top of page

What is metabolic health and how it impacts your hormones & your waistline

Updated: Jan 19, 2023

What is metabolic health and why should you care if you want to keep your hormones & waistline happy?

metabolic health woman fitness

Your food choices, metabolism, microbiome, exercise, sleep, stress, and mental health — as well as your age, sex, and genes all make up your unique metabolic health.

Your metabolic health, as you may guess from its name, is linked to your metabolism.

With age, your metabolism slows down, so keeping your metabolism up is a way to “combat” aging and also weight gain.

To be metabolically healthy means that your body is able to respond to food in a beneficial way that reduces your risk of health conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

3 (surprising) foods that destroy your metabolic health

#1: Sugar (in all its forms): it doesn’t really matter if you use honey as a sweetener instead of plain sugar or if you eat “healthy” foods like fruit, muesli, milk or oat milk (or even worse rice milk), rather than sweets or other junk food. Your body breaks down the carbohydrates from the food you consume into smaller sugar molecules that are sent directly into your bloodstream. This will then trigger your pancreas to release insulin. Think of insulin as the key that opens up your cells to absorb that glucose for immediate fuel. Everything that your body doesn’t need at the moment, is stored as fat (or if you had just a high intensity workout, into your muscle. Foods high in sugar and carbohydrates, cause high blood sugar spikes, especially if your meal or snack doesn’t contain enough fiber, protein, and fat that will help slow down the release of glucose into your bloodstream.

Fructose is especially bad for your liver: it is metabolized in your liver where it is converted to fat and stored. A study found that consuming naturally-occurring sugars increased inflammatory markers in the body. (Source) Another study indicates that both sucrose and fructose decrease insulin sensitivity and increase fat in the liver (hello non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Source

#2: Vegetable Oils and Refined Seed Oils

These kinds of oils are high in Omega-6 fatty acids. I’ve talked before about the problem that we are lacking Omega-3 fatty acids and mostly consuming Omega-6 fatty acids which leads to inflammation in our body. (Go back to my previous article to read more about fats and inflammation here). Now there’s research backing this up (Source) and also linking consumption of linoleic acid especially to poor metabolic health (Source) and even insulin resistance. Source

There is also evidence that a diet high in linoleic acid increases inflammation, elevates the risk of cardiovascular disease, and stimulates appetite.

Vegetable oils with the highest amount of linoleic acid are:

  • Safflower

  • Grapeseed

  • Sunflower

  • Corn

  • Cottonseed

  • Soybean

  • Walnut

  • Sesame

  • Rice Bran

  • Peanut

  • Canola

Another problem with these vegetable oils is that they are very sensitive to heat and most people are using them to fry foods so that’s a double no! If you want to consume these kinds of vegetable oils, make sure they are cold pressed, in a tainted glass bottle and then only use them in cold dishes and keep them in the fridge.

Better options for your health are: avocado, olive, coconut oil and also ghee or all animal fats (beef tallow, lard…). You can cook with all of these at high heat, except olive oil should only be heated to medium temperatures.

Another oil that you may want to consider using is MCT oil (medium-chain triglycerides that are usually derived from coconut). This oil is not to be used at high temperatures.

It is interesting to use as your body does not need to convert it: it’s basically direct fuel for your brain. Many people use it in their bulletproof coffee that has become so famous from the Ketogenic diet.

MCT oil is said to improve gut health, aid your metabolism, promote weight and fat loss and control hunger.

#3: Processed grain flours: although they are not sugar per se, it’s what they are transformed into by your body: glucose. All grain flours are high in carbohydrates, but the processed ones especially lack the fiber (and some fat) that are present in whole grains. But don’t think that eating whole wheat is any better! Ok, it does have a little bit more fiber (only because it’s added back after the milling process), however, it still has a high glycemic index.

For those who might wonder what a glycemic index is? It’s pretty important to know about this if you want to manage your blood sugar: the glycemic index measures how likely a food will spike your blood sugar. Foods with a high GI are breads, pasta, certain fruits and all the sugary treats and baked goods, but also sodas, alcohol, fruit juice…

For a more nutrient-dense and lower carb and GI approach I recommend substituting wheat flour in your recipes with almond, hemp, coconut flours or other nut or seed flours (attention though you cannot convert them 1:1 and need to add some glue in form of psyllium, flax or chia - check out my recipes here on the blog or consider my blood sugar & hormone balancing cookbook if you want to give this a try). Chickpea is another common alternative flour but can cause glucose spikes in some people.

Why women are more concerned than men

Metabolic dysfunction is a root cause of many chronic diseases today, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and dementia. And there is growing evidence that women are more concerned than men.

Statistics show that by the age of 45, women are more likely to be overweight or obese and are also more likely to have blood sugar issues. Well, you know by now that your hormones play a big role in this. But also genetics (and the wrong diet/lifestyle going along with that) can play a role.

I see that many issues affecting women’s health are often linked to poor blood sugar balance and insulin resistance. Besides causing general inflammation and nutrient deficiencies like iron, insulin resistance is also linked to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), infertility, menstrual dysfunction, menopausal symptoms, weight gain, and even skin disorders. You can see that this is a bulk of symptoms women experience in perimenopause and menopause!

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is an inflammatory endocrine disorder characterized by high androgens (hormones like testosterone) and elevated luteinizing hormone, both of which prevent your ovarian follicles from reaching the stage of ovulation.⁠ It means that there’s no mature follicle that will trigger ovulation and therefore ovulation does not happen, so it’s also a major cause for infertility.

Because PCOS prevents the ovarian follicles from reaching the ovulation stage, it causes significant delays in ovulation (or even prevents it), which then causes irregular or nonexistent periods.⁠ The #1 cause for PCOS is insulin resistance: too much insulin causes the pituitary gland to release more LH in proportion to FSH.⁠

⁠Too little FSH means that the follicles cannot mature adequately, and the dominant follicle is never formed.⁠ Instead, all that is produced is many immature follicles or cysts on your ovaries.

Menstrual dysfunction: I explained this in my glucose monitoring self-experiment that your blood sugar is more stable during the first 2 weeks of your cycle when estrogen levels are high and in the 2nd phase of your cycle, when estrogen drops and progesterone is the dominant hormone, your blood sugar levels are much more sensitive. Estrogen promotes insulin sensitivity, while progesterone promotes insulin resistance.

This is why I always recommend to avoid high-carb foods in your luteal phase and instead focus on low carb, high protein and high fat to minimize elevated blood sugar levels and spikes.

Estrogen has many beneficial metabolic effects: it improves the expression of insulin signaling molecules in skeletal muscles and it is also linked to lowering visceral fat and improving insulin sensitivity in women. Makes sense right? If you’re lacking estrogen, your body wants to produce more and it does so in your visceral fat tissue.

Menopausal symptoms like hot flashes are on one hand linked to a decrease in estrogen levels, but that decrease in estrogen also impacts your blood sugar sensitivity as I just explained. If you’re having hot flashes, it also impacts your sleep and a lack of sleep will have a negative impact again on your blood sugar balance.

So the basline here is that most women in menopause have insulin resistance or imbalanced blood sugar levels (due to a lack of estrogen, a diet too high in carbs (even healthy ones) or other sources of inflammation and stress that can impact your blood sugar).

So here again, the key is to maintain a low carb and high nutrient-dense diet, but also eliminate other sources of inflammation and stress.

On top of that, I am a strong believer in working with bio identical hormones and in the case of estrogen this means reducing your risk of heart attack, osteoporosis, vaginal dryness and recurrent UTIs, but also supporting blood sugar balance and preventing weight gain and even excessive wrinkles on your skin!

Sugar makes your skin (& body) age faster through AGEs (advanced glycation end products)! Excess circulating glucose in your bloodstream will make your glucose molecules attach to proteins, fats, or DNA in a cell. The bonds that are formed are called AGEs as the glucose makes them rigid and sticky. This will damage your DNA but it also affects your skin because it impairs collagen functioning and results in skin aging and stiffness.

Sugar also has an impact on acne: Excess insulin and a related hormone called insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) can stimulate glands around hair follicles to produce more oil, which ultimately contributes to acne. Source This is also the reason why many women in perimenopaue are getting acne.

A high carb or as I like to call it standard Western diet can also activate a group of proteins known as the mTOR signaling pathway, which also seems to play a role in acne through hormones and oil production.

Research shows that a low-glycemic diet can help with both skin aging and acne. A study on acne and diet found that eating low-glycemic foods over ten weeks led to significantly less acne and less evidence of proteins that are known to activate oil production in the skin.

Lastly, and I recently wrote another article about this that you can go back to here, the blood sugar/insulin resistance component makes women much more prone to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, dementia and cognitive impairment in general. Yep there is again the brain fog, one of the main symptoms of peri and menopause in most women.

So I hope you understand why I talk so much about blood sugar balance! The thing is, we often think that we’re not concerned because we’re eating healthy but blood sugar balance goes beyond diet too.

How can we know if our blood sugar is out of range? A simple blood test can tell you:

  • Fasting glucose should be between 70-85 mg/dl (most labs don’t flag it before 100 which is really high already)

  • HbA1c (your average glucose levels over the past 3 months): this is the most important marker really: it should not be higher than 5.4% (or 33.5mmol/L)

  • Insulin should be between 13.9-55.6 pmol/L

If you want help with working on your blood sugar & hormone balance, I’d be more than happy to have a chat to see how I can help you.

You may also consider my blood sugar & hormone balancing cookbook to get started on your own!


bottom of page