I wanted to share these women’s health tips for improving your health naturally. As a macrobiotic chef and counselor, I work with individuals that are seeking balance in their lives— to improve physical, mental, and emotional health naturally. A macrobiotic lifestyle emphasizes a whole foods diet that emphasizes whole grains, beans, fish, vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, sea vegetables, natural seasonings and fermented foods such as miso, shoyu, sea salt, umeboshi, and fresh sauerkraut. In addition, macrobiotics recommends limiting exposure to harmful chemicals in our environment, especially those we would come into contact with every day at home in soaps, shampoos, detergents, cleaners, clothing, bedding, and unfiltered municipal water. Although it’s a challenge in our busy lives to seek out natural and healthy alternatives, the benefits to health are worth it. Below is a partial list of Women’s Health Tips, in no particular order. Many of these tips apply to men, women, and children, so please read on even if you’re not a woman!
Your body is constantly finding balance for you. By pumping your heart, exhaling toxic gases, and keeping your blood at a proper pH, it maintains a delicate balance called homeostasis… And balance isn’t happening just inside of you; you are a product of a vast network of organic systems all striking their natural balances; they include the soil, the oceans, the atmosphere, and space itself. So naturally your inner world seeks to balance with the outer world; you relax into sunlight and shiver when it’s cold. You experience teenage join the spring and mature melancholy in the fall. You give love to your family and receive it back from them in kind. That’s healthy. You are many to harmonize with the bigger systems of nature. You are meant to feel connected to all of life.
1. Create a more balanced diet. “Eat a balanced diet” is such a cliché… what does it even mean? My favorite book that describes how to create balance in the diet is The Complete Macrobiotic Diet: 7 Steps to Feel Fabulous, Look Vibrant, and Think Clearly by Denny and Susan Waxman.
This book describes how to wisely choose what to eat, when to eat, and how to eat for optimal health, which also involves living according to our natural rhythms. Also, check out the recipes on my blog to get you started on cooking healthy meals, and my article on eating for blood sugar stability.
2. Get the sugar out!
Sugar not only provides major highs and lows in mood and energy, it can also disrupt one of the most powerful hormones in the body: insulin. And insulin is closely connected to all of the other hormones in your body, including estrogen and testosterone. –Dr. Mark Hyman
Sugar is linked to weight gain, diabetes, candida infections, yeast infections, and the growth and spread of cancer. Most of us can really feel the mental and emotional effects of sugar as well. If you’re ready to get off the roller coaster, try Dr. Mark Hyman’s sugar detox plan or read the Always Hungry Diet: Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells, and Lose Weight Permanently by Dr. David Ludwig and Chef Dawn Ludwig (my macrobiotic cooking teacher!). The Ludwigs have a great facebook group for support as you are transitioning away from sugar.
3. Adjust your eating according to where you are in your menstrual cycle. The week prior to the onset of menstruation (week 4 of the monthly cycle), a woman’s body becomes more contractive or yang as estrogen and progesterone levels plummet. Therefore, it is best to avoid very yang foods during this time to avoid cramps, heavy blood flow, PMS, and other uncomfortable symptoms. Do this by reducing concentrated animal foods and salt the week before your menstrual cycle starts, or anytime you are feeling tight (tight muscles, stiff neck, headaches in the back/base of the head). Foods such as eggs, chicken, hard cheeses, cured meats, deli meats, pork, beef, and salty, dry foods such as chips, crackers, and fast food are considered to be energetically contractive or yang. Instead, reach for nourishing soups like:
Creamy Butternut Squash Soup, Creamy Broccoli Soup, Creamy Carrot-Fennel Soup; whole grain salads with lots of fresh vegetables; and beans, lentils, or fish for protein. The week after the menstrual cycle (week 1-2) is a good time to have more protein and mineral-rich meals, so you may want to season your food while cooking with sea salt or shoyu, try some sea vegetable dishes like arame, carrot, and onion sauté, add some pan-fried dulse to your soups and salads, and have some wild-caught fish with vegetables.
4. Reduce or eliminate dairy products. Cow’s milk and milk products contain naturally occurring growth hormones meant to grow a baby calf into a big cow (440-600 lbs by 8 months of age). Even if the milk does not have “added hormones” the natural cow hormones are still there and affect/disrupt our own hormones levels. Milk is also considered to be acid-forming can can lead to inflammation and bone loss. Even vegan dairy products such as almond milk, soy milk, and non-dairy ice cream are acid-forming and should be used sparingly rather than drinking big glassfuls.
5. What else are you drinking? We should be careful with caffeine, red wine, and carbonated beverages. We all know about caffeine- it’s a very addictive stimulant that drains our adrenal glands and gives us the false sense of being “wide awake” or “wired” even if we haven’t gotten adequate sleep. Daily use can lead to headaches, anxiety, and adrenal fatigue. Wine is a very concentrated beverage—it takes 600-800 individual grapes to make a 750 mL bottle of wine! So with 5 glasses of wine per bottle, each glass of wine is made from 120-160 grapes! In other words, that is a lot of fruit! It’s no wonder that our liver feels the effects of wine. Women in their 40s-50s are especially susceptible to getting hot flashes at night after drinking wine (some feel the effects of red wine more than white varieties)– even as little as a half a glass. How about those trendy, calorie-free fizzy waters? They are marketed as a “health food” but carbonation turns to acid in the body (carbonic acid) and can lead to stiffness in the joints (especially when we first wake in the morning), stomach upset, and erosion of tooth enamel. Reach for the “still” spring water rather than the fizzy varieties to hydrate without the negative effects of acidity.
6. Stop taking birth control pills. I know this is a controversial topic. But oral contraceptives have been linked to depression, a decrease in circulating testosterone and thyroid hormones, inflammation, disruption of gut flora, oxidative stress, and depletion of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. According to Dr. Kelly Brogan, MD, there are so many women suffering from hypothyroid, leaky gut issues, bone loss, and inflammation today that could benefit from stopping oral contraception.
7. Limit exposure to plastics. Different types of plastics are in almost everything these days, including clothes and shoes, food containers, water bottles, cookware, cosmetics, flooring and carpets, cushions, mattresses, pillows, baby pacifiers and toys, and on and on… The manufacturing of and exposure to different kinds of plastics have been linked to all kinds of health problems including endocrine disruption, cancer, skin rashes, birth defects, infertility, endometriosis, birth defects, immune system impairment, obesity, diabetes, hyperactivity, respiratory issues, liver issues, and more! I definitely notice a positive difference with 100% cotton clothing and bedding. See this article for more information. If plastic is everywhere, how can we limit our exposure?
- Try replacing synthetic clothing and bed sheets as they wear out with 100% cotton. Wearing organic cotton underwear is supposed to be especially helpful because it is non-toxic, breathable, and super soft.
- Carry reusable canvas bags in the car for any kind of shopping to avoid bringing more plastic into your home.
- Buy a nice set of reusable glass containers (most have plastic lids but there are some out there without any plastic).
- Make a commitment to use refillable, non-plastic water bottles. There are all kinds of glass water bottles as well as stainless steel varieties you can choose from:
Bonus tip #8: Exercise more moderately or gently. Gentle forms of yoga, tai chi, qi gong, walking in nature, swimming, or whatever movement is rejuvenating (without overexertion) are actually better for you than strenuous exercise. Certain stretches are particularly beneficial to stimulating flow of energy through the liver and gall bladder meridians (these organs are closely related according to TCM) which eases menstruation, evens out moods, and improves digestion. Try these yoga stretches and qi gong exercises for liver and gall bladder health.
As a macrobiotic health counselor, Chef Rachel Zierzow is a teacher, mentor, and guide. Her aim is to educate you about your condition from a macrobiotic perspective, and give you the tools to incorporate a macrobiotic diet and lifestyle as a way of improving your physical, mental, and spiritual conditions. Chef Rachel Zierzow does not replace your doctor, nor will she prescribe things for you to do or take. Recommendations and tools will be given to empower you to improve your own health. The doing of macrobiotics will be up to you.
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For more information about personal health consultations or pantry makeovers with Chef Rachel Z, click here.