by Dr. Sara Gottfried
When it comes to hormonal balance, certain protein sources serve you better than others. Eating protein provides your body with amino acids that are used to produce specific hormones, including insulin and growth hormone. Some proteins are adaptogenic, such as lentils and wild steelhead trout, whereas others overstimulate the immune system and create inflammation, such as grain-fed beef. Not only that, but some proteins may shift the microbiome in a positive or negative direction, resulting in hormonal changes particularly to estrogen. While we do not yet understand the effect of all forms of protein on different hormones, we’ll explore the effect of certain protein sources on estrogen, thyroid, and insulin.
Estrogen effects of protein.
Estrogen is the hormone primarily responsible for making us uniquely women, with breasts, hips, curves, and glossy locks; that is, we’re not simply small men. Yet there’s something freaky that happens when you’re female and you eat grain-fed, hormone-injected, superbug-infected meat: It slows down your digestion and may make you bloated or constipated; it raises your body’s estrogen levels; and it messes with your microbiome, the collective DNA of the trillions of microbes that live in your gut and elsewhere in your body.
Here is the biological principle: While it’s true that meat has a higher fat content than other sources of protein, the bigger problem is what’s hidden in the fat of most meats you find at your grocery store. You are anciently hard-wired by your own DNA and microbiome to eat mostly vegetables, nuts, seeds, the occasional fruit, and clean proteins, regardless of your blood type and ethical views. In fact, such native and unprocessed foods keep you lean and your hormones in balance, particularly estrogen.
When you eat conventionally raised red meat, estrogen overload is more likely. When you go meatless, your estrogen decreases. Not surprisingly, vegetarians have the edge here. That could be due to the hormones in the meat, the type of bacteria cultivated in the guts of people who eat a lot of meat, or a combination of factors. We do know that a meat-based diet is linked to higher body mass index and that too much of the wrong type of saturated fat raises estrogen.
Omnivorous women with estrogen excess don’t remove that excess in their bowel movements like women who eat a more plant-based diet—which contains more fiber and stimulates removal of excess estrogen. As a result, studies show that women who eat meat have higher estrogen levels than vegetarians. Vegetarians poop more volume and excrete three times the amount of estrogen as meat eaters, thereby preventing estrogen overload. In fact, estrogen levels in the blood of vegetarians are 15 to 20 percent lower than those of omnivores.
So one of the best ways of creating healthy estrogen levels is to limit alcohol and red meat and to eat more vegetables (1 to 2 pounds per day) and fiber (35 to 50 grams per day).
Thyroid effects of protein.
The major culprits here are mercury-toxic fish and protein sources that contain gluten. Gluten is associated with increased risk of autoimmune thyroiditis, the leading cause of hypothyroidism. Mercury is an endocrine disrupter to both estrogen and thyroid. The worst fish are tuna, shark, and swordfish. Mercury acts like a xenoestrogen by binding to your estrogen receptors. In the thyroid, mercury and iodine are biochemically similar, so your thyroid may absorb and store mercury at the expense of iodine. Women with mercury toxicity are twice as likely to test positive for thyroid antibodies.
Safe sources of marine protein include Alaskan salmon, cod, snapper, tilapia, mackerel, trout, sardines, anchovies, orange roughy, herring, flounder, sturgeon, clams, crab, oysters, and scallops.
Insulin effects of protein.
Eating sufficient fiber is an important part of stabilizing blood sugar and preventing insulin resistance or block. Meat eaters consume half as much fiber as vegetarians. On average, omnivores eat 12 grams of fiber each day, and vegetarians consume 26 grams per day. In other words, a plant-based diet may provide an advantage, although the jury is out on whether people who eat anti-inflammatory meat with adequate vegetables fare as well.
Women who eat red meat may have higher rates of blood sugar problems, as indicated in a recent large-scale observational study of red meat consumption, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome in nearly 150,000 people, published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association. However, an observational study didn’t prove that red meat is the cause of blood sugar problems.
Other studies suggest that a paleo-based food plan may help reverse blood sugar problems in the short term, at least compared with the outdated low-fat American Diabetes Association (ADA) diet. Furthermore, despite the hype about nutritional ketosis and the ketogenic diet, I believe it’s most proven to benefit people with epilepsy and dementia and less proven to help reset insulin, although some studies show a decrease in insulin along with worsening athletic performance.
Mercury may also be associated with a modestly greater risk of insulin resistance, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, according to a recent meta-analysis. Other studies confirm adverse effects on glucose disposal.
Adaptogenic vegan protein sources:
1. Pea protein:I’m a big fan of pea protein because it’s a complete protein, i.e., it provides all of the amino acids you need. It’s also the least allergenic form of protein, so you are unlikely to develop intolerance as you might with other proteins (gluten and dairy). Choose a powder form of pea protein that’s free of gluten and dairy and low in sugar (less than 5 grams per serving).
2. Lentils and other legumes:Some people tolerate them well; others experience inflammation, perhaps due to lectins or fermentation in the gut. See what’s true for you.
3. Seeds:Especially flax, chia, sunflower.
4. Hemp protein:One of the most digestible forms of protein if you have gut issues.
5. Nuts:Macadamia and Brazil nuts are my favorites since they are less carby.
Avoid: gluten, and if grains are inflammatory, avoid grains.
Adaptogenic omnivore protein sources:
1. Wild-caught fish: Salmon, anchovies, sardines, herring, and mackerel.
2. Crustaceans:Particularly oysters, which are rich in copper.
3. Red meat:Go for wild or grass-fed and grass-finished.
4. Pastured poultry and eggs.5. Vegan sources:Keep in mind that rotation of different foods and species helps to prevent intolerance over time.
Avoid: processed meat, grain-fed meat or poultry, dairy (if intolerant), mercury-toxic fish such as tuna, swordfish, and shark.
What's the right dose of protein?
I was taught that people should eat on average 0.75 to 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass.
For women of average size, aim for 75 to 125 grams per day, depending upon your level of activity and weight. So for a 150-pound woman with 25 percent body fat, that's 31 pounds of fat mass, and 119 pounds of lean body mass, so the range is 89 to 119 grams of protein per day. For an athlete, aim for the higher end of the range. If you're less fit, aim lower on the range. In general, that's about 8 to 12 ounces per day. When it comes to protein consumption, you want to determine the correct dose. Too little protein will mean you lose lean body mass, and in people who’ve lost weight, weight regain.
When you eat excess protein, it may be converted into sugar, raising blood sugar, through a process called gluconeogenesis. So make your best guess on how much to get, choose the best source for you and your lifestyle, then track your weight, blood sugar, and body composition over time.
by Yvette Jain
While sleeplessness can happen for a variety of reasons, most people find it happens because they can't turn their racing mind off. If you frequently suffer from nighttime chitta-vrittis, or mind chatter, give this sequence a try—your monkey mind won't stand a chance. As a bonus, you can do this in your bedroom on without a mat!
1. Forward fold.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Fold your upper body over your thighs, letting your head hang. Interlace your fingers and draw your arms up and overhead, releasing tension in your upper back. Take five breaths and feel the stretch in your hamstrings.
2. Side lunge.
Take your legs about 4 to 5 feet apart. Exhale as you bend your right knee and lunge to the right side, stretching out your left inner thighs. Lower your hips as much as you can, pointing your left toes up toward the sky while keeping your spine long. Inhale, extending both legs as you press up to center. As you exhale, bend your left knee; repeat this process on the left side. Inhale back to center and repeat again on the right side.
From skandasana, turn and face the right side of the room so that the right leg is forward in a lunge. Gently lower your back knee onto the floor and untuck your back toes.
3. Low crescent lunge.
Bring your fingertips on either side of your front leg, lower your hips to the floor, and feel the stretch in your left hip flexors. Take five full breaths. Inhale back to center, turning to face the left side of the room. Repeat on the opposite side.
4. Downward-facing dog.
Bring your feet together, then hook the right foot on top of left for a calf stretch. Draw your navel in, taking five deep breaths. Switch sides. Press the floor away from you to open your shoulders and armpits.
5. Half pigeon.
Bring your right knee next to your right wrist and your right heel toward your left wrist. Square off your hips and inhale; exhale and bow forward as you lengthen your spine. Take five to seven breaths and enjoy the stretch in your hips and glutes. Press back to downward dog and repeat half pigeon on the left side.
6. Hero pose with tucked toes.
Bring your knees to the floor, tuck your toes, and sit back on your heels. This stretches the toes, the arches, and the soles of feet. This stretch can be pretty intense, so bring a block underneath your seat to relieve some of the pressure. When you are ready, lean forward with your hands on the floor to support you. Cross at your shins and sit back.
7. Neck stretch.
Ground your sit bones on the floor and bring your arms to either side of your body. Walk your left fingertips to the left side of the room, then tilt your head toward your right ear. For a deeper stretch, use your right hand to gently reach above your head and place your hand over your left ear, gently opening the left side of your neck more. Hold for five to seven breaths. When you're ready, bring your right hand to your right ear and carefully guide your head back to center. Repeat this process on the right side. Extend your legs in front of you and roll down to lie flat on your back.
8. Supine twist.
Keep your left leg extended and draw your right knee into your chest. Roll out your right ankle. With your left hand, draw your right knee across your body for a supine twist, neutralizing your spine. Take five breaths. Hug your knees into your chest, then switch legs and repeat twist on the other side.
Finally, take a savasana in your bed, bringing your awareness to your entire body and allowing it to relax. Take your awareness to your nose and notice the cool air as you breathe in and notice the warm air as you breathe out. Allow your breath to slow down even more as you slowly drift off to sleep.
There’s a lot more that goes into being successful than meets the eye—whether it’s practicing a daily ritual to get grounded, asking for help when you need it, or making time for self-care. After all, being able to enter the workplace every day with a healthy mindset and clear head is the first step to achieving your aspirations. Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, what better time to receive inspiration to help you be your most clearheaded, happiest self?
Here are the best pieces of mental health advice we’ve gathered from some of the women leading the conversation on mental health today.
1. "Be you, be relentlessly you."
After Super Bowl LI, Lady Gaga’s social media accounts were flooded with questions and comments about her body, both negative and positive. Her response touched on body image and struck a mental health chord, too.
"I heard my body is a topic of conversation so I wanted to say, I'm proud of my body and you should be proud of yours too. No matter who you are or what you do. I could give you a million reasons why you don't need to cater to anyone or anything to succeed. Be you, and be relentlessly you. That's the stuff of champions. Thank you so much everyone for supporting me. I love you guys. Xoxo, gaga." --Lady Gaga
2. Take time for yourself!
An outspoken mental health advocate, Lena Dunham reminds women, including herself, that you don’t have to do it all, have it all, or be everything to everyone.
"There is also so much stigma for women around mental health and around taking care of ourselves and around basically the ideal that we've created of the 24-hour woman. The woman who can get up, do her job, be the kind of present girlfriend you're talking about, be a parent, look good doing it. And the fact is that it's too much pressure for anybody. It's too much pressure when you are also dealing with the basics and the challenges of life, and we are all going to have a moment in our lives where we crash and we need help." --Lena Dunham
3. Don't be afraid to share your journey.
You can be the light for someone else. Oprah recently opened up about how her loved ones’ mental health struggles have affected her life.
"The only real shame is on us for not being willing to speak openly. For continuing to deny that mental health is related to our overall health. We need to start talking, and we need to start now." --Oprah Winfrey
4. During a tough time, rewrite "house rules" with your loved ones.
When Sheryl Sandberg tragically lost her husband, she and her kids came up with and displayed some new house rules—rules that gave them permission to grieve but also to have fun.
"It’s OK to be angry and jealous of friends and cousins who still have fathers. It’s OK to say to anyone that we do not want to talk about it now. And it’s always OK to ask for help. The poster we made that day—with the rules written by my kids in colored markers—still hangs in our hall so we can look at it every day. It reminds us that our feelings matter and that we are not alone." --Sheryl Sandberg
5. Build your boundaries and honor them.
Alanis Morissette has lived in the limelight since before adolescence, which has brought its share of ups and downs. Now older and wiser, she reminds us of the importance of setting and honoring boundaries.
"I’ve been so disassociated for most of my life, and it’s shown up in various forms like eating disorders and not having boundaries around having sex as a young person and just not being aware of boundaries and having a lot of mine be violated and not considered," she says. "For me, the idea of building boundaries has become a huge part of my spiritual practice. With the mindfulness somatic practices, it’s really helped me stay in my body." --Alanis Morissette
6. Don't let other people's opinions change you.
During the Rio Olympics, social media trolls targeted Gabby Douglas. When rumors were circling, she had to remind herself that they’re simply lies—the world will move on soon enough.
"They're lies," Gabby said. "So don't even pay attention to it. I know I definitely did and I probably changed myself, but don't ever change yourself. You shouldn't feel pressure to change yourself. That's what I did and it ended up doing more damage. I felt like the world was against me, but it's not. There are people out there that love you guys and your life is very important and very valuable. Always be strong, and you can overcome it, you really can." --Gabby Douglas
7. Embrace your flaws, for they may bring you success.
Ruby Rose, the gender-fluid Australian beauty of Orange Is the New Black fame, experienced a childhood of bullying, which led to anxiety. Now she looks back on it and credits her success to being different.
"The irony is that all the things that everybody teased me about are what have gotten me so far in my career today...and it's important to be honest and do things like this and talk about how we are not perfect and how we have insecurities and are just like everybody else." --Ruby Rose
8. Do not be ashamed.
J.K. Rowling reminds us there’s nothing to be ashamed of. The author—notorious for replying to fans when they reach out during hard times—has openly shared her depression story.
"I have never been remotely ashamed of having been depressed. Never,” she said in an interview with Adeel Amini, 22, for a student magazine at Edinburgh University.
"What's to be ashamed of? I went through a really rough time and I am quite proud that I got out of that.” --J.K. Rowling
Poet and activist Cleo Wade shares mantras of self-love and peace on her famous Instagram account, @cleowade. She recently wrote about a sleepless night brought on by anxiety and the creative release writing has provided.
"I write because it helps me. When my thoughts gang up on me I combat them with mantras and affirmations. I say to myself, ‘I am more OK than I think’ and I share these words not because I think they are terribly profound but because they are gentle reminders. Sometimes when you're spiraling or you have had a hard day, that's all you need." --Cleo Wade
10. Let issues pass.
Emma Stone spoke about her lifelong battle with anxiety, saying that she never wanted to socialize with friends and be away from home. She reminds herself even the most anxious moments will pass.
"It’s so nice to know in those moments of real intensity that it will shift and it will change and there’s a lot I can do to help myself." --Emma Stone
by Liz Moody, MBG Sr. Food Editor
It started with a sneeze. A sneeze that led to another and another, until I had a full-fledged cold I couldn't shake, even as the weeks wore on and my co-workers became less sympathetic about the dirty tissues that littered my desk. It was in this state, red-nosed, foggy-headed and desperate, that I made my first bone broth five years ago. Instantly, I was hooked—the warm, savory comfort of the broth sliding down my aching throat, the internet-confirmed promise of the powers of the broth healing people for hundreds of years. I became a bone broth convert and spent several years making my own broth, buying my friends slow cookers for their birthdays so they, too, could experience its healing powers.
And then I moved from London back to New York, and the weather became a whole lot less broth-friendly, especially in the summer, where the soupy humidity felt distressingly similar to the liquid in my cup. My batches of broth became once-a-month affairs, and then even less frequent. It's hard to say whether my health suffered—my anxiety is the main reason I'm interested in gut healing, and it's tangled up in so many different factors. I felt less vibrant and healthy, just not quite enough to go through the effort of making more broth.
A year passed, and then two, and then I started to hear about collagen.It began showing up in my Instagram feed, with Outdoor Voices-clad women talking about its benefits as they chucked it into their potion-filled lattes. World-class functional medicine doctors mentioned it in their mbg classes, and it showed up in conversations with other wellness-minded folk at events and, eventually, at my desk here at mbg. The purported benefits were much the same as bone broth: Collagen is meant to help seal and heal the gut lining, so less waste matter gets leaked into your system. On a far more attractive-to-envision level, collagen is also one of the key factors in creating plump, youthful skin and long, strong hair. When we tell you to eat vitamin C or apply it topically, it's because it stimulates your body's production of collagen, so theoretically, going directly to the source would be even more efficient and effective.
I started with mbg class instructor Dr. Sara Gottfried's technique of adding collagen to her lattes. Because I don't drink caffeine, I made a rooibos/coconut milk/coconut oil blend, adding a heaping teaspoonful of the Bulletproof collagen powder before using my milk frother to bring it all together. Many of the collagen-devotees I know would have some variation on this for breakfast, claiming the healthy fat and protein (collagen has a whopping 18 grams per serving) keeps them full through lunch. For me? Not so much. The drink was creamy, thick, and delicious, but I was ravenous only an hour later and had to gulp down an emergency green smoothie at 10 a.m. to feel satiated.
Over the next few weeks, I experimented with my only one rule—I had to consume at least a serving of collagen powder every single day. I tried it in my bars, in drinks, in hot chocolate as an afternoon pick-me-up, before settling into an easy routine of adding a heaping scoop of Vital Proteins Vanilla Coconut collagen powder to my morning smoothie. The vanilla, which is just real vanilla beans, not any weird flavoring, makes whatever flavor smoothie I'm making (this is my current favorite) taste that much more delicious. Beyond that, there's maybe a slightly thicker texture, but the smoothie is unchanged.
After a few weeks, I began to get compliments on my skin. While it was never bad, I struggle with large pores ("what are those dots all over your face?" my husband's 8-year-old niece once asked), uneven texture, and ruddiness. After three weeks, my skin looked smoother than it has since elementary school. I started wearing less foundation and began smiling at myself in mirrors more.
Around the same time, I noticed how fast my nails were growing. This side effect was less than welcome for me (I love my nails super short and find clipping them an annoying waste of time) but could be a boon for some people. I also found myself getting less anxiety-induced stomachaches and generally enjoying better digestion. After a month, I was a convert.
As an editor at a wellness website, I try a lot of different trends, and very few stick. Collagen has, and I think it's for two reasons: 1) I found a way to incorporate it into my existing routine, and 2) it ticks a lot of boxes. It serves the function of a protein powder, flavor enhancer, gut-healer, and skin-booster all in one. And if the only downside is having to cut my nails a bit more often? I can live with that.
Want more tricks to make your skin glow? Have you tried giving up caffeine, alcohol, and sugar? This woman did and says it worked wonders. And if you're healing your gut, you might want to avoid these foods.
M.Om., Dipl. Acu (NCCAOM) L.Ac.
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