Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. They play an important role in regulating estrogen levels when your natural sources are declining or when you are experiencing some hormonal imbalances. In this article, we’ll look at foods high in phytoestrogens and how you can add them to your diet.
What are phytoestrogens?
Phytoestrogens are estrogen-like compounds that occur naturally in plants such as legumes, veggies, fruits, and some grains.
They have a similar structure to estrogen in the body.
Estrogen is a reproductive hormone produced by the ovaries in females and the testis in males. It can also be produced in minimal amounts in non-reproductive tissues like the heart, liver, tissue, bone, muscle, and brain.
Estrogen is responsible for regulating the growth, development, and physiology of the human body. It’s needed for puberty, bone strength, menstrual cycle, and pregnancy.
It has also been shown to support the urinary tract, the heart, and the blood vessels.
Although it can be found in both males and females, it’s primarily high in females and responsible for female reproductive characteristics.
That’s why when its levels drop, women experience imbalances. However, phytoestrogens can close this gap as they act similarly to estrogen.
When consumed, They attach to estrogen receptors and bring about any hormonal changes that the hormone estrogen would.
So while estrogen is naturally produced in the body, phytoestrogens are plant estrogens that offer similar benefits and can help combat issues associated with low estrogen levels, such as in menopause, when the ovaries are no longer producing the hormone.
Types of phytoestrogens
Phytoestrogens are mainly classified into four groups:
These are polyphenolic compounds that offer both estrogen-like and antioxidant effects. They also have antiinflammatory benefits, which means they can help fight inflammation and prevent cell damage, thus preventing diseases.
Best sources include soy and its products and legumes like peas, lentils, and beans.
Coumestan is another type of phytoestrogen that has been shown to have antiinflammatory, antioxidant, antihemorrhagic, hepatoprotective, estrogenic, neuroprotective, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties.
Best sources include clover sprouts and alfalfa sprouts.
These are phytoestrogens with a steroid-like structure. They can fight inflammation and protect the heart.
They are found in various foods, including seeds, whole grains, and some vegetables, but flaxseed is the richest source to consume
These are known for their powerful immunomodulatory activities, including boosting antitumor immunity.
The best sources include peanuts and grapes.
Health benefits of phytoestrogens
Just like estrogen, phytoestrogen can offer numerous benefits, including
- Lowers the risk of menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, virginal dryness, and osteoporosis
- Prevents obesity
- Lowers the risk of heart disease
- Prevents metabolic syndrome
- Lowers the risk of breast, bowel, and prostate cancer.
- Prevents type 2 diabetes
- Lowers the risk of brain conditions
Foods High in Phytoestrogens
Flaxseeds (Linum usitatissimum), also known as linseeds or common flax, are small, brown or yellowish seeds from the flax plant native to the Middle East.
It’s often termed a superfood due to its high levels of soluble and insoluble fibers, omega-3 fatty acids, minerals, and other plant compounds, including p-coumaric acid, ferulic acid, phytosterols, cyanogenic glycosides, and lignans, a phytoestrogen.
Flax is the richest dietary source of lignans.
One review found that it contains 75-800 times more lignans than any legume, fruit, vegetable, or cereal grain.
Flaxseed lignans have been shown to lower blood pressure, prevent oxidative stress, and improve inflammation within the arteries, all of which can improve cardiovascular health and prevent heart disease.
The phytoestrogens in flax seeds can also lower the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women and enhance longevity and the quality of life in those already affected.
Flax seeds can also lower LDL cholesterol, another culprit in the development of heart disease.
Various studies have found that flaxseed can lower LDL cholesterol by up to 9-18%
Another study found that flax seeds could even boost the outcome of cholesterol-lowering medications. In the study, patients with peripheral artery disease on cholesterol-lowering medication were given 30 grams of milled flaxseed for 12 months.
At the end of the study, flaxseed was shown to lower total and LDL cholesterol in patients with peripheral artery disease with additional LDL-lowering capabilities when used in conjunction with statins ( a cholesterol-lowering medication).
The phytoestrogens in flax may also offer antioxidant benefits which have been shown to fight free articles and prevent chronic conditions, including cancer.
Additionally, eating flax may promote weight loss, enhance digestive health, and improve glucose regulation in people with diabetes.
Add ground flaxseed to your breakfast cereal or oatmeal, blend it in smoothies, or use it in baking.
2. Soybean and soybean products
Soybeans and their products, including tofu, edamame, natto or tempeh, are a good source of isoflavones phytoestrogens.
There are three main types of isoflavones in soybeans, namely
- Genistein: 50%
- Daidzein: 40%
- Glycitein: 10%
These compounds are often metabolized differently, and how well your body can do that determines how beneficial the soy isoflavones can be to you.
For example, some individuals have special gut bacteria that can convert daidzein to equol, a metabolite with the greatest estrogenic and antioxidant activity. It has the highest affinity for the estrogen receptors and has been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular conditions, hormone dependant conditions, osteoporosis, and prostate, breast, and colon cancers.
So if your gut can produce equol, you can benefit more from the estrogenic benefits of soy than someone that doesn’t produce this compound.
Unfortunately, most people in the west cannot produce this compound in their gut, so the benefits of soy as an estrogen are often limited.
Nonetheless, soy isoflavones can still improve hot flashes during menopause and bone health after menopause.
Besides phytoestrogens, soy is a good source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin k1, folate, manganese, copper, zinc, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, niacin, and thiamine.
Together, these can help improve metabolic activities, maintain a healthy weight, boost digestive health, and prevent congenital disabilities.
You can enjoy soybean in various forms, including soymilk or tofu. You may also want to try edamame or tempeh.
3. Dried fruits
Dried fruits are a common go-to snack for most people, and for a good reason. They offer a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals and are overly delicious.
But what many may not know is that they are also an incredible source of phytoestrogen.
They are especially high in isoflavones and lignans and can help improve mood swings and hot flashes during menopause.
Additionally, these compounds contain antioxidant properties and have been shown to improve cardiovascular health and prevent cancer.
Some of the best-dried fruits with the highest levels of phytoestrogens include dried apricots, dates, ruins, and raisins.
You can easily add these to the diet by blending them into smoothies, salads, baking, or making a trail mix.
Garlic is a common flavoring used in various cuisines around the world. But more than that, it’s a good medicinal remedy with powerful properties, including boosting the immune system, reducing high blood pressure, reducing cholesterol, preventing cancer, improving cognitive decline and preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, improving cardiovascular conditions and fighting infections.
Garlic is also a good source of phytoestrogens, especially isoflavonoids and can help reduce the risk associated with estrogen imbalances.
In one study, aged garlic extract improved cardiovascular health in postmenopausal women.
In the study, eight postmenopausal women were given 80mg of 12-week aged garlic extract three times per week for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, they recorded reduced body weight and fat and reduced homocysteine levels.
Homocysteine is a common amino acid in the blood. Folate, B6, and B12 break down homocysteine into various elements that the body can use. However, if these nutrients are low, homocysteine will accumulate in the blood.
Unfortunately, too much of it can damage the arterial lining of blood vessels and increase the risk of clot formation. This can increase your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, heart attacks, and blood vessel disorders.
To include garlic in your diet, mince some garlic cloves and mix them in your salads or salad dressings, make an ACV garlic tonic, make a garlic toast, or add it to soup. Garlic is onr of the foods high in phytoestrogens.
With powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, berries are a superfood often touted for their ability to boost immunity and fight diseases like cancer.
They have also been shown to mimic estrogen in the body and can help improve various conditions associated with its deficiency. Specifically, berries contain the lignan type of phytoestrogens, which has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, breast cancer, menopausal symptoms, and osteoporosis.
So whether it’s blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, raspberries, or strawberries, you’ll be sure to benefit.
Besides, berries are also a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, all of which can boost good health.
For instance, they are a good source of potassium, vitamins C and k, magnesium, and prebiotic fiber.
Prebiotics are important for feeding your good gut bacteria, which in turn promotes a healthy digestive system and protection against common digestive problems.
Add berries to your oatmeal or breakfast foods, blend them in smoothies, make a fruit salad or berry jam, or consider a berry dressing or sauce. Berries are foods high in phytoestrogens.
6. Sesame seeds
Sesame seeds are the major ingredient in tahini, which is commonly used in hummus recipes.
They are rich in natural oils, lignans, protein, dietary fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals such as calcium, copper, phosphorus, iron, potassium, magnesium, vitamin E, and the B vitamins.
They have been shown to fight inflammation, improve metabolic functions, manage diabetes, improve bone health, and enhance cardiovascular health.
That being said, people with gout or Wilson’s disease should avoid them.
This is because sesame seeds are high in oxalates, antinutrient plant compounds that can worsen gout symptoms.
They are also high in copper, and Wilson disease is a condition characterized by the accumulation of copper in the brain, liver, and other vital organs. So with sesame seeds being too high in this mineral, it’s not suitable for those with the condition.
To use sesame seeds, sprinkle them on salads, blend in smoothies, add to a bread recipe, or make tahini paste.
Peach is a healthy and nutritious fruit rich in antioxidants, including carotenoids, polyphenols, and vitamin C.
It has been shown to aid digestion, improve heart health, promote healthy skin, reduce allergy symptoms, and prevent some types of cancer, like breast cancer in menopausal women.
This is due to the presence of phytoestrogens like lignans and other vitamins and nutrients that promote estrogen production in the body.
Eating as little as two peaches per week has been shown to lower the risk of breast cancer in menopausal women by up to 15%.
8. Cruciferous vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables are a group of vegetables belonging to the family of Brassicaceae. They include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, kale, arugula, bok choy, cabbage, and turnips.
Cruciferous vegetables are best known for their high levels of glucosinolates, sulfur-containing compounds that can fight cancer and heart disease and reduce inflammation in the body.
They are also a good source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytoestrogens, exhibiting anticancer and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Cabbage and Brussels sprouts, for example, are rich in coumestrol, while broccoli and cauliflower contain lignans.
According to a 2017 study, cruciferous vegetables were shown to lower breast cancer risk in premenopausal women.
In the study, broccoli and cauliflower were the most effective, when it comes to foods high in Phytoestrogens.
9. Alfalfa sprouts
Alfalfa sprouts refer to the germinated seeds of the medical sativa plant.
They are an excellent addition to a healthy diet, providing various vitamins and minerals and fiber.
When consumed, they can promote digestive health, lower cholesterol, prevent diabetes, enhance weight loss, boost the immune system, and promote tissue growth and repair.
Alfalfa has also been shown to treat menopause and menstrual irregularities. This is due to their high levels of coumestrol, a phytoestrogen that has been shown to attach to estrogen receptors and relieve various menopausal symptoms.
It has also been shown to improve menstrual irregularities.
Besides, they are a good source of vitamin k, essential for blood clotting processes and, thus, healthy menstrual bleeding.
Alfalfa can also offer a small amount of other phytoestrogens genistein and daidzein.
Phytoestrogens are plant estrogens that act like natural estrogen in the body.
They play an important role in regulating estrogen levels which helps improve hormonal imbalances, especially during menopause when the release of this hormone is declining.
Foods high in phytoestrogens can also help prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes, improve cardiovascular health, and prevent cancer.
Some of the best foods high in phytoestrogens include alfalfa sprouts, soy, peach, flaxseeds, sesame seeds, dried fruit, garlic and berries.
Start incorporating foods high in phytoestrogens, into your diet today, and watch your health transform.
Get discounted copies of my cookbook here.
Fortunately, because of the ads on our website, readers and subscribers of Healthier Steps are sponsoring many underprivileged families.