Nutrition: Hormone-Balancing Food Plan

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.


When you consider the average lifestyle of perimenopausal women, it is not hard to understand why insulin, estrogen and eicosanoids become imbalanced, setting the stage for increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis and breast cancer. Here are my suggestions for keeping your blood sugar, eicosanoids and hormones in balance.

  1. Eat at least three meals per day. Many women skip breakfast or lunch, or even both, “saving” their calories for dinner. The problem with this approach is that the metabolic rate naturally peaks at noon and slows after that. So the food you eat at night is far more likely to be stored as fat. When you eat breakfast, your metabolism gets jump-started for the day. If you skip it, your metabolism will slow down into conservation mode and this can lead to weight gain.
  2. Eat protein at each meal. Eggs, fish, lean meat, dairy, or vegetarian alternatives to animal protein, such as soy protein powder, whole soybeans, tofu or tempeh, are all good choices. Beans contain protein, but also contain a considerable amount of carbohydrates. If you are a true carbohydrate addict and you are perimenopausal, beans may be too high in carbohydrates for you.
  3. Cut down on refined and high-glycemic index carbohydrates. Not all carbohydrates are created equal. Whether certain foods with a high-glycemic index, such as baked potatoes or bananas, can be part of a healthy diet for you depends upon your unique metabolism. If you are a true carbohydrate addict, you need to find what foods are healthy for you. I find that eliminating refined carbohydrates, such as sugar, white rice, bread, alcohol, and foods made with white flour, such as muffins, bagels, pasta, pretzels and other snack foods, helps the body burn stored fat and keeps insulin and blood sugar levels normal.
  4. Consume whole grains in moderation. Even if you have eliminated refined grains, if you are a carbohydrate-sensitive person you may still have problems with whole wheat, whole rye, whole oat, or millet flour. Research shows that the degenerative diseases that currently plague Americans didn’t arrive on the scene until agriculture became widespread. In fact, the ancient Egyptians were fat and had dental disease associated with a grain-based diet.
  5. Eat a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables daily. You want to shoot for five servings per day. And remember, a serving is small, approximately four ounces, or a half-cup. Think color and you’ll be on the right path, because the deep pigments in these foods contain powerful antioxidants. Go for broccoli, green leafy vegetables, berries, red, yellow and green peppers, and tomatoes, and vary your choices through the seasons.
  6. Eat healthy fats each day. The low-fat diet fads of the past, which reached their peak in the 1980s and early 1990s, had women brainwashed into believing that fat was the enemy. In their attempt to eliminate saturated fat from their diets, many women eliminated all fat. I watched my patients complain of sallow skin, brittle hair and nails, susceptibility to infection, inability to concentrate, and weight gain despite their rigid diets. None of these women were getting enough healthy fat. Essential fatty acids, namely omega–3 and omega–6 fats, are needed to assist the body in many important functions, including those of the brain and nervous system. Good sources of EFAs include eggs, high-quality flax seeds, soybeans, walnuts, and cold water fish harvested from the wild. Again, the best way to obtain nutrients is in your food, but if your diet is lacking, high-quality EFA supplements are widely available.
  7. Protect your body with antioxidants. Antioxidants combat cellular damage from free radicals, which are known to be a cause of chronic conditions such as heart disease, cataracts, macular degeneration, and cancer. Arad1 Antioxidants are found in fresh fruits and vegetables, especially brightly colored ones. Food is the best source for antioxidants, but if you don’t always get enough in your diet, high-quality supplements can provide significant protection. I have outlined more fully a perimenopausal supplement program in my book, The Wisdom of Menopause.

Healing Alternatives

Here are the relative glycemic indexes of some common foods. This is simply a guide; these numbers do vary from study to study, with plant varieties, and food preparation methods. Use this chart to help balance high glycemic foods with low glycemic ones. Try eating smaller portions of high glycemic foods and add some protein and fat to your plate.

Glycemic Index Chart

Low Glycemic: black beans, broccoli, cherries, chickpeas, leafy vegetables, milk, peanuts, peanut butter, pears, plums, soybeans, tomatoes, tomato soup, wild rice, yogurt.

Low to Moderate Glycemic: All-Bran, apples, garbanzo beans, ice cream, navy beans, oranges, peas, pinto beans, potato chips.

Moderate to High Glycemic: bananas, candy bars (most), potatoes, pita bread, oat bran, oat bread, raisins, carrots, brown rice, kidney beans.

High Glycemic: bagels, basmati rice, cakes, Cheerios, corn, corn flakes, pies, pretzels, durum wheat pasta, white bread.

Learn More — Additional Resources


  1. Arad, Y., Newstein, D., Roth, M., Guerci, A.D. (2001). Rationale and design of the St. Francis Heart Study: A randomized clinical trial of atorvastatin plus antioxidants in asymptomatic persons with elevated coronary calcification. Control. Clin. Trials, 22 (5), 553–572.
    Johnson, E. J. (2002). The role of carotenoids in human health. Nutr. Clin. Care, 5 (2), 56–65.
    Meydani, M. (2001). Nutrition interventions in aging and age-associated disease. Ann. NY Acad. Sci., 928 , 226–235.
    Packer, L., Kraemer, K., & Rimbach, G. (2001). Molecular aspects of lipoic acid in the prevention of diabetes complications. Nutrition, 17 (10), 888–895.
    Taylor, A., et al. (2002). Long-term intake of vitamins and carotenoids and odds of early age-related cortical and posterior subcapsular lens opacities. Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 75 (3), 540–549.
    Vinson, J. A., et al. (2002). Polyphenol antioxidants in citrus juices: In vitro and in vivo studies relevant to heart disease. Adv. Exp. Med. Biol., 505, 113–122.
Last Updated: October 13, 2006

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.


Add comment
  1. Charli Smith
    4 years ago

    If you want to lose weight, the key is to burn more calories than you take in. to do that, exercise and a healthy diet are the things you need to do.

  2. Charli Smith
    4 years ago

    Then about 5 months later you should start another exercise such as jump roping and do walking, jump roping, and bike riding.

  3. Charli Smith
    4 years ago

    Alternative method for fitness tips Always we heard about fitness tips or health related topic is that an apple a day keeps from doctor away.

  4. Annabelle Caturza
    7 years ago

    Interested to know menopause diet

  5. R.Fish
    8 years ago

    I am 54 and have had no periods for several years, have found that caffeine contributed to my hot flashes greatly. Very few now, almost none when I omit caffeine and artificial sweeteners. FYI

    I have read Dr N’s works and I am so grateful for her insight and for her support of women’s health over the years.
    Thank you!!!!

    Question- I have uterine prolapse and it has been suggested to eat more soy. All I seem to read about soy is all bad.
    Is there a safe soy supplement or food? I love tofu and soybeans as well as soy powders with vitamins, but am unsure of how to include it with good conscience in my diet.

  6. Lenora
    8 years ago

    Hi there- I had a Nexplanon implant which disrupted my hormones so badly that I had a nonstop migraine for 4 straight months. Now I’m off the implant, but leading up to and during menstruation I have increasingly bad headaches which wane as I begin to ovulate. I’m eating a Primal Blueprint diet (22 days in) and plan to continue, but wanted to know if there’s any way I can eat specific types of food to stop these headaches.


  7. Cathy
    8 years ago

    Can low iron and potassium blood levels be a cause of hair loss? I have been eating as you suggest (eliminated refined grains, sugary foods, alcohol, caffeine with only occasional dairy) for four months, and my latest blood work shows GREAT lipid panel results, but low in minerals. I’ve lost 23 pounds and have stable blood sugar and steady energy all day, but have been losing TONS of hair! (I also have diarrhea IBS, so have to limit cruciferous and green veggies, bell peppers, onions and berries since they cause liquid stools, pain and bloating.) I would KILL for a salad!

    Anyway, wonder if I should take mineral supplements for my hair loss.

    Thank you

  8. ariane
    9 years ago

    bom dia!!
    oque vc acha do uso oral da hidrocortizona biodentica,para nivel pouquinho baixo de cortisol?
    tenho 25 anos meu nutrologo mandou tomar esse mas outros medicamentos,porem,estou tratando problemas de acne e estrias,acne originada de uso de esteoroides,estrias da gravidez,mas depois que começei a tomar a hidrocortizonaq,o 7 keto(dhea) + outros manipulados que incluim progesterona base e anastrozol dentre outros.Emfim,sinto que na media de 1 mes tomando,engordei,sinto compuçao alimentar a noite e esta saindo acne,faço musculaçao 3x semana,oque vc acha?

  9. LW
    9 years ago

    What do you suggest for breakfast? I don’t typically wake up hungry…but I am reading more and more about the importance of having breakfast within an hour of rising. Thank you!

  10. Leeeeeena
    9 years ago

    Get off caffeine. Get good quality sleep. By good quality I mean go to bed at sun down (9pm) wake up with the sun coming up (5-6am). Every day. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and veggies. Avoid alcohol. Take a natural iron supplement because you are losing so much blood. Take vitamin d supplement. Try a copper IUD (intrauterine device). It is no hormones and may stop your bleeding or reduce it significantly. You must be feeling so tired.

  11. michelle
    9 years ago

    hi………first of all I dislike doctors, so I would love your hep I periods started since last week from today 12/02/15 it has been almost two weeks and have not stop just yet.. I really don’t want to go to a doctor but I went to the pharmacy and was told by the pharmacist this Is normal for my age (40) turning 41 in march……….I don’t have any pains but I am not accustom to this so very long my periods is like 5 or 6 days most………………please advise me I know that I am overweight as well could this be part of it I am 4 ft high and weigh 140lbs………..but with my job I am sitting from 8 to 5 mon to sat………….and I don’t take time to exercise……….please help me

    1. Angren
      9 years ago

      You need more estrogen- soy and Google estrogen foods for women. Learn to eat Raw foods-organic non gmo. What is grown from Earth is what we are supposed to be eating.

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