I’m guessing if you’re reading this, you’re interested in ways to support your hormones. Maybe you feel something is awry with your hormones, maybe you are just wondering about the connection between nutrition and hormones, or maybe you are trying to conceive and are interested in nutrition and fertility.
Let’s dig into how cruciferous vegetables can play a role in these hormonal aspects.
What are Cruciferous Vegetables?
You may have read the title of this blog and thought ‘I don’t even know what cruciferous vegetables are!’ Cruciferous vegetables are part of the Brassica genus of plants. This includes vegetables like arugula, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, bok choy, and others. These vegetables contain special compounds that are important to our hormonal health.
How do they support hormones?
For those of you who like to know the science behind things, I’m going to give you a little of that in this section. If you start reading this section and think “I have no idea what any of this means!” you can skip this section and just know that they have important compounds in them that impact our hormones! I’ve also included a “Key Takeaways” section at the end.
The cruciferous family of vegetables contain a compound called indole-3-carbinol. When this compound reaches the stomach, it is broken down by the stomach into diindolylmethane (DIM). DIM helps with the breakdown of estrogen and supports healthy estrogen balance. It helps move estrogen down the more helpful pathways versus the more harmful ones. Estrogen dominance can play a role in infertility, so DIM can be helpful in breaking down the excess estrogen. DIM is available in supplemental form, but you should always work with a practitioner before supplementing to ensure that it is indicated.
Cruciferous vegetables also contain sulforaphane. Sulforaphane is a sulfur-containing compound. It is foudn in its inactive form, glucoraphanin, in cruciferous vegetables. Glucoraphanin is then converted to sulforaphane by the enzyme myrosinase, which is also in cruciferous vegetables. Chopping or chewing the vegetables causes myrosinase to be released and then sulforaphane is released.
Sulforaphane is known for its antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties. It helps with the body’s detoxification system.
Broccoli, especially broccoli sprouts, have been shown to have the highest amounts of sulforaphane, but other cruciferous vegetables also contain it. In order to absorb the most sulforaphane, it is best to lightly cook the vegetables or eat them raw, if tolerated. Sulforaphane is also available as a supplement, but again, you should always consult your health care practitioner before starting any supplements.
Inflammation can play a role in hormone imbalances. Many different things can cause inflammation in our bodies. Stress, eating an inflammatory diet, poor gut health, poor sleep, chronic diseases, oxidative stress, as well as many other things can all increase inflammation in our bodies and consequently impact our hormones. Inflammation is at the root of most (if not all) chronic diseases, but we don’t always think of inflammation affecting our hormones and consequently our fertility, but it can!
Antioxidants can help protect the body from oxidative stress and the inflammation that can occur from it. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance of antioxidants and free radicals in the body. The cells in your body can produce antioxidants and you can also get antioxidants through your diet, like consuming fruits and vegetables.
Studies have shown that the higher the intake of cruciferous vegetables, the lower the concentration of inflammatory markers in the blood. In addition to the compounds discussed earlier (DIM and sulforaphane), cruciferous vegetables, like many other vegetables, contain antioxidants. By increasing your intake of cruciferous vegetables in your diet, you can increase the amount of antioxidants in your diet and help decrease oxidative stress and inflammation.
Fiber is beneficial for so many reasons, but one we don’t often consider is for hormone support. Excess hormones can be reabsorbed in your body and lead to imbalances. Fiber binds to excess hormones in the body and works to remove them through the colon. By ensuring that you are consuming adequate fiber, you can help your body excrete excess hormones and not recirculate them.
How much fiber should you eat? Women under 50 should consume at least 25 grams per day (21 grams for those over age 50) and men under 50 should consume 38 grams per day (30 grams for those over age 50). Only about 5% of Americans consume the recommended amount of fiber!
When working on increasing your intake of fiber, you want to go slowly and make sure you are drinking plenty of water. The chart below will give you an idea of the fiber content of various cruciferous vegetables. Many of the cruciferous vegetables are rich in fiber, some more so than others as you can see below. Many other vegetables are also rich in fiber, but for the sake of this post, we will just focus on a few of the cruciferous ones.
Amount of fiber in 1 cup
Ways to Include Cruciferous Vegetables in Your Diet
There are many ways to fix cruciferous vegetables. Maybe sitting down to a bowl of raw broccoli or cauliflower doesn’t sound that appetizing to you (welcome to the club!). But that doesn’t mean you should write these vegetables off…as we can see, they are very beneficial.
Some common ways to prepare them include roasting, steaming, grilling, and sautéing. You can also add them to soups and stir fry. Don’t forget the value of adding spices and herbs. This can help enhance the flavor, plus spices and herbs are full of phytonutrients!
Get creative! Maybe this week you try roasting a batch of vegetables. Then next week, you try steaming them. After that, maybe you will try them in the air fryer or add some riced cauliflower to a smoothie. Choosing to prepare them in a variety of ways helps so you don’t get bored with them and helps you experience different tastes and textures.
- Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, bok choy, arugula, and others.
- Cruciferous vegetables contain compounds helpful for your hormones.
- We want to eliminate excess hormones so they do not get recirculated in our bodies
- Cruciferous vegetables can help boost intake of antioxidants which can help decrease inflammation in your body.
- Cruciferous vegetables can help increase your fiber intake, which can impact your hormones.
- Try to consume cruciferous vegetables regularly!
Comment below and let me know your favorite cruciferous vegetable and how you like to prepare it!