Amanda: Hey, this is Amanda, women's health dietitian.
Emily: And I'm Emily, nutritional therapy practitioner.
Amanda: And this is the Are You Menstrual? podcast where we help you navigate the confusing world of women's hormones and teach you how to have healthy periods.
Emily: Each week we will be diving into a different topic on women's health and sharing our perspective using nutrition, female physiology, and metabolic health.
Amanda: Our goal is to help you wade through conflicting health information and empower you on your healing journey.
Emily: We hope you enjoy it.
Amanda: In our last episode, we started to scratch the surface on a lot of the foundations of nutrition. We talked more about how to build a nourishing nutrition foundation that's going to help support your metabolism and your hormones and your overall health. And today, we are going to dive deeper into some of the nuances of certain foods, especially the ones that you may have been surprised to hear us mention in the last episode. Like, we did mention red meat, we talked about dairy, stuff like that. So we are going to go deeper into a lot of the foods that are typically demonized by the wellness industry and diet culture. So things you may have thought are problematic might actually be good for you.
Emily: But before we jump into those details, we want to just send out a little reminder. We are all different, okay, so the foods that me and Amanda eat on a regular basis might not be what's best for you, and that is totally fine. As always, we just ask that you take the information that we talk about from this podcast and anywhere else and filter it through those three lenses that we talked about last week. So that's going to be female physiology, ancestral wisdom, and of course, your personal experience, which is actually the most important when it relates to these foods we'll be talking about. So that is the only way that you'll be able to determine whether something we're saying is actually relevant to you.
Emily: Let's dive in. The first one we're going to be talking about...the first nutrition myth that we see a lot is red meat. And this is kind of an easy one because we've semi-covered this before on the podcast about animal proteins and how nutrient dense they are, specifically red meat and organ meats, which both provide us with an array of minerals. And what's really important about these is that they're easily absorbable. And that's the key, right, when you're eating nutrient-dense foods is eating those foods that are not only made up of nutrients but that our body can easily absorb and use. So, many foods are touted as nutrient-dense, but there are a lot of plant foods that contain phytates and anti-nutrients that prevent us from absorbing them...100% of the nutrients. So for example, raw leafy greens...it’s usually praised for its calcium levels and magnesium levels. But while these nutrients are in there, the amount we absorb from raw veggies is actually very minimal. And animal foods contain more of these essential nutrients and are easier to break down and absorb. So you get much larger amounts of these nutrients and animal products than any vegetable you can eat.
Amanda: I will say, like, Diane from The Sustainable Dish, she’s @sustainabledish on Instagram, she talks about this a lot and how you know animal foods are so important. And I...it's so confusing, right? We often hear, like, red meat is inflammatory, and we should all be eating plant-based for our hormones, when in reality, when we're looking...you know, we're coming at you from that metabolic perspective and that nutrient-dense perspective, and that's when you'll see that animal foods are actually the most nutrient-dense. The other kind of big area that we get asked about a lot is what about the saturated fat content of meat? Isn't that supposed to be, like, inflammatory and not good for our health? But it actually...it's the opposite. And I know that this can be hard for your brain to grasp at first. But saturated fats are actually really good for us.
And this is what the research is showing us now. They're kind of walking it back, just like many things around nutrition science. I feel like we, like, come out with these bold statements, and then we start to walk it back once we do more research. But saturated fats are actually very stable. And that means that they're solid at room temperature. So if you think of like olive oil, that's a monounsaturated fat versus butter—that's more saturated fat based—or coconut oil. Yes, they can melt, but at room temperature they are solid. And so that just means that their cell structure is very different. Basically, they don't have kinks in their cell structure. Whereas if you think of like a monounsaturated fat like olive oil, or a polyunsaturated fat, like in nuts and seeds...those have a lot of kinks in the little chemical structure, which means that they can wiggle and move and that's why they're liquid at room temperature. And so when the more of those kinks that we have the more unstable the fat is, which means that it can oxidize and then create more inflammation in the body.
And that's why we are advocates of having more saturated fat than polyunsaturated fat. And Chris Masterjohn has a great article on this—it's called, “Saturated fat does a body good” and it goes into why saturated fat is necessary for healthy cell structure and energy production. He also talks about how specific saturated fats act as an anchor and secure certain proteins to the cell membrane, and that saturated fats keep the proteins from floating away. And then he goes a little bit more into evidence that suggests our bodies don't make enough saturated fats from carbohydrates so we do have to get them from our diet. So that's just something to keep in mind. I know that it can be confusing, but in reality the fat that our body uses for energy is transferred to different systems. And that's going to control a lot of important areas—so, like, antioxidants, detox, nutrient recycling, including important nutrients like folate and vitamin K. So, saturated fats are often demonized, but they're actually something that we should be adding to our diet,
Emily: Right, and a lot of people will be surprised by this just because of...historically, high cholesterol and fatty liver disease, heart disease—those conditions were all blamed on the overconsumption of saturated fats, mostly, honestly, due to Ancel Keys in the 1950s. But that science, those studies that he ran have actually recently been debunked. And there are new studies that have, you know, questioned this theory and then haven't found any significant association between saturated fat intake and the increased risk of heart disease. So, it's important to keep this in mind, like Amanda said, when you're choosing how to prioritize your fats. Saturated fats actually do not affect liver triglycerides [and] metabolism in a negative way. They're actually more stable, as she mentioned, as well, so they are more naturally anti-inflammatory. And in fact, they act very similarly to progesterone inside the body, which is an interesting side note. They're both...saturated fats and progesterone are both pro-metabolic, meaning they help boost and support a healthy metabolism.
Amanda: And so as you kind of, like, wrap your brain around that, just keep in mind that it, like, if we kind of go back through our lens where we talk about that traditional, like, ancestral way of eating too—all cultures include saturated animal fats. So that's just, like, another, like...yes, research is important seeing how it impacts us, but we cannot be 100% research-based because it's impossible to conduct really sound trials for everything. Like even if we think of, okay, well, then why did those studies show that saturated fat had a correlation with cholesterol? It wasn't just saturated fat—they don't account for, like, if the animal foods are processed or not, they don't account for if they're fried in polyunsaturated fats, they don't account for if that person is smoking or if they take care of themselves in general. And this kind of goes back to that plant-based thing where they say that people live longer that eat plant-based or that are, like, vegan or vegetarian, when in reality it's, like, most likely has nothing to do with the foods that they're eating and much more to do with the fact that they are healthier-minded people. So, like, they're managing their stress, they're sleeping well, they're not drinking and smoking a ton. You know, they're, they're minimizing these other areas, too. So that's just something to kind of keep in mind as we think about. Like, I know, there's a lot of, like, what ifs with, like, the research and stuff.
Amanda: So that is meat. And that is...hopefully you feel good about debunking the myth that red meat is not good for our hormones, because it absolutely is. And the next big area is dairy. So we mentioned this one...we kind of breezed right through it during the last episode, because we knew we were going to get more into it in this one. And there are so many arguments against dairy. But the big myth that we want to debunk is that dairy is not good for our hormones. So we're going to go into five main arguments and kind of walk through why we recommend including dairy, but there are some nuances to that.
So argument number one—humans are the only mammals that drink another mammal’s milk and thus it is unnatural behavior. Now, I would say to this, like, we've been consuming milk for at least 8000 years, and I don't think it's...it's not so much that it's weird because it's another mammal, it's, like, they're...it's a very nutrient-dense food source. It's, like, a perfect food source, which we'll talk about. It has so many nutrients. So if you're avoiding a nutrient-dense food because other mammals don't drink different mammal’s milk...I just feel, like, we are humans, and so if we have that wherewithal to recognize a nutrient-dense food...I think it's different. I don't think it's easy to compare the two. And studies have shown that genes of certain cultures who have regularly consumed dairy for thousands of years have actually changed to accommodate dairy products in the diet. So basically, some people have genetically adapted to dairy consumption making it more natural for them.
Emily: Right? Not to mention, as humans, we do a lot of things that other mammals don't do, so it’s not…
Amanda: ...use the Internet.
Emily: ...unfortunately. Just kidding. Okay, so argument number two—milk contains hormones, therefore, it will mess with your hormones. So, yes, milk does contain trace amounts of many hormones. However, our bodies produce over 6000 times the amount of hormones that would be found in one glass of milk. So, just kind of take that in a little bit. It's not a lot of hormones that we are consuming and our, you know, 1, 2, 3 servings of dairy a day. So research has actually shown that the tiny amount of hormones in dairy and meat do not impact hormone levels in the body. So when people make this argument, just kind of remember that this is not something to fear, it's not something to worry about. It's just another argument people make for argument's sake.
Amanda: And then I would say, like, the other kind of big one that we probably hear the most often, especially on Instagram, is that dairy is inflammatory. Now, this is typically relating back to the saturated fat content, but as we have already gone through, saturated fats are not harmful to our health and they do not increase inflammation in the body. So it's, it's [a] much more stable form of fat. We're also getting a lot of important fat-soluble vitamins from the fat in milk, like vitamins A, K, D; there's also some vitamin E, especially in goat's milk. So we're getting a lot of important nutrients.
And the other kind of big thing to think about is that milk is a complete food. So one of the coolest things about dairy is that it has a very unique macronutrient profile, as well as micronutrients, like the vitamins and minerals. But it has a perfect balance of protein, fat, and carbs. And this makes it perfect for supporting blood sugar balance, which helps to reduce the risk of different metabolic conditions, heart health issues, blood sugar, stuff like diabetes, pre-diabetes...so keep that in mind. It's, like, is that inflammatory? I would say no, like, if you are keeping your blood sugar balanced, if you are getting a ton of micronutrients in with this food, and it has saturated fats, then I would consider that non-inflammatory. I think that it can get confusing, because some people don't digest milk well, which we're going to talk about towards the end in argument number five. But if you digest milk well, then it's not going to increase your inflammation.
I will say not all milk is created equal. So it's similar to meat—we want to try to consume grass-fed organic milk whenever we can. If you can get raw milk, usually a lot of people tolerate that one better. Some people don't, some people actually do better with pasteurized milk. It's about experimenting, but you...obviously you want to do quality if you can. You can...if you look up the website realmilk.com, then you can actually put in your location and search to find raw milk or high quality milk local to you. And if you don't necessarily have access to high quality dairy, then you could consider, like, a lower fat dairy and then consume in smaller amounts. You don't have to drink milk in order to eat dairy. You could have cheese, you could do yogurt, cottage cheese, so many different options. So don't necessarily feel like you have to, like, drink a glass of milk. We get so many people that are, like, “I don't like milk.” And it's, like, that's fine. But maybe you use it in a smoothie or in, like, different recipes that you're making. It doesn't necessarily have to be drinking milk.
And the kind of last area that I wanted to mention when it comes to, like, milk being inflammatory...it actually contains a number of amino acids that are anti-inflammatory, especially if we compare the amino acids in milk to the amino acids in muscle meats. So you're actually getting less of the more inflammatory ones. So we actually recommend balancing out your muscle meats with things like dairy, bone broth, gelatin, and collagen, because then you're going to balance out the amino acids. And then lastly is that dairy is a great source of calcium and, I mean, a bunch of other minerals, but calcium is a big one. And it's one of those where we're not getting it from a lot of other foods. Like, you can definitely get it from cooked greens, bone broth, eggshell powder, that kind of stuff. But dairy is going to give us the best form of it and the most nutrient-dense, meaning that it's paired with other micronutrients. And that's just something to keep in mind, because we get so many women that are like supplementing with a bunch of magnesium, eating a lot of muscle meats, but they're not getting enough calcium in...it can kind of throw the body out of balance.
Emily: For sure. The second to last argument is that dairy alternatives are healthier. And when we say dairy alternatives, we're referring to things like almond milk and cashew milk and soy milk—all of those nut milks. But like Amanda mentioned, the macros in actual milk are so much more balanced than the macros in these other alternative milks. And, except for soy milk, all milk alternatives lack protein, which is a very important macronutrient for blood sugar and a ton of other functions in the body. So the thing about soy milk, too, is that many people have soy allergies or health concerns when it comes to soy. So it's not necessarily a healthy choice for a lot of people anyway. And then of course, if you go to the store and look at a container of nut milk or soy milk, it also contains synthetic additives that isn't the best flavor-wise for one, and is not good for you, right? So you don't want to have this list of ingredients that you can't even recognize in your milk when you could just drink a milk that's natural and has no added synthetic ingredients.
And then lastly, one more concern about the milk alternatives, specifically like the nuts and seed milks is that they do contain the anti-nutrients called phytic acid, which binds to minerals and reduces absorption of nutrients. So things like almonds, soy...they all contain polyunsaturated fatty acids also, which are less stable as we discussed and create more stress and inflammation in the body. So overall, if you compare it to dairy, it's just not going to live up to dairy in our opinion. And so we will say that we do like coconut milk for those people that for some reason cannot tolerate dairy. Coconut milk has a good macronutrient ratio. You can find coconut milks that do not have a lot of synthetic ingredients as well.
Amanda: Yeah, I always get the canned coconut milk. And I still use coconut milk. I think that's what people think is, like, they can't ever use an alternative. It's like, like, if you make a curry, like, obviously, I'm using coconut milk. I add it to rice if we're making rice. I even make some smoothies with it sometimes. Like, sometimes I just don't...if I'm having other forms of dairy in that smoothie, I won't necessarily always add milk as an extra. And I like to save it for snacks because it's perfectly balanced, and it's really easy. So you can use other alternatives. For coconut milk try to look for the ones that don't have additives. What is that brand? Forest something…
Emily: Is it nature…?
Amanda: Nature's Forest or something like that?
Amanda: Yeah, like that, that's a great one. I think the Trader Joe's coconut milk doesn't have any, like, guar gum or anything in it. Ideally, there's no gums, you know, especially if you're...if you can't drink milk because you have digestive issues, you'd want to avoid some of those gum additives, because it's probably not going to do super well with your gut. But I take the canned coconut milk and I put it in a big glass jar and then add filtered water to it and shake. I usually put sea salt and, like, vanilla in there too. And then that's how I make, like, a thinned out regular coconut milk if you want to use this to, you know, replace other milks.
Amanda: Okay, argument number five, last one for dairy. We kind of prefaced this one before, but it's—dairy is not easily digested by the body. Now, this is a layered kind of argument because we feel that naturally dairy is pretty well-digested by most people. Digestive issues may not be related to lactose intolerance, but that's typically the most common one that we see. And if you are someone that...basically lactose is the sugar that's in dairy. And so if you don't have the lactase enzyme being produced by your digestive lining, then you can't actually break down that lactose. So of course, you might have some bloating, you might have some digestive discomfort, or if you feel like the milk goes through very quickly—that's typically a lactose issue. And so if you work on improving your gut health and reducing inflammation within the gut, then that's going to help you eventually tolerate that dairy better. So we're releasing that lactase enzyme in our microvilli, so it's at the very kind of thin lining of our gut. And so if you have inflammation, those microvilli get blunted and then you're not releasing that enzyme. So things like bone broth, gelatin, getting plenty of whole food vitamin C from, like, adrenal cocktails—and we're gonna have a whole mineral episode where we talk about those—those are really, really helpful for supporting your gut health in general. And then of course, we talked about, you know, slowing down at meals in our last episode, and creating that nourishing nutrition foundation—all those things are going to help improve your gut. So don't feel like you absolutely have to start eating dairy if you cannot tolerate it. You might want to work on your gut health and support your digestion first.
Amanda: The other thing is that it might not be related to lactose at all. It could be much more related to...it's called A1 casein. It's a type of casein protein that is found in milk and there's, there's A1 and there's A2, so A1 is typically found in cow's milk; although there is an A2 version of cow's milk, it's Jersey cows, I believe, and so...or if you do goat's milk or sheep's milk, those are all A2 dairy. And it's typically...it's not as inflammatory, although I don't think A1 is inflammatory. I think that some people just, like...you might have a little bit of an allergy or sensitivity to it. But if you can't digest that well you could try the A2 version and see if you do better with that. I think just...if you have any dairy in a while you just want to go really slow. It..that's the big thing. We have a blog post about kind of walking you through, like, how to add dairy back in, in small amounts, but it's all about really tiny amounts. I would do, like, a low-lactose dairy first like Parmesan cheese or, like, hard cheeses don't have a lot of lactose. And just literally like a little bit each day, and slowly adding that back in and building it up until you're making more of that lactase and your digestive system can digest that better. But you might even just need some digestive bitters or apple cider vinegar before your meal. You know, it might, it might not necessarily be a dairy thing, it could be like your digestive system isn't working properly, you're too stressed, that sort of thing. Okay,
Emily: Okay, so now we're going to move on to the next food, and it's one of my favorites. It's actually a beverage, it's coffee. So I know a lot of you are coffee lovers...I am myself as well. And unfortunately, I feel like coffee and caffeine in general really gets a bad rap of being more of a drug than a food because of how it can be stimulating. And how a lot of us can kind of get, you know, dependent on caffeine depending where we are in our, our need for that sort of thing. A lot of people say it's more harmful than nutritional. And if you look this up on Google, which you know...don't, you'll find a lot of people that just are very anti-coffee and caffeine especially for hormones. But we want to point out that contrary to this, studies have actually shown that coffee drinkers tend to have better health outcomes than their non drinker counterparts.
And we like to quote Ray Peat on some of the health benefits that he draws out in his article on caffeine. So here are just a few, and I think they're really insightful. I did not know a lot of these, and so we want to share them with you. Caffeine can lower incidents of thyroid disease, including cancer. It protects the liver from toxins like alcohol and acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. It protects against cancer caused by radiation, chemical carcinogens, viruses, and estrogens. It increases progesterone concentration in the blood and tissues, which I found so fascinating. It lowers incidents of suicide, and it supports movement of serotonin into nerves, and there's so much more. So there's a lot of information out there claiming that coffee is not good for you or your hormones, and people, you know, will tell you to cut back or quit altogether in order to regain your health. But personally, I think it depends on the person, how much coffee you're drinking, and your health history. So again, going back through that filter of personal experience...it's super important for coffee. But I think it's also important to understand exactly how coffee impacts our hormones. And then you can decide for yourself whether or not to drink it.
Amanda: Yeah, there's so much amazing research around coffee. I feel like a lot of it's around dementia...is that just me? Like dementia, Alzheimer's, brain...like, cognitive function, basically.
Amanda: And fat burning, you know, stuff like that. But there is research around coffee and your metabolism. And then I think that's one of the reasons why we love it so much is because it can support your metabolism. But there are some ways that coffee can impact different areas that are going to obviously have a downstream effect on our metabolism. So one is cortisol. And one of the reasons why we want to talk about this, because so many people in the hormone space demonize coffee. Like, they say, like, you have to stop drinking coffee to heal your adrenals and blah, blah, blah, when in reality it's not the coffee that is the problem—it's typically something deeper, like not eating enough, being super stressed, not eating enough carbohydrates, having coffee on an empty stomach, like, that sort of thing. So it can impact your cortisol levels.
Caffeine does cause a release of stress hormones, specifically cortisol, and this can lead to a stress response in the body. If our bodies are constantly stressed, like, say you're waking up, you're fasted, you haven't had any breakfast yet, blood sugar is already needing support, and then you have coffee...like, of course that's going to tax your body, right? But if you eat breakfast first, have a nice balance of protein, fat and carb, and then have your coffee...that's so different, right? Your blood sugar's already stable, your body's in a fed state, and that coffee is not going to create that same cortisol level impact.
Another big area is blood sugar. So it goes back to the same thing with cortisol. The rising cortisol leads to our liver breaking down sugar for energy in order to respond to that stress that your body is interpreting. And this can lead to a rise in blood sugar, and then eventually we're going to get a drop. But if you already have sugar in your blood because you have eaten, again, it's not going to have the same impact on your blood sugar. Although I do have some people that feel it later in the day. So sometimes it's like your metabolism may not be in the place to tolerate as much coffee yet, and we'll kind of talk about things to do instead.
Coffee also impacts our liver enzymes. Kind of, like, quoted from the Ray Peat article—caffeinated coffee has been shown to reduce liver cancer by up to 50% as well as help the body process alcohol and Tylenol. It...I mean, that optimal liver health is so important for hormone health; we just see so many women that need liver support. So it's like if you can positively impact those liver enzymes, I do think there can be a lot of benefit there.
And then the last way is how it impacts your minerals. So, caffeinated coffee can deplete certain...like, magnesium, sodium, potassium, like, our electrolytes, because it can be a diuretic. Typically, if you're not having it on an empty stomach, it doesn't act the same way. So magnesium is a big one, though. Like, Morley Robbins, he does say that caffeine specifically from coffee does deplete magnesium. But then like, you know, Ray Peat says that coffee has magnesium in it. So we don't know, right? It's not like a perfect answer. Emily and I were talking before we recorded this of how, like, we feel like it's probably both—like most things when it comes to nutrition. But there is a big benefit when it comes to iron absorption. We are going to have a whole episode on iron, and basically how we tend to accumulate it, and it leads to a lot of inflammation, hormone problems...But coffee can actually reduce your iron absorption. So if you're someone that is struggling with that iron overload, coffee can be a really great tool for you. So that's just something to kind of keep in the back of your mind when we go through the episode as well. But I know it's a lot. It's kind of like there's pros of coffee, there's cons of coffee. I think the biggest thing is that if you are drinking it in a way that supports your metabolism versus, like, adds to your stress, it makes a really big difference.
Emily: Oh, definitely. And that's why we're going to talk about how to create a more hormone friendly version of coffee. So, as Amanda said, you don't want to drink your coffee on an empty stomach. So, I joke about my parents in this, because my parents for probably 20 years...they wake up, they have their three cups of coffee, and then they eat breakfast like three hours later. And I always tease them, because I'm, like, that is the worst possible thing to do with coffee and caffeine. So always drink it on a full stomach or have it with food. Be like the Europeans, you know, like, have a little espresso with your breakfast. And that's going to help so much with the, the blood sugar and the cortisol. Let's say, like, you ate an hour ago and you want to have your coffee now--just add a protein, a fat, and a carb with your coffee. So we do this a lot with, like, bone broth protein, which Paleovalley has a really good bone broth protein. And then you can add, like, heavy cream and then some coconut sugar or maple syrup—it creates a really delicious beverage. But it also gives you those three macronutrients and that'll help just kind of balance it out in your system. So another one, too, is you could always opt for decaf or low-caf...there are options out there. You don't have to drink full-caf coffee to get the benefits of caffeine; you can, you can opt for these, these lower caffeine coffees and still reap health benefits.
So that'll kind of reduce the stress response and also the blood sugar impact. And if you do already have a lot of stress, like you're going through a stressful time or just had some recent things happen in your life where you're not handling stress as well...just start with this step: start with a lower caffeinated option. And one that we actually really like, Amanda introduced it to, me is Savorista coffee. They're a company that makes a really high quality low-caf and decaf option. And I've had it before—it tastes amazing. We do like the French press version of it. But we have a discount for it, too, so you can use the code “Amanda” that's a m a n d a to get 25% off your order or 30% off of a subscription. So that is an affiliate code, it helps support all the free content we share. But we really do love their low-caf coffee, and we definitely recommend it if you have some issues with full strength caffeine.
And then the last thing you want to be aware of is just drinking responsibly. I know it sounds like we're talking about alcohol, but this goes for coffee too. Don't overdo it. Limit yourself to maybe one to two cups a day and that will reduce the overall stress response and blood sugar disturbance. And then we also like to tell people, especially if you have trouble sleeping at night, don't drink coffee after 12 o'clock in the afternoon, because that could actually impact your sleep the next night.
Amanda: It really does taste good, I promise. I am so picky. Emily is too. We were talking about this, we're definitely coffee snobs. That is for sure. I do like the decaf. I like the low-caf better. I mean, a lot of my clients use it and especially the ones that maybe cannot tolerate caffeinated coffee, but they want a better option than the decaf that they're currently using. So definitely consider it, because I know they might be sold out. We mentioned the Paleovalley bone broth protein, if they're sold out, we do love Great Lakes collagen as well. And that's also just a powder you can mix in. So how much coffee is right for you? You have to experiment, like Emily said, if you're going through a stressful time, like maybe back off on the coffee a little bit or go down to one cup or do, like, a low-caf. If you are someone that maybe you haven't had coffee in a while, but now you're like, oh, it's good for me, now I'm going to have it...like, maybe go slow you know? And if you find that you're still crashing later in the day, you might just need a snack, right? Like a lot of people, they think that they want coffee in the afternoon. And one of the first things we do with people is just have them go for a snack, a balanced snack, instead of that coffee and it usually really helps. So experiment, find how you feel best, and then the more that you can tolerate that coffee, the more it's showing that your metabolism is in a good place.
Emily: Okay, so now we're on to sugar, which I know is going to be triggering for a lot of you. Because this is one that I kind of had to rewire my brain and learn about, because it is very often demonized in the health space despite the fact that pretty much all carbs break down to a simple sugar called glucose that we use in our body. And as we talked about last episode, glucose is that preferred fuel. So it's not a bad thing to eat glucose. And we actually even encourage it for metabolic reasons, thyroid reasons, and just brain health in general. But when we take fat or protein and turn it into glucose, that's something that's called gluconeogenesis, which occurs when our blood sugar drops too low. And that's actually less efficient for the body to do. So it's easier to just eat carbs, and it's more efficient to eat carbs. And we store this glucose in our liver and our muscle tissues. So our brains are unique because they lack a stored fuel source, which means they rely on glucose from other areas of the body. And our brains actually use about 120 grams of glucose per day. So fatty acids do not serve as fuel for the brain, because they are bound to albumin and plasma, which means they can't pass through the blood brain barrier. And then when the body is starving, ketone bodies are produced from fatty acids by the liver, partly replacing glucose as fuel for the brain. So again, when we aren't eating enough carbs, we begin to use this fat and protein for fuel. And it's just not as efficient as using glucose. And it can make it harder to use glucose long term, which is when you can kind of start seeing, like, a carbohydrate intolerance, right? When people have not been eating carbs for a while, their bodies kind of get out of practice, and that's harder to go back and use glucose.
Amanda: I had someone comment once on a post I did about sugar and how it was...just, how basically all carbs break down to a simple sugar in the body. And they said, they're, like, glucose is such a cheap form of fuel for the body. And I'm like, that's the point--that's literally the point is that it is not costing you energy to use that glucose as a fuel. And that's just kind of the point we're trying to make is that...if when we're using fat and protein as fuel, it costs a lot more energy—it's not as efficient for our bodies. And you're basically...it's like you're running on exhaust, right? It's just not as powerful. I always think about, like, a generator, it's, like, you're using, like, a backup generator for your house. Like, you can't use everything all at once, right? Like I...just, we've had a lot of storms growing up so we'd...like, the generator would go on. It's like, you can't wash dishes and use the microwave...like, you can't use everything at once—it reminds me of a generator. And that's what happens in the body. And I think that we're afraid of carbohydrates and using glucose for energy because of diet culture. It's created a huge fear around sugar and carbs in general, but especially for a lot of women that we work with that have hormone imbalances, PCOS, hypothyroidism, or even just, like, difficulty losing weight—carbohydrates and sugar are not the issue.
I think that's like what we need to keep telling people over and over. And if you think that this is you, if you're like, I am afraid of carbohydrates, because I have PCOS, and my doctor told me to go low-carb or to do keto, to do fasting...you need to ask yourself, like, why, though? What is the problem there? I think it's really important to keep that sugar in context. And so, yes, like, the myth is, like, that sugar is bad for you, I would say, and we feel that it's really not. We hear a lot of women say they often gain weight as soon as they look at a cookie or a piece of cake, and they immediately blame it on sugar. And the issue with that is that it's not like that's the only thing that's in that dessert, right? It's not just made out of sugar—it has a lot of other ingredients that can impact the body. And even if we just break down one example, like, is it the flour that's in there that you're reacting to? I just think of all the flours that have, like, iron and B vitamins and all that stuff added to them. Is it the inflammatory oils that they're using to make and preserve that specific dessert? Yes, like sugar and flour, like, they often are paired with inflammatory fats. So it just makes you really wonder...is it the sugar or the gluten, which we’ll talk about next, or is it the actual fat that is in that food?
So why do people usually feel better when they eliminate that sugar? It's typically because you're eliminating more processed foods, and you're going more towards eating whole foods and reducing carbs. And sometimes people aren't even necessarily eating less carbs, they’re just eating more, like, whole food carbs, like potatoes and fruit and stuff like that. So if we're not eating enough carbs, we're going to have more cortisol, we're going to have more adrenaline, and that's going to give you more energy. Like, think about anyone...I'm sure people listening to this have done low-carb or keto, like, think about, like, the first, like, week or two that you do those kinds of diets...you feel good because you were making a lot of cortisol and a lot of adrenaline. And so it...typically you're eliminating water, which is why people on keto have to supplement with so much sodium and potassium, those electrolytes. So basically, you're creating this big stress response in the body, but you might not know that. You might just think I feel better when I eat this way. And so it's not the glucose, it's not the sugar. It's so much deeper than that. And we talked about...in our metabolism, that first episode about why metabolism is so important...if, as soon as we do something like take away that fuel source, we are going to slow our metabolism. And so it just kind of goes against everything that we really talk about for hormone health.
Emily: And I will add to that, Amanda, that if you are someone who, you know, will say, you know, I'm constantly craving sugar, like, why is that? The first thing you need to ask yourself is, are you eating enough carbs, and balancing your meals properly, and just eating enough in general? Because if you're not, then that's where that sugar craving can come in. Because that's the body's way of kind of sending off a warning signal, like, hey, I need more carbs, I need more fuel. So that's just the first thing to think about. If the...if you feel like you're addicted to sugar, maybe you crave chocolate, which can be a magnesium deficiency. You know, there are different reasons why we have these cravings. But another thing too, is that if you do get like a hankering for something sweet, which is very normal, a lot of us do, just try to focus on the more nutrient-dense options out there. So, like, honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, and even actually rain [sic]...raw cane sugar has a lot of minerals and nutrients in it. So these are not bad options whenever you want to make yourself a little treat.
I know Amanda, in her meal plan, she has a lot of good dessert options that are made with these natural sugars, but they also contain protein and good healthy fat. So it just balances each other out. For example, like, adding collagen powder to any treats that you make will automatically give you that boost of protein that you need to balance out the blood sugar response. And on top of that, after eating these things, you'll probably notice that you feel satisfied, and 1000 times better than you did when you eat those more conventional bakery sweets, right, with the inflammatory fats and inflammatory flours.
Amanda: It's so different.
Emily: Yeah, it really, really is. And that's something I've noticed. I have a huge sweet tooth, but when I eat my own sweets at home, I just feel 1000 times better. It's like I don't get that, that giant blood sugar response, that crash, because it is balanced out really well. And I think they're delicious. It tastes really good, and it's super satisfying. But also remember, too, that fruit is also a really good option if you have a sweet tooth. Like, no one ever got diabetes by eating too many strawberries or bananas. And I can't stand when people say to limit things like that, because I really don't feel like that's the answer personally
Amanda: And again, like, balance them out. It doesn't have to be, like, just that. You know? Yeah, like if you're eating a bunch of bananas, like, you're probably not going to feel great. We want to, like, pair that with some sort of protein and fat. So that's kind of, like, the myth around sugar and how we view it. Everyone is very unique with how much glucose their bodies require. So that is something that you'll have to experiment with.
Okay, and the last area and myth that we're going to go into is that you have to eliminate gluten to heal your hormone issues. I specifically think of PCOS for this. I've seen a lot about eliminating dairy and gluten to heal PCOS when it is so, so much deeper than that. But in reality, yes, some people do need to avoid gluten. I think that some people don't tolerate it well. There's some people that actually have an allergy like celiac. So it...this is a nuanced thing. I don't think gluten is black or white. But I do think that it's different...like, how we eat gluten and consume it is very different from how it used to be and how it's natural. I mean, even if we just think of other countries that don't have a lot of gluten allergies, you know, it's like, how they were growing and processing our wheat products are...is very different. And so I think that's more the issue and just how we're making those foods in general. I think now we're seeing pretty much every symptom under the sun being blamed on gluten consumption, whether that's like a digestive issue...but even skin issues and more. But can we really say that it's the gluten that is bad for everyone? I don't necessarily agree with that. And I think that you have to look at, like, what type of gluten are you eating? Again, what are the other ingredients? How is that specific flour that you're using processed? Is it high quality? And, you know, are you eating like a fermented gluten product, wheat product or is it something that you're getting from the grocery store, like a quick-rise bread? I just think they're all very different.
Emily: Right for sure. And when we look at how, you know, America is processing certain grains, that's where we can come up with potential problems, right? So, for example, the wheat that is currently used in almost 100% of wheat farming is dwarf wheat, and this was developed in the 1960s to massively increase yield per acre. So, it was convenience, right, and profit. So this type of wheat is actually less nutritionally dense. So it's more processed than traditional crops and it contains more gliadin, which is a more reactive version of gluten. So that's one thing. And then our ancestors..if you think about it, they used to use freshly ground wheat, and they used to slowly ferment cultures to aid in the digestibility and nutrient density of these breads. Nowadays, conventional bakeries and grocery stores sell wheat products that are made with refined white flour, quick-rising yeast, all of these which make it worse for our blood sugar and our gut. And then on top of that, most grain products in the US are fortified with those synthetic macronutrients like iron, B vitamins, in order to make up for what's lost in the refining process. So our bodies can't use these and they actually can cause more harm than good.
Amanda: So all that being said, Emily and I do both have gluten on a regular basis—it's just probably not in the way that you might be thinking of. We use sourdough, like, fermented products. That's, like, one of the best ways it's gonna start breaking down the gluten and make it so that there's a lot less in the sourdough bread, or whatever the specific dough is that you are making that recipe into. And we also utilize things like einkorn or spelt flour. And einkorn is an ancient grain. It's one of the world's oldest wheat varieties—it's the only one that is not...has not been, like, changed at all. And it contains a lot less gluten and a lot more minerals. So it is more nutrient dense.
And yeah, if you use a specific flour like einkorn or spelt, make your own sourdough or purchase sourdough, that you know has been fermenting it's, like, a real sourdough...those are, like, the best ways to go, because that's going to have a lot less gluten and more nutrients in it. And then if we are eating that in moderation that's the most ideal. So I would say start slow. If you haven't had gluten in a really long time, and you're just starting to incorporate sourdough things like that, then you definitely wouldn't want to do it daily. You'd want to, like, have it once and then wait a few days and see how you felt over the next few days. And again, like, you can always consider some digestive support, just like when you're adding dairy back in for that first time.
If you have celiac, please do not consume gluten—that's not what we're saying. We're just saying that you don't necessarily have to never have a good sourdough bread ever again to heal your hormones. Because gluten intolerances are a lot deeper than that. So we're just trying to get across that we don't need to demonize any food. Eliminating something like gluten is not going to necessarily heal your hormones, we just want to be mindful of how it makes you feel. Again, like, using that personal experience filter. And then you can experiment and figure out what's the best fit.
Emily: So that's kind of it for our nutrition myths. We hope you've learned a lot from this episode and hopefully felt a little bit better about possibly incorporating these foods into your own diet. Again, remember that it's based on personal experience, and you should definitely do what's best for you based on what you know about yourself and your health. So next week, we are going to be devoting a whole episode to minerals and why they're important plus how to prioritize them through food. So thanks for joining. And we're looking forward to chatting again.
Amanda: Thank you for listening to the Are You Menstrual? podcast. We're so happy to have you here. And I just wanted to give you a quick heads up—we are launching our Master Your Minerals course coming out at the end of June. And we want to make sure that you can get access to this as soon as possible. You can join the waitlist via the link in the show notes. And this is just going to be an amazing course going into much more detail on how to analyze your hair mineral analysis, and then how to build a protocol around this. So hair tests are...they're complex but they are doable once you understand how minerals work synergistically together and then why the hair differs from the blood. So we cover this and so, so much more in the course. Make sure that you sign up for the waitlist in the link in our bio.