If you’re a woman in your reproductive years, your body goes through four distinct hormonal fluctuations every month (also known as the four phases of your menstrual cycle).
These changes affect literally everything else going on in our bodily systems and biology, from our energy levels to our metabolism to our body temperature and brain function….and each shift relies on specific macro and micronutrients to support it.
This is why food is such a powerful tool, as it not only powers hormone production and regulation, but can make all the difference in how we feel and experience each phase of our menstrual cycle as a result, ultimately helping us mitigate and completely reverse hormonal imbalance syptoms such as pms, period pain, fertility challenges, weight gain, bloat, fatigue and acne.
While eating a wide variety of nutrients to support each phase of the menstrual cycle is important, I love focusing on the follicular phase, as it’s truly a “fresh start” and opportunity to influence how you feel the entire rest of the cycle.
So let’s get started, with the most delicious follicular phase foods and recipes to help you naturally balance your hormones and feel your best. Snag all of the details below!
The follicular phase is one of the four phases of a menstrual cycle. It starts the first day after your period ends and typically lasts 7 -10 days, when your ovaries begin ripening an egg in preparation for ovulation.
At the start of the follicular phase, your pituitary gland releases a hormone called follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). FSH stimulates the follicles (which contain a woman’s eggs) in one of the ovaries to mature. In response, the pituitary gland then starts to release luteinizing hormone, or LH, which is responsible for ovulation. Under normal circumstances, only one of these follicles will “ripen” and become mature.
At the beginning of the follicular phase, estrogen and testosterone levels are typically low, then slowly ramp up during this phase. As this happens, you’ll begin to experience a boost in energy, mood, and brain skills. You’ll start to feel more confident, powerful, and willing to take more risks. Testosterone starts to stimulate your libido, while also making you feel a bit bolder.
As ovulation approaches, the uterine lining thickens in preparation for pregnancy. The cervix remains low and closed, but gradually opens and starts producing wetter quality cervical fluid, designed to help sperm travel and survive the long journey to the egg.
Consuming specific macro and micronutrients during your follicular phase works to support cyclical hormonal fluctuations, helping your body keep rising estrogen levels in check and providing it with the energy it needs as it prepares to release an egg. Not only that, but it lays the foundation to optimize your biology for the phases that follow, mitigating uncomfortable symptoms and empowering you to feel your best the rest of your menstrual cycle, leading to specific benefits including:
Due to the hormonal and biological fluctuations that take place during our follicular phase, it’s important to consume plenty of nutrients that support egg maturation, uterine lining growth, healthy liver function, effective estrogen metabolism and optimized gut health. See below for specific nutrient requirements, as well as the foods rich in said nutrients. *You’ll notice many of these foods overlap in nutrient categories, with multiple benefits to consuming!
During our follicular phase it’s crucial to consume healthy fats, as they help to provide our body with adequate energy to develop and release a follicle (necessary for ovulation to occur and a healthy menstrual cycle). Additionally, Omega-3 Fatty Acids have been show to regulate FSH, which if too high can result in complications including PCOS. Some optimal healthy fats for your follicular phase include:
During the follicular phase, estrogen levels naturally rise in order to to thicken your uterine lining in preparation for a potential pregnancy. While estrogen production is important during this phase, excess levels can lead to uncomfortable symptoms later on in your cycle such as period pain, pms, mood swings, weight gain, bloat and depression. Consuming cruciferous vegetables assists your body in safely eliminating any excess estrogen in order to keep levels in check and symptoms at bay the remainder of your cycle. Some optimal cruciferous vegetables to consume in your latter follicular phase and during ovulation include:
The liver plays a key role in detoxing estrogen, as it is tasked with repackaging any leftover estrogen not used by the body into an intestinal-friendly form that can exit the body via our bowels. If we have a sluggish, overburdened liver, the estrogen can sit in our intestines for too long and become reabsorbed, circulating the body and leading to excess estrogen. Thus it’s important to support optimal liver function, especially during our follicular and ovulatory phases when estrogen peaks. Some optimal liver supportive foods include:
Oxidative stress in our body tends to be high during our follicular phase, right before ovulation, so eating a colorful, well-rounded diet rich in vitamin c-loaded foods help to fight off free-radicals and support detoxification. Some optimal vitamin C rich foods to incorporate into your follicular phase include:
Fermented and probiotic-rich foods work to support our gut health , which also supports our estrobolome, a unique set of bacteria in our gut that specifically works to break down estrogen and eliminate it safely via the bowels. And you guessed it, one of the most impactful ways to help your gut with this important, hormone balancing task is through the consumption of fermented and probiotic rich foods, such as:
One of the best ways to support estrogen elimination is by consuming enough dietary fiber, which helps flush excess estrogen safely via our bowls. Fiber helps draw water into the colon, adding bulk and softness to your stool, helping it pass more smoothly through the digestive tract and increasing transit time (aka bye bye constipation and bloat!) Some optimal fiber-rich foods to consume during your follicular and ovulatory phase include:
Magnesium is a mineral that plays a key role in sex hormone production and regulation, working to increase progesterone levels to support healthy ovulation and balance out estrogen to progesterone ratios by supporting phase 2 estrogen elimination. Magnesium deficiency is also very common as lifestyle factors like chronic stress as well as caffeine and sugar consumption deplete it. Consuming magnesium-rich foods during your follicular and ovulatory phase (as well as the entirety of your menstrual cycle) will help to balance hormones and reduce uncomfortable symptoms. Below are a few of my favorite food sources:
Phytoestrogens are plant-based compounds that mimic the body’s natural estrogen production. While you wouldn’t want to consume these if you have estrogen dominance, they can be beneficial to consume at the beginning of the follicular phase, when estrogen is lowest. If you don’t have problems with excess estrogen, below are the phytoestrogens I recommend consuming during your follicular phase:
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) your follicular and ovulatory phases are “hot” phases of your cycle as your resting body temperature naturally rises. Opting for more fresh, raw vegetables and fruits during this phase (think leafy green salads, smoothies, crudités, fresh berries, etc.) have a natural cooling effect on the body, along with promoting optimal vascular support for your ovaries to create the healthiest egg possible due to the high level of antioxidants.
Speaking of raw foods, incorporating a raw carrot salad into your follicular and ovulatory phase routine can be an awesome way to support your body in safely eliminating excess estrogen via our bowels (thanks to a unique dietary fiber). It also contains anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties that work to support optimal gut health. You can grab my favorite raw carrot salad recipes here.
The practice of rotating four different seeds (pumpkin, flax, sesame and sunflower) between the first and second half of our cycle phases alleges to regulate our hormones, thereby helping to relieve PMS, reduce period pain, stimulate ovulation, increase fertility and support the body in healing conditions such as PCOS and endometriosis. You can learn more about seed cycling in this post.
Incorporating a high quality probiotic supplement into your daily routine is an easy and beneficial way to support optimal gut health (this is the probiotic I’ve been taking for three years, use code SOFRESH15 to save) while adding in herbs such as nettle, oat straw and peppermint work to balance out estrogen levels, replenish minerals lost during the menstrual phase and balance out androgen levels (helps with acne) respectively. My favorite way to consume these herbs is via tea.
+ All Breakfast Recipes From Phase #2 of The Hormone Balance Reset Plan
+ Honey Garlic Glazed Shrimp Bowls + Quick Cucumber Salad (Recipe Below)
+ All Dinner + Lunch Recipes From Phase #2 of The Hormone Balance Reset Plan
+ All Dessert + Snack Recipes From Phase #2 of The Hormone Balance Reset Plan
While I like to focus on adding in vs. taking away, limiting your intake of certain foods can work to support to hormones and therefore reduce uncomfortable symptoms. These are the top foods to limit/avoid during your follicular phase if possible.
Because our metabolism and digestion is slower during the first half of our menstrual cycle (follicular and ovulatory phases), eating an abundance of heavy, rich foods such as fried foods, casseroles, red meat, stews, processed baked goods and carbs (pastas, bread, etc.) can make us feel lethargic and slow down large intestine transit time (leading to constipation and bloat). Ultimately, you don’t need as many calories in this phase and will feel much better sticking to lighter meals and fresh, nutrient-rich foods easy to digest (see all listed above).
Over consuming caffeine and alcohol impacts your hormones in a myriad of ways (burdening our liver, altering our gut microbiome, depleting micronutrients, destabilizing blood sugar), most often leading to imbalances such as estrogen dominance or adrenal dysfunction. If you can’t imagine giving either up (zero judgement here!) try to minimize/reduce your intake or experiment with swaps (half-caff, decaf, mocktails, etc.)
One of the most effective ways we can support our hormones (thereby reducing uncomfortable symptoms) is through consuming a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods based on where we’re at in our menstrual cycle. I always encourage clients to start small, focusing on 1-2 shifts (i.e. eating more salads and smoothies during your follicular phase, or switching a side of fries for fresh fruit/veggies, etc.) to avoid feeling overwhelmed and continue adding in more from there. When in doubt, tune into your body and what feels good, and I think you’ll find you naturally crave foods ideal for each phase.
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This insanely easy + delicious honey garlic glazed shrimp bowl is packed with nutrients specifically designed to help you balance your hormones during your follicular phase.
Author: Lauren Chambers
Recipe Type: Entree, dinner, lunch, meal
Cuisine: Asian Inspired
For The Honey Garlic Glazed Shrimp:
For the Quick Cucumber Salad:
For the Bowls:
I’m honored to support you on your journey to optimal hormone health + happiness. Thanks for being here babe.