhelming, focus your energy on the foods to avoid. It is more important you avoid the foods I listed above than include the foods I list below. Once you have the above foods eliminated, work towards increasing your serving sizes of the following.
Foods with sulforaphane
Cruciferous vegetables contain sulforaphane. These include veggies like:
- Brussel sprouts
Foods from the Brassicaceae family
The compound found in these plants is known as Indole-3-carbinol. Indole-3-carbinol is thought to help your body remove estrogens. Plants containing Indole-3-carbinol include:
- Bok choy
- Collard greens
Omega-3 fatty acids
If you haven’t already, check out my other post on healthy fats for keto dieters. It goes into specifics on all the benefits of omega 3 fats.
For the uninitiated, omega-3 fatty acids consist of both EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). The best sources of omega 3 fatty acids include:
- Cod liver
- Egg yolks
Yes, you can get omega-3 from flax. But don’t forget all the estrogenic activity caused by flaxseed. If it’s omega-3 you’re after, get it from fatty fish. Plant sources don’t contain anywhere near the levels of DHA and EPA when compared to fish.
While there is no research directly connecting omega-3 fats and their anti-estrogenic effects, there is research suggesting omega-3 intake improves PCOS symptoms and helps with both breast cancer prevention and treatment. (9, 10, 11) Combine this with a ton of data suggesting omega-3 fats lower inflammation (remember, excess estrogen is pro-inflammation) and you’ve got a good justification as to why these foods should be in the estrogen-dominant diet.
The estrogen dominance diet – next steps
Removing foods that are high in estrogen is more important than incorporating foods that help estrogen dominance. Start your estrogen dominance diet by eliminating the foods highest in estrogen:
- Refined and processed foods
While you’re removing those foods, purchase an omega-3 supplement and start taking that. Once these become habitual, increase your consumption of broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts. You’re going to want to enjoy a serving of one of these veggies every day.
Then, make sure you check out this post that discusses all of the other products you use on a daily basis that are silently poisoning you with estrogen. Start removing these products one at a time.
Now, I want to hear from you!
What foods did you include or remove for your own personal estrogen dominance diet?
Be sure to leave your answers in the comments section below!