Progesterone

A couple of weeks ago, a reader asked if I knew of any natural ways to raise progesterone levels in women. The reader had a baby about a year ago and thought her progesterone levels should have been higher by now, but she’s had a history of low levels in the past, which has caused a host of problems.

I did know a little about progesterone, but, oddly enough, because mine tends to run high and aggravates my heart arrhythmia. But, most of my knowledge was centered on the balance of progesterone and estrogen: when one goes up, the other goes down. So, I did a little research, and this is what I found.

As mentioned, estrogen and progesterone run opposite each other, so avoiding foods that increase estrogen will help keep your progesterone stable, or, theoretically, raise it if your estrogen is low enough. Don’t automatically think SOY, however. (Oh, poor soy!) There are a lot of foods with much higher levels of phytoestrogens – like flax! (Think of phytoestrogens as faux estrogen.) Flax is crazy high in phytoestrogens. Sesame is also pretty high in phytoestrogens, as are many other foods. If you have a family history of breast cancer, I definitely wouldn’t give up whole soy; I’d actually start start adding it to your diet if you haven’t  already. Regardless, I’d be cautious of added soy, which is essentially in all processed foods. Whole soy is a completely different ballgame. But, I’d strongly reconsider using flax, and I’d limit intake of sesame (hummus, multigrain breads, etc.) Chia and hemp are great for Omega 3’s and 9’s, if you’re worried about being deficient. (Keep in mind, however, supplementation of EFA’s is not necessary on a whole-foods, plant-based diet.)

Keeping cortisol low will also help keep progesterone balanced. Reducing cortisol levels can be achieved by reducing/eliminating stress (ha ha) and being cautious of super high intensity workouts for extended periods of time (over 45 minutes seems to be the prevailing opinion). Short spurts of intense exercise like those in HIIT workouts are good for cardio. Yoga is great for reducing stress and doesn’t tend to increase cortisol levels. Over time, your supposedly body gets used to the intensity of your workouts, and you can increase their duration.

Since progesterone and cortisol go hand in hand, having higher levels of cortisol is often an indicator of inflammation in the body. Fruits and vegetables, in general, are anti-inflammatory, so eat up! Blood sugars could also be running high with increased cortisol; allergies can flair up, and the list goes on. Balancing progesterone can help regulate blood pressure, too. (If you have trouble with PCOS and/or adrenal fatigue, your progesterone/cortisol/estrogen balances are likely out of sync.)

Luckily, there are foods and other natural ways of naturally increase progesterone/working on that progesterone/estrogen balance (and ultimately decreasing cortisol levels).

Vitamins: B6, vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium can all contribute to increasing progesterone. While I don’t normally suggest supplements for any reason other than B12 for those on a completely plant-based diet, in this case, I suggest a B Complex vitamin supplement might be a decent idea. In general, I think supplements are a waste of money and can be dangerous. However, since all B vitamins are water soluble, you’ll pee off the excess. I would definitely go for the best brand of supplement you can afford. Money equals quality when it comes to supplements, unfortunately. Try to find a supplement that has Folate instead of Folic Acid. Folate is natural; folic acid is artificial and has been linked to a host of issues. There are natural, non-food ways to increase magnesium, too. Soaking in Epson salts can produce a slight increase. (Bonus: it’s great for sore muscles!) Magnesium oil can also give your levels a little boost, and it, too, is great for sore muscles.

Foods: Foods that increase B6, Vitamin C, zinc and magnesium include: whole grains, walnuts, beans, bananas, spinach, citrus fruits, watermelon, pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, okra, raw nuts (almonds get a gold star) and cacao. (Woohoo for the chocolate!) There are some animals products that may also increase B6, zinc and magnesium, but they all come with hormones (artificial and naturally occurring) – and animal cruelty, which is not supported here. Eat those plants!

Things to avoid/do more: Try to avoid STRESS as much as possible. Sleep more. Move your body gently every day. Be social. Do things you enjoy. Drink more water. Drink more fresh juices and smoothies. Avoid dairy and other hormone laden items. Stay away from lavender and tea tree oil. I know I use of these oils often, but that’s not a great idea for those with low progesterone levels. Check lotions and other health and beauty products for lavender and tea tree oil; they’re seemingly everywhere!

As a side note, I would be leery of progesterone creams. For the most part, they’re bad news – even the “natural” ones. One of the biggest side effects of those creams is increased blood pressure, which can already be high from the progesterone/estrogen/cortisol imbalance.

Finally, remember it can take a long, long time for hormone levels to go back to “normal” after being pregnant and/or giving birth. Supposedly, natural births helps that process along quicker, as does breast feeding, but each body is different, and it make take more time for some than others. And, as a bright note on the horizon, estrogen levels naturally decrease with age, so progesterone has a tendency to naturally increase – especially around the onset of menopause. Personally, I’m seeing this shift (at nearly 40), and it’s not exactly a pleasant experience so far. However, for those with naturally low progesterone, this time of life may be a blessing. Something to look forward to!

Of course, as with any medical concern, please consult a medical practitioner. If you’re not happy with the results you’re receiving from allopathic medicine, consider a naturopathic physician and/or chiropractor who specializes in natural healing. Acupuncture, massage and aroma therapy, herbs and essentials oils are great supplements to professional medical treatments.

 

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Review: Beyond Meat

Have you heard of Beyond Meat?

grilled

Beyond Meat is the newest plant-based animal protein replacement to hit the market. It’s a relatively new product (as far as consumer products go) and as recently as this year became available nationwide (after starting on the West coast). Made from a variety of plant-based proteins, Beyond Meat has received high accolades for its resemblance to animal protein in both flavor and texture.

I wasn’t impressed.

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I’m always leery of fake meat products. I chose to adopt a plant-based diet to get away from animal products, so I’m a little freaked out by products that try to imitate the very foods I left behind. Luckily, very few faux meat products resemble their counterparts, so the occasional meat analogue isn’t a big deal (except for a weird McRib type sandwich I refused to eat once because I swore it was real).  Additionally, I’m usually hope very happy with the ingredients lists of most of the processed plant-based meat products; Beyond Meat was not exception.

I was a little excited to see Beyond Meat at the Whole Foods I go to in Dublin, Ohio. I’d heard such great things. And, at just under $6 for four servings (pretty big ones), I thought the value was OK. What I didn’t like were the ingredients. They almost deterred me from purchasing the product. The second ingredient is isolated soy protein. Ugh. (The first ingredient is water.) The package does reassure consumers the soy is non-GMO, which is good, but still, soy protein isolates? Oy! The very thing that gives soy a bad name, and BAM, there is it. Among the remaining list if ingredients (which isn’t short, by the way) is a HUGE chemical I’ve been going out of my way to avoid – titanium dioxide. Seriously? Why is an ingredient in caulking in my food?!?!

Even if this product didn’t contain questionable ingredients, I wouldn’t buy it again. The “Grilled” flavor wasn’t appealing in taste or texture, and barely ate any of it. What a waste.

Save your money and don’t even bother trying Beyond Meat. You can make an amazing meat substitute with tofu – a much less processed soy product. Or, mash up some beans, a binder and a little something to dry everything, and BAM, you’ve got a veggie burger. (I have a few burger recipes on the blog; do a search.)

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Tofu Two Ways

Apparently I have a thing for tofu lately. My last post featured Pan-Seared Tofu with Wilted Greens, and today I’m sharing two tofu salad recipes.

I came upon these salads by accident. Kind of. I’ve been eating a very high raw diet (95% or higher) for a couple of weeks (It’s just the beginning!), and I the lack of chewiness is getting to me, which is probably I’ve really been in the mood for fake meat. Enter, tofu. Even though tofu isn’t raw (I buy mine from a regular grocery store), I didn’t want to cook it. (Yes, I’m aware it’s highly processed, and it’s affects on the body are questionable.)  So…I pressed the crap out of a block and made it into two salads. Ha ha ha!

First, I should mention how I press my tofu. I don’t own a tofu press; although, I’ve heard nothing but good things about them. Instead, I wrap my tofu block (I tend to use extra firm plus or extra firm regular – always organic and non-GMO) in a double layer of paper towel; then I wrap the paper-towel covered block in a dish towel and place it under our Britta water pitcher in the fridge. Make sure the pitcher is full of water for the extra weight. I leave the tofu block under the water pitcher for a couple of days or longer. (I think it would be OK for a few days because it’s chilled, and it’s wet-ish). Most of the time I rotate the block, so it doesn’t press into a weird shape. But it usually does anyway – ha!

I’ve seen numerous recipes for tofu “feta,” but I think it tastes more like fresh mozzarella – or what I remember it tasting like – so that’s how I treated it for these salads.

To prepare the tofu for both salads, cut the block into three slabs. Then, cut the slabs into tiny blocks. I left mine a little larger because I really wanted to taste the tofu pieces, but I’m certain you could “fool” an omni eater with tiny pieces of tofu into thinking they were eating mozzarella.

Summer Tofu Salad

1/2 block tofu, pressed and cubed into small pieces

1-2 T lemon juice (juice of one lemon)

1 T EVOO (I use cold-pressed)

1/4  – 1/2 c olives (mix of your favorite – include some that are briny)

1-2 small scallions (whites and greens), diced

1 small tomato, seeded and cut into small pieces

Mix tofu, olive oil and lemon juice in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to marinate. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Eat immediately or refrigerate for later. Keeps 1-2 days (at least). 

Serves two.

Asian Tofu Salad

1/2 block tofu, pressed and cubed into small pieces

1 T sesame oil (roasted is best flavor wise)

1-2 T soy sauce (or tamari or Braggs or…your choice – I use low sodium tamari)

1 lg scallion (or 1-3 smaller ones), white and green parts, diced

2 T carrot shreds, diced (I buy the matchstick carrots and cut those to size)

1 T (scant) sesame seeds

Optional: 1-2 c cold rice noodles (or kelp noodles might be a nice flavor combo!)

Mix tofu, oil, and soy sauce. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to marinate. Add remaining ingratiates and eat immediately or refrigerate for later. Keeps for 1-2 days (at least).

Serves two

I loved both of these salads equally. Seriously delicious. I can’t wait to make each of them again. I’m thinking of taking them on a road trip to Chicago this coming weekend. We’re going to the Self Workout in the Park. Anybody else going to be there?!

Pan-Seared Tofu with Wilted Greens

I am a conscious consumer of soy. I enjoy the flavor, especially of fermented soy (Hello, miso!), and I don’t mind the texture of pressed tofu.  I think it’s kind of meaty – but not too meaty. I also don’t mind TVP, although I don’t use it – ever; I love chocolate soy milk (I think it tastes like Kahlua!); and, while I have yet to try temphe, I’ve had a package in the freezer forever. One of these days I’ll get around to using it in something. Least we forget the soy bean itself – perfect steamed in its pod or added to a salad. Yum. Edamame!

When I’m in the mood for soy, though, it’s usually for tofu.  (I use miso so often I don’t consider it a special occasion.) Typically, I press it for a couple of days before I use it to get as much water out of it as possible. Then, I cut it in thirds through the thickness and cut the pieces into tiny blocks. I have a favorite way to cook it, which is based on this recipe. Lately, I’ve been added pan-seared tofu to a bed of wilted greens cooked with leeks. Amazingly simple and delicious!

Pan-Seared Tofu with Wilted Greens

1 pkg extra firm tofu, pressed cubed

1 T sesame oil

2 T soy sauce (or tamari or liquid aminos, or coconut aminos)

1 lb greens, chopped (I love spinach or chard)

3 sm/1 lg leek, sliced

Press and cut the tofu into bite-sized chunks.

Heat a large skillet until hot. Add sesame oil. Once smoking, add tofu chunks. Do not move! Reduce heat to medium and  allow tofu to sit and pan-sear until a crust forms on the outside of the chunks. Then, turn each piece over (tongs help with this). After turning, immediately add the soy sauce. Allow tofu to sit and caramelize. Remove tofu chunks once sufficiently crunchy and delicious.

In the same pan, add a tiny bit more sesame oil (or a splash of broth or water), a splash more soy sauce if desired, and the greens and leeks. You may have to add the greens in batches until it wilts and makes room for more. Alternately, put a lid on the pan to aid in wilting of the greens. Once wilted, remove from pan. Place on large plate and top with pan-seared tofu chucks.

This whole process takes maybe 15 minutes and is packed with macro and micro nutrients.

Notes:

Sesame Oil: I use sesame oil because it’s very flavorful. A little goes a long way! I’ve read you should keep your sesame oil in the fridge, so I do, but it congeals, so I have to let it sit out for a few minutes and warm up before I use it. FYI if you’re new to sesame oil.

Tofu: I know a lot of people aren’t comfortable with tofu, or experience gastrointestinal issues when they eat soy. I’ve found a little whole soy here and there doesn’t seem too extreme, and if I use sprouted tofu, I don’t have digestive issues. Again, I don’t eat tofu very often (maybe once a month – if that), but when I do, I use extra firm and sprouted. Remember to look for a brand that clearly states non-GMO and organic. Just organic doesn’t mean non-GMO and vise versa. And, since soy is one of the mostly highly genetically modified foods, don’t assume your soy is non-GMO and/or organic if it isn’t clearly labeled as such!

Soy Sauce: I typically use low sodium soy sauce or tamari. If you’re gluten-free, make sure your tamari clearly says it’s gluten-free.

Greens: Use your favorite! I love chard, and you can’t go wrong with spinach. But any green will work. Load up your pan! Greens are amazingly good for you. Indulge!

Leeks: Clean your leeks well. They’re grown in sandy soil, and the layers hide grit. Slice and dice your leeks before you clean them to remove the grit. Just soak the leeks in a tub of water, and you’re all set. You can also use green onions. I’ve done so successfully.

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I’m sharing this recipe at Diet, Dessert and Dog’s Wellness Weekends.