As expected, our moms were on point. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
But lately, the message has gotten a bit lost in translation as we’ve been hit with more content online and on social media advising us to do intermittent fasting, eat our first meal of the day at noon, do a fasted workout, or drink coffee on an empty stomach for accelerated fat burn.
For women in particular, it turns out our body isn’t too fond of all that manipulation because of our hormonal complex. Women aren’t small men. We have completely different biology, which calls for completely different lifestyle habits.
So ladies, if you want strong and flourishing hormones, don’t sleep on breakfast.
What skipping breakfast does to your hormones
Breakfast does exactly what it says it does — it breaks our fast. As we naturally fast overnight, our bodies deplete themselves of glycogen, our primary energy source, and ghrelin is released, our hunger hormone.
When we wake up, our bodies expect us to meet those needs. They expect us to refill our glycogen stores and satisfy our hunger calling. When we ignore those signs from our body though, we put ourselves into fight or flight mode.
Here’s what goes down:
Our cortisol gets thrown off
As we wake up and proceed with our mornings, our cortisol levels naturally begin to rise. Our cortisol will continue to rise until the mid-afternoon when it then begins to decline.
When we eat breakfast, we give our cortisol a little boost, which helps activate our systems and provides us with stable energy throughout the day. When we skip breakfast, we delay our normal cortisol pattern, leading to higher levels of cortisol in the afternoon.
This can disrupt our circadian rhythm and sleep, interfere with the production and metabolism of estrogen, inhibit the release of GnRH, which in turn throws off all your other female reproductive hormones, and blunt thyroid function.
In sum, nourishing your natural cortisol pattern is your friend.
Our satiety signals plummet
Skipping breakfast blunts your leptin levels, our satiety hormone. When leptin levels are low, you’ll experience fewer feelings of fullness and continue to have cravings throughout the day.
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Often when skipping breakfast, these non-stop cravings are for high-sugar and carbohydrate-rich foods as your body craves immediate sources of energy. Eating these foods in isolation causes rapid spikes in blood sugar levels followed by subsequent crashes, which negatively impact your blood sugar control.
Our blood sugar control is no bueno
When we skip breakfast, our insulin levels lower, which affects our body’s ability to effectively control our blood sugar. Insulin is a hormone that’s released when glucose enters your bloodstream. It helps transport glucose from your blood into your tissues and cells.
When insulin is blunted, glucose remains in our bloodstream which contributes to hyperglycemia, aka high blood sugar. Over time, high blood sugar can create insulin resistance, which may lead to PCOS, irregular periods, fertility issues, and more.
Skipping breakfast can also lead to higher blood sugar responses to meals later in the day, which creates a blood sugar crash and puts a strain on your body’s ability to effectively manage your blood sugar.
How to structure your breakfasts for healthy hormones
Don’t drink coffee on an empty stomach
Because coffee contains roughly 200-250mg of caffeine per serving, consuming it on an empty stomach can drastically increase your cortisol levels at once. Consistent, sharp rises in cortisol can interfere with the production of estrogen, progesterone, FSH, and LH, as well as compromise thyroid function.
Coffee consumption on an empty stomach can also potentially affect blood sugar control. Caffeine can temporarily increase blood sugar levels (especially if made with added cream and sugar), followed by a subsequent drop that compromises your blood sugar control for the rest of the day.
Follow the PFF rule: focus on getting protein, fat, and fiber
Protein is crucial for hormone synthesis, helps control blood sugar levels, keeps you satiated, and helps sustain a healthy metabolic rate since protein requires the most energy to digest and metabolize. Aim for around 25-30g, though this will vary depending on individual needs.
Healthy fats are crucial building blocks for hormones. Our bodies can’t produce any of our hormones without adequate healthy fat intake. “Healthy” fats are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids, and MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides).
Think avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds, coconut, salmon, nut butter, eggs, etc. It’s recommended that fat make up 20-35% of your daily caloric intake. This translates to roughly 10-20g at breakfast, though it’ll vary from person to person.
Fiber helps slow down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, which prevents rapid blood sugar spikes. Adequate fiber intake also supports the body’s ability to metabolize and eliminate excess estrogen, which helps prevent estrogen dominance, a common hormonal imbalance. General guidelines recommend at least 25g of fiber per day for women, so aiming for 10g per meal puts you on track to meet that.
Dinner is now breakfast
Eating a protein, nutrient-rich, and low-sugar breakfast helps regulate your appetite and prevent you from overeating later in the day, which can cause indigestion and disrupt sleep. It also keeps your metabolism humming all day long by kickstarting the digestion and energy production process first thing in the morning.
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Strong metabolism = strong hormone production.
Eating a breakfast high in added sugar, on the other hand, can spike your blood sugar, leading to a subsequent crash — leaving you tired, still hungry, irritable, and unable to concentrate. Aka, the opposite of what a good breakfast is meant to do!
8 hormone-friendly breakfast foods
Eggs (with the yolk!): amazing source of protein, healthy fat (⅔ of the fat in eggs is unsaturated), omega-3s, and choline (a nutrient that’s vital for hormone production)
Greek yogurt: high in protein, rich in naturally occurring probiotics, and low in sugar (look for no additional added sugar)
Avocado: a solid source of monounsaturated fat, the best kind, and is packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals that have anti-inflammatory properties and are known for helping stabilize blood sugar
Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are rich in antioxidants, fiber, and essential vitamins that support hormone production; they also have a low glycemic index, meaning they gradually raise your blood sugar instead of all at once.
Chia seeds and flaxseeds: Both are great sources of omega-3, fiber, and phytoestrogens (plant compounds with a similar structure to estrogen) that have both estrogenic and anti-estrogenic effects, which help regulate hormone imbalances.
Nuts, seeds, and nut butter: Almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds are all examples that provide healthy fats, fiber, and key nutrients like omega-3, magnesium, selenium, vitamin E, zinc, and other polyphenols; all of which are vital for hormone production.
Leafy greens: Spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are loaded with anti-inflammatory properties that help balance out excess cortisol and estrogen; they’re also rich with iron, folate, vitamin K, and more which are critical for female reproductive health in general.
Organic whole grains: Compared to refined, simple carbohydrates, whole grains like quinoa, oats, and buckwheat have a low glycemic index, leading to a slower, more steady rise in blood sugar; they’re also high in fiber which supports stable energy levels.
Whether you do a protein-packed smoothie, veggie omelet, avocado toast, yogurt parfait, or overnight oats, there are so many different ways to mix and match these to your liking (and it’s not a comprehensive list!)
RDs recommend eating within the first 90 minutes of waking, after starting your morning out with 24-36 oz of water.
If you have awesome hormone-friendly breakfast recipes, share and tag us @fertility.rescripted!
Caroline McMorrow is Rescripted's Content Manager.