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Eat Well : Food and hormones

By Indra Balaratnam13 February 2018 Feature

Our bodily functions, from metabolism and immune system to reproduction and more, runs on a unique operating system called hormones.

Our hormonal balance can go awry because of illness, disease, poor nutrition, and lifestyle habits. Similarly, adopting a healthier lifestyle and diet practices can help to maintain good health, according to researchers.


These are the hormones responsible for regulating your eating. Leptin is made of fat cells and its function is to indicate that you have eaten enough.

Ghrelin, on the other hand, is made in your stomach and pancreas. It tells you when you need to eat something to satisfy your hunger. 

Researchers have uncovered how excessive sugar in our diet can affect the production of leptin. When excessive sugar is present, ghrelin sends out hunger signals in a rather uncontrolled manner. Hence, you feel the need to eat all the time.

This lack of balance between leptin and ghrelin can explain why you have a tendency to perpetually eat and eventually gain weight.

So it’s best to be aware of your intake of sugary food. The World Health Organisation recommends that sugar be no more than 10 percent of your daily calorie intake.

The average adult who needs about 2,000 calories should roughly consume no more than 10 teaspoons of sugar per day.

Read nutrition labels on packaged foods to know how much you are consuming. When ordering hot drinks, request for sugar not to be added but instead to be given on the side.

You can then add the sugar yourself. Be aware that condensed milk is not milk per se, but another form of sugar.


Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. Why? Because your adrenal gland produces it as part of the fight-or-flight reaction which you experience when you feel you are in imminent danger. This mechanism is meant to protect you.

However, constantly having high levels of cortisol may keep you in a heightened, stressed-out mode.

Researchers note that high levels of cortisol affect high blood pressure. Plus, it contributes to an increased storage of visceral fat around your belly area. A high amount of visceral fat increases your risk of developing chronic illnesses.

Drinking too much caffeine and alcohol may increase your levels of cortisol. Limit your indulgences of coffee and alcohol to no more than one drink a day, if you are prone to being highly strung and stressed out.

Caffeine is also found in tea, cocoa, chocolate, carbonated sodas, sports drinks and energy drinks. Many weight loss supplements are also high in caffeine.


Seratonin is known as the “feel-good” hormone because it increases your feeling of being in a pleasurable mood.

Anytime you are feeling moody or slightly down, it is most likely that your levels of serotonin are low.

Besides mood, serotonin, which is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, also plays a role in your memory and the ability to multitask.

Carbohydrates are a much-needed food source for proper serotonin production. Many people avoid carbohydrates in their quest to slim down fast. This explains why you tend to feel irritable when you excessively diet by eating very little, especially carbohydrate foods. Instead of totally cutting them out, I would advise you to add sensible portions of healthy whole grains to your daily diet such as oats, brown rice, multigrain bread, whole wheat crackers, chapatti or muesli, just to name a few. The fiber content in whole grains will help you stay full longer, so you eat less without feeling deprived.


Estrogen regulates a woman’s menstrual cycle and gets her body ready for pregnancy. Once a woman hits menopause, estrogen levels drop significantly. This, in turn, brings about the dreaded side effects of mood swings, hot flushes, excessive sweating at night and staggered menses.

Certain foods contain naturally occurring plant chemicals called phytoestrogen, which mildly mimic its function in the body.

Research shows that a diet that is rich in phytoestrogens may help reduce the severity of menopausal symptoms for some women. Food made from soya beans and flaxseed is a source of phytoestrogens. So do add tofu, tempeh, edamame beans, soya beans, fu chok, tau foo fah, and soya bean milk to your diet. Roasted flaxseed can be sprinkled onto cereal, oatmeal or yogurt and added to soups or baked into bread.



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