Written by Tara Conrad, Nutritionist and Diet Consultant. Verita Life Thailand.
It is not easy navigating the difficult world of women and nutrition. Trying to manoeuvre through the incredible sea of information that is presented to us through media, friends, family or culture can be overwhelming, daunting and at times discouraging.
The first thing we need to do is to stop looking outward for all of the answers to what our body needs. We have lost sight of our own intuition, and we have put our faith in the big business of diet culture. As women, several of us have succumbed to the trends that send us down the path of dieting, which is basically food restriction.
The Effect of Nutrition on the Body
Food restriction is how we create these incredibly harsh cravings that cause us to make poor food choices and create unsatisfactory health. As an outcome, our bodies slowly start to lose their ability to function optimally. Symptoms for most women range from infertility to unwanted weight gain or impossible weight loss, brain fog, irritability, headaches, fatigue, bloating, indigestion and irregular menstrual cycles. How can we make a shift? It is not easy and it will not happen overnight, because we have taken several years of our lives to get to this point, yet there is a way, with patience and commitment women can shift their bodies back to working for them, rather than against them.
Gut and Digestive Health
I think when discussing women and their health, we need to address hormones. Hormones are usually the first culprit to why a woman’s body is not functioning properly, and the truth is, if one hormone is out of balance, all of them are. The first step in balancing hormones starts with looking at our digestive tract. After years of wear and tear our gut can become worn out. This all occurs from dieting, unhealthy food choices, a sedentary lifestyle and exposure to chemicals, hormones, antibiotics and pesticides. Even if you have no digestive issues, poor gut health can present itself in several different ways including skin conditions, depression, illness, weight gain, and a general feeling of being unwell. So if you do switch to a healthy diet without ‘fixing’ your gut, you may find that you are not feeling much better or obtaining the results you were looking for.
Our gut can lack important digestive enzymes and healthy bacteria that allow us to properly breakdown the food we are eating. If we do not have these tools, absorption of important minerals and vitamins can be impaired. In this case when absorption is impaired then vital nutrients are not getting into our body and hormones that we need to function are not being built. Step one in rebuilding good gut health is to add in a solid probiotic to establish the good bacteria in the digestive tract and use digestive enzymes to help breakdown the food that we are eating with each meal. Adding fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, and tempeh into our diet is also helpful, as they all carry healthy bacteria for our gut. I recommend keeping a food journal or having a food allergy test to see what foods suit you and do not suit you. When people ask me, ‘What should I eat?’ I always tell them, ‘I have no idea!’. We are all individuals, and we are taught uniqueness at such a young age, well, our gut health is extremely similar, what works for one person may not work for another.
The Importance of Choosing the Right Food
After re-establishing gut health in our body, the next step is to look at our food choices. Proteins and amino acids are essential for the development of our hormones, but it is crucial to realise that not any old protein will do. We need to be eating healthy proteins to get the proper building blocks in our diet.
For women who eat a lot of grain-fed, antibiotic and hormone-injected animal protein (including dairy) can actually shift their body out of hormonal balance, causing high oestrogen levels, inflammation and acidity. Inflammation and acidity leave our body open to a host of different diseases like cancer and autoimmune disease, as well as the inability to properly create the tools we need to function. This is also true for women who have a high intake of simple carbohydrates (think white rice and white pasta) or sugar, as well as eating lots of processed foods. Symptoms of too much oestrogen in the body can range from mood swings, headaches, and bloating to PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and irregular menstrual cycles. Eating clean healthy protein with lots of fruit and veg, to bring the body away from the inflammatory state and balance out our oestrogen levels is an important step in fixing our body. Healthy proteins that help balance us out usually come from legumes, seeds (think hemp, flax, and chia) and nuts, as well as tempeh, grass-fed organic meats and a variety of vegetables.
Achievable Health Goals
The above is just a stepping stone to start you off on a health journey to balance your body. Please do not forget that there are several other factors to take into account to achieving overall wellness. If you do not have proper sleep, exercise, and self-care as well as if you have too much stress in your life, it is impossible to obtain a feeling of complete wellbeing and health. My recommendation to you is that women should start by making 3 to 5 achievable goals each week to get your body and mind on track. These goals can be simple like cutting down on sugar or reading a book for pleasure, it does not always have to revolve around food. Remember if we do not take care of the mind, the body will not follow and vice versa. Make a commitment to not only eating healthier to create hormonal balance but take steps to creating an overall lifestyle of goodness and health. Be well.
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