What Should You Eat?

How to flourish while balancing your hormones, having more energy, and saving the planet

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Diet & Detox

Are you confused about what you should eat? If so, you are in good company. With so many diets and ways to eat, it can certainly be confusing. The one thing I know is that at midlife and beyond, many women (and men) want to eat foods that will help them balance their hormones and stay healthy and fit, so they are able to do the things they enjoy. And more and more people want to feel good about their impact on the planet. That’s a lot to think about!

For decades I have given women specific advice on what to eat and how to use their bodies’ responses to food as information. Here is my updated advice on how you can consume the healthiest food for your body in light of so many diets and so much conflicting information.

10 Food Rules to Help You Flourish

When you are young, your body is forgiving. That’s why many women can eat pizza, drink alcohol, and exercise infrequently and still remain thin, relatively healthy, and have enough energy. But, when you approach perimenopause, what you eat and how you live make a huge difference in how you feel and how you experience menopause and your later years. For one thing, making poor food choices and being constantly on the run can set the stage for hormonal imbalance. When insulin, estrogen, and eicosanoids become imbalanced, you are at increased risk for developing heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, and cancer.

Here are my suggestions for how to eat to flourish:

  1. Remove sugar from your diet. This means remove – or really cut down – on the refined and high-glycemic index carbohydrates. But, remember that 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.
  2. Enjoy plants. Fruits and vegetables should make up at least half of your plate at mealtime. 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. You may also want to take inspiration from other areas of the world where much of the food is plant-based, such as China and the Mediterranean.
  3. Eat some protein. Eating a little protein can go a long way to helping you feel full and may prevent over-eating. Good options for protein include organic eggs, fish, lean meat, and full-fat dairy. Vegetarian alternatives to animal protein, such as whole, non-GMO soy, tofu, or tempeh are also good for some people. In addition, 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.
  4. Don’t be afraid of fat. 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 essential fatty acids, namely omega-3 and omega-6 fats, which 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, soy, walnuts, and wild-harvested cold-water fish.
  5. 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, archeologic evidence show that many ancient Egyptians were fat and had dental disease associated with a grain-based diet.
  6. 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. 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.
  7. Try intermittent fasting. For many years, doctors, including myself, recommended eating at least three meals per day. Now, we know that our bodies were designed for periods of intermittent fasting. That’s because intermittent fasting helps to lower your insulin levels. There are different ways to incorporate intermittent fasting into your diet, and everyone’s body is different, so be sure to use your intuition. Learn more about intermittent fasting here.
  8. Employ the 80-20 rule. I have always been a huge proponent of the 80/20 rule, which means that it’s okay to give in to cravings 20 percent of the time. When you do, try to indulge with high-quality choices. A good strategy is to find a healthier substitute. For example, I use Stevia in place of white sugar; I savor a square of organic dark chocolate instead of gulping down a pile of stale, leftover Halloween candy; or I eat a thin crust pizza with lots of veggies instead of a deep-dish pizza with a thick crust. What’s important is you’re still choosing a better quality of life.
  9. Remember your heritage. Reaching and maintaining a healthy body composition and vibrant health through the right food choices has a lot to do with your heritage. For example, people of European heritage may do better on milk, rye, and yogurt while people of Asian heritage do fine with white rice.
  10. Drink more water. Optimal hydration is crucial to maintaining every organ and system in your body. You have probably been told that you need to drink eight glasses of water per day (eight ounces each) and even more if you exercise. This is partially true, but believe it or not, eating your water is the best way to get hydration to all of your cells. In fact gel water from plants is far more hydrating than plain water and more apt to get to the right places in the body, including your cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid that bathes your brain), your bloodstream, your gut lining, your respiratory system and your fascia.

How to Eat Responsibly

With all the different ways of eating that are popular today – including vegan, vegetarian, Paleo, pegan, plant-plus, Keto, and more – an exciting movement that is catching on involves eating responsibly. This means that you choose to eat foods that have been produced sustainably and with respect for the people who produce them, the animals (if involved), and for the planet as a whole.

Whether you want to decrease your carbon footprint, are concerned about how much water and land is being used for creating our food, want to help lower the emissions and nitrogen released from food waste, or want to eat fewer pesticides and hormones, your food choices can make a difference.

Here are 6 easy ways you can choose to eat responsibly:

  1. Buy locally. Purchasing food from your local farmers helps to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gasses by reducing the need for transportation. Plus, when you buy local, you have the opportunity to get to know the people who grow your food and to learn how your food was grown.
  2. Eat seasonally. Eating seasonally reduces the need for transportation and thus reduces pollution. It also ensures that you are getting more whole foods in your diet.
  3. Try a variety of foods. Many people eat the same foods again and again. This is not only limiting from a nutritional standpoint, but it can also harm the planet. A recent study showed the average greenhouse gas emissions associated with different foods. Try substituting foods you eat frequently with a variety of sustainably sourced foods. When you eat a variety of foods, you’ll improve your nutrition as well.
  4. Plan ahead. Planning your meals not only helps you eat healthier, but it can also reduce the amount of food you throw out, which can help reduce the amount of methane emissions from landfills.
  5. Read labels. Look for environmental and ethical labels on your food packaging that tell you how your food was produced. Labels to look for include Fair Trade, USDA Organic, RSPO (Palm Oil Free), American Grassfed, Animal Welfare Approved, Best Aquaculture Practices, Bird Friendly Coffee, California Certified Organic Farmers – CCOF, Certified Humane Raised and Handled, Marine Stewardship Council, Protected Harvest, Rainforest Alliance Certified, Salmon-Safe. You may also want to investigate other certifications on your own depending on what you are passionate about and what changes you are able to make to your diet and routine.
  6. Dine at restaurants that buy from local farmer. The food-to-table movement has been around for a while, making it easier to find restaurants that support local farmers. The food at these restaurants is fresh and seasonal, and the menus often change more frequently based on what’s available from local farms. So, it’s a win-win.

One More Tip for Eating to Flourish

Eating high-quality food is one of the easiest ways to create health on a daily basis and to help the planet. And, the best way to enjoy your food to is eat mindfully. Mindful eating is the practice of deliberately noticing every sense associated with eating while leaving your emotions out of the experience. This rewires the brain and, over time, helps to restore your intuition around eating. It also reduces stress and creates a more positive relationship with food. This contributes to your enjoyment and to your overall well-being.

Here’s how to practice mindful eating:

  1. Put down your phone. Turn off all electronic distractions before eating, including the television and all personal electronics such as your tablet and phone. This will help set the stage for being able to focus on eating and help you pick up on your body’s sensations, including hunger, thirst, and satiety before you over indulge.
  2. Practice gratitude. Supermarkets make it easy to forget where our food comes from—the animals, the farmers who raised them, the people who prepared it and shipped it.  Focus on the journey your food has made to get to your table and offer gratitude. This will help make each meal more satisfying.
  3. Focus on your food. Instead of mindlessly putting food into your mouth and gulping it down, take time to look at your food. Notice the colors and the aromas. Taste each bite and try to differentiate the unique flavors of the ingredients.
  4. Slow Down. Chew your food slowly. This will help you taste your food and will improve your digestion. You can also try putting down your utensils between bites while you chew. Take notice of how you feel after each bite. Stop when you are full to prevent overeating, indigestion, and bloating.
  5. Notice your emotions. Do you feel happy or a sense of guilt when you eat? Is mealtime stressful? If so, ask yourself “why?” Once you identify your emotions, accept them and, without fighting them, simply release them.
  6. Don’t eat and run. Instead of eating leftovers out of the container over the kitchen sink (we’ve all done this!), designate a place to eat and create a bit of ambiance. Plate your food (yes, even leftovers) and sit down to enjoy it. Stay seated for the entirety of your meal. This will help you focus on the act of eating.
  7. Include loved ones. If you want your family to eat mindfully, schedule a regular time for your meal (usually dinner is easiest for getting everyone together). Make a rule that no one leaves the table until dinner is over. This may be an hour each evening or once per week, depending on your schedule. While the family is congregated, encourage everyone to enjoy their senses of smell and taste while they eat. Be sure to show gratitude to your family for joining in the experience together.
  8. Eat purposefully. If you are an emotional eater or someone who is in the habit of eating a pick-me-up snack every day at 3 pm, ask yourself “why?” You may learn that you are in the habit of doing this out of stress or boredom. Try taking a short walk instead. If you are at work, you can do some desk stretches. Also, if you are someone who uses food as a reward – as in “When I finish this project, I’ll treat myself to a pizza” (or whatever), ask yourself “Is this really a treat?” In other words, is this how you want to treat your body?

I would love to learn what foods you eat and what are you doing to lessen your environmental footprint. Please leave your comments below. 

Last Updated: October 8, 2019

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

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.

Comments

Add comment
  1. M Clark
    1 week ago

    I really appreciated this article. I had a hysterectomy (ovaries still here) 2 years ago and because I was believed to be “in the change,” I was told I’d be likely fully menopausal within 3 years. I can not lose weight. Incidental findings of very early stage cancers (kidney ’07, and colon ’14) lead to the recommended hysterectomy (suspected Lynch – family history too). Sigh… life is an education of experience (lol).
    All my earlier life I have been fit. PMS just wasn’t an issue for me. I had 5 children in 3 batches, last one at 40, and I’m nearly 80lbs overweight (60lb loss would be great!). Second half life feels like it is upon me! I LOVE middle age! Even with an almost 5-yo still home all day with me, I feel myself ready to do what I’m “meant” to do. Fulfill my purpose… sounds silly to say that 😉 but I kind think all my experience has lead me to now and right now is incredible!
    Love the list of focus points. Thank you. Think I will enjoy your many other articles 😀

    1. Christiane Northrup
      2 days ago

      Having a 5 year old at home will “prime” you to feel and look much younger for much longer. This is the research of Ellen Langer, PhD of Harvard. I applaud you on what you’ve done and what lies ahead. You’ll figure this out. I’m certain of it. You have a great attitude. Make sure you add some iodine to your diet for thyroid. Maybe a teaspoon of organic Atlantic dulse powder daily in a smoothie.

  2. Mary Jane Burns
    1 week ago

    I am actually reading Anthony William’s books and I noticed that you wrote the introduction and support him fully and I am trying to follow his plan for eating,and I am just beginning and I am definitely excited about the celery juice. I have a slight liver problem that started years ago with too much alcohol and I have not had alcohol for the past 7 years and I am doing my best to stay very healthy and I have done so since 2012. I have also read your books Christiane and I love them and I follow you as well.

    1. Christiane Northrup
      2 days ago

      I too started to really follow Anthony’s plan about a month ago– with celery juice daily ( 16 oz on an empty stomach first thing in the morning). And also his detox smoothie every day. I love Anthony and find a great deal of wisdom in his work. AND– I don’t follow everything he says. Sometimes I eat chocolate, have coffee, and sometimes even a burger! But man… following the plan strictly now and again is a great thing to do for health. Thanks for this lovely comment.

  3. Claudia E. Darbie
    2 weeks ago

    Hi Dr. Northrup,

    I am one of your biggest fans. I have been for many, many years. I have read and re-read all of your books, most all of them anyway.

    This article on food is awesome. I have a nearby farm where I buy my vegetables (some fruits) as are in season. And that truth about eating in season is on the money, so to speak. I am a lover of tomatoes (if I have good ones, I can eat them three times, or more a day. I love peppers, potatoes, squash, collards, kale and all of their goodness.

    I have always had to watch my weight, from the time I was ten. I was blessed with wonderful parents, who early on in my life, taught me how to eat to control being overweight. Out of assisting my mother with a low sodium diet at an early for herself, I learned early to read labels.

    Now that I am retired, and I am going to be 68 years old this month, I am not eating processed food. Even when I was still working full-time, as I did all of my life, I started cooking whole food on the weekends, to take for my lunches during the week. But, I still ate meals like Smart Ones, etc. I plan and cook my food and manage my intake well. I do stop eating when I get full. I noticed in my early 50’s that I had to reduce my plates of food to what I call a “small” plate, as I could see I wasn’t able to always intake what I once did.

    Also, the comment in your article about the color of food, is what inspires me to buy, cook and eat what I do. Of course, the price of food today is something else, to say the least. I also notice that I am more satisfied if I eat what I want to taste, which is all in the preparation, so I may do it a day or two before.

    Thank you, again for your words of wisdom.

    1. Christiane Northrup
      2 days ago

      What a beautiful and inspiring comment. Thank you so much. And boy is it true. As we grow older, we have the opportunity to become far more discerning about what we eat. I sure have!!

  4. Carol Terry
    2 weeks ago

    Good article. One thing I would add to the list is grow as many of your fruits and vegetables as you can and use organic gardening methods. This way you will have fresher food and know how it was grown plus help the planet and save money. All the best. Carol

    1. Christiane Northrup
      2 days ago

      You are SO RIGHT!! I have had a wonderful little garden this year– and no critters eating the veggies because of a fence around the entire yard ( for the swimming pool). And there is NOTHING better than stepping outside for a fresh tomato, a couple carrots, some tomatoes, some lettuce, and a handful of fresh herbs to season the evening meal. I plan to do even more next summer.

  5. Estella DeAnda
    2 weeks ago

    Would you review what teas are considered “water support” and which may be diuretics? I currently drink matcha and wondered if this is creating a setup for dehydration. Thank you Dr. Northrop for your guidance!

    1. Christiane Northrup
      2 days ago

      In general, if a tea has any caffeine, then you simply make up for this by drinking an equal amount of water sometime later with a pinch of sea salt or a squeeze of lemon. Do the same with coffee. And that way the dehydration from the caffeine won’t be an issue. And read the book Quench– it’s full of amazing information!

  6. Regina
    2 weeks ago

    i LOVE all that you said here!!

  7. Patty
    2 weeks ago

    Very helpful! I appreciate your recognizing beneficial foods combined with difference in body history and make up. Than you!

    1. Christiane Northrup
      2 weeks ago

      Thank you so much for reading! Christiane

  8. Josephine
    2 weeks ago

    Hi, I am full menopausal, waking up to the fact I’m surrounded and attracted to vampires, bankrupt my sustainable fabric and clothing manufacturing company after 20 yrs and got taken. Live alone w my dog. And can’t motivate myself to eat to give me power and strength. Most of what you wrote in your blog, I do and promote daily. I am in therapy too. Hahaha! I’m loving a lot in my head .. for moths now!

    1. Christiane Northrup
      2 days ago

      Well here’s the good news– you are healing on a VERY deep level. And just noticing the after effects of energy vampires is sometimes all you can do! Be patient, be loving. And over time, you will find yourself eating better. For many years, I went out to eat a lot!! Why? I really needed to be served by someone else– and also needed to have someone else cook and clean up. That was my self care. Now I cook nearly every night. And I find it creative and fun. But arriving at this stage took years ( and many vampire encounters– when I had NO idea who draining they were so allowed myself to donate “bone marrow”) Thank you for sharing and for your vulnerability.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *