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Stefani on phytoestrogens

Flax, marijuana, hops, and 44 other phytoestrogen sources you might not know you’re consuming

Phytoestrogens are a topic of hot debate in the medical literature.  To eat, or not to eat?  To cure cancer, or to beget it?  As chemicals that act like–but are not identical to–estrogen in the human body, phytoestrogens complicate biological functions. Sometimes it appears as though they have a helpful role, but many other times, as in the case with female fertility and typically with PCOS, phytoestrogens can cause a lot of harm.

Phytoestrogens are found in plant foods.  They can also move up the food chain into animal sources, which is a consideration for women with endocrine issues who eat factory farmed animals.  They are reasonably well tolerated by people with “healthy” hormonal systems and livers.  The body responds easily to these semi-natural disturbances and can flush the phytoestrogens out of the system.  OR the body responds easily by maintaining estrogen production even while phytoestrogens are consumed.  This is not always the case for women.  Some are extraordinarily sensitive to phytoestrogens.

For more on the science of phytoestrogens, and specifically how they relate to estrogen deficiency and dominance in the female body, check out my post Phytoestrogens in the Body, and How They Interfere with Natural Hormone Balance. 

What I say in that article, briefly, is that phytoestrogens take up places on estrogen receptors in the body.  This has big time implications.  Many medical professionals hypothesize that this is helpful for estrogen deficient women.  This would be by filling up unused estrogen stores, and therefore hypothetically increasing estrogen levels.  But other health researchers (including myself) believe that supplementing with phytoestrogens plays a reverse role: instead of increasing estrogen activity, the increased phytoestrogen load (especially given the fact that phytoestrogens are far less efficacious in performing bodily functions) tells the body to stop producing it’s own estrogen, which ultimately results in a decline in estrogen-related power in the body.

Phytoestrogens can also be harmful for women with estrogen dominance, if their bodies do not respond to the increased estrogen load and instead end up over-burdening their systems.

All that being said, I still believe phytoestrogen intake can be helpful for some women if their bodies respond in a hormonally healthy way.  This may particularly be the case for menopausal women, whose bodies have more or less stopped produced estrogen in the ovaries anyway.  Phytoestrogens may alleviate the pains of menopause while not causing any pituitary-related damage.  However, this is an issue, again, of individuality.  Some women may find it works, while others find it horrific.

Edit 2016: Recently, after learning about new research and working with even more women, I’m finding that plant-based phytoestrogens may promote ER beta activity, which can lower estrogenic potency in the body as a whole, thereby decreasing the risk for certain cancers (this is not true of synthetic estrogen, like that in hormonal birth control or estrogen replacement therapy). Read more about these latest studies right here

My personal experience is that I am enormously sensitive to phytoestrogens.  I have narrowed down over many years the list of foods that give me acne, and aside from dairy, they are all phytoestrogens.  This past summer I achieved clear, soft skin for the first time in three years (save for the scars).   I experience small acne bumps when stressed, which is something I am okay with and working on slowly.  The only times, however, in which I have experienced cystic breakouts are when phytoestrogens I didn’t know I was eating were sneaking into my body.

These were flax, soy protein isolate (did you know it’s in virtually all brands of chewing gum?!  and tootsie rolls?  and also that I consumed tootsie rolls?!), and thyme.

We all talk about the dangers of soy and phytoestrogen intake, but the list of phytoestrogenic foods is long and complicated.  Many different studies list different foods as having different phytoestrogen content.  My inability to navigate them has been the bane of my skin for years.  But now I have compiled, however, a list of all of the foods, herbs, and substances that seem to be the most problematic and crop up in continuous studies.



Phytoestrogens can be summed up as: virtually all beans, peas, seeds, and nuts, some herbs, and a handful of fruits and vegetables.

They are as follows, with the most potent foods listed with an asterisk:

***Flaxseed and flaxseed oil (3 x as potent as soy in some studies!)

***Soy, soy oil, soy protein isolate, tofu, textured vegetable protein, and all of it’s derivates

All beans:

*Mung beans

*Bean sprouts

*Chick peas


*Sesame, sesame seeds, and sesame oil

*Sunflower seeds







*Red Clover



Sunflower seeds

*Red Clover leaf and extract


Olive Oil

Apricot (especially dried)

Prunes (dried)

Dates (dried)

Sweet Potatoes



Whole grains: Rye, *Oat, Barley, Millet, Wheat, Corn, Quinoa

*Most nuts:








And to a somewhat lesser extent the fruits and vegetables…




Winter squash


Green beans



And the substances…



For a complete listing of the fruits and vegetables in this list and their respective phytoestrogen contents, click here: phytoestrogens.  I got the data in it from Gunter et al 2006.

Other sources are here, here, and here, for example.  For phytoestrogens in animal products (all ~low, and none in seafood and butter), see here.

And, yes!  Marijuana and hops (a primary ingredient in beer) are both phytoestrogens.  It is worth noting that crude marijuana extract smoke and not just the physical plant matter competes for the estrogen receptor in receptor studies.  This means that inhaling marijuana, whether through one’s own cigarette or in the company of others who are smoking, counts as potential estrogenic activity.  All that being said, these chemical results were not replicable in vivo on rats, so it’s as yet undecided in trials if it has an effect on humans.  Personally, I don’t risk it these days.

Sorry.  I’m sad, too.


And as I final note, I strongly encourage you to check the label on anything processed you are considering consuming.  Like I noted above, Tootsie Rolls are made out of soy.  I had three on a road trip with my family and woke up the next morning with a painful cyst. I didn’t think to check– I though the risk small– but it turns out I was wrong.  It took me a week to figure out what I had done wrong, and when I finally checked the ingredients in Tootsie Rolls I face palmed myself in a big way.  Lots of anxiety over nothing at all.

Other big sources of soy protein and phytoestrogens in a processed diet are protein bars, cereals–particularly “protein plus” cereals, oat-based cereals, granolas, flax-containing granolas, granolas or cereals made with any kind of seed oil, triscuits, wheat thins, every kind of chewing gum, the more chewy types of candy, and probably most baked goods.


All of which is to say, again, that phytoestrogens are complicated.  I don’t advocate that you go crazy controlling your intake of all of these substances.  Absolutely I do not.  Please keep eating broccoli.  But for those of us who are particularly sensitive to estrogen flucutations, such as I am, it can be enormously helpful for understanding why we are getting breakouts, experience fluctuations in our sex drive, or failing to produce as much vaginal discharge as we normally do on occasion.   Huge doses of peas or garlic over a couple of days can make a real impact, as can the accidental consumption of soy.   So if you’re into the nitty gritty of troubleshooting, this list should be helpful.

If I’ve missed any phytoestrogens that should be on the list, please let me know!

More about progesterone competitors coming soon.

And finally: what is your experience with phytoestrogens?  Anyone as sensitive as I?  Or the total opposite, and robust?

Are they helpful?  Harmful?   In menopause, or at reproductive-age?

Are you consuming more phytoestrogens than you think? Here's a list of 45 foods, some you might not even realize are estrogenic.



So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.

Managing director of Paleo for Women and author of Sexy by Nature.


  1. Wow! I already cut out gluten, wheat, and dairy, and I suspected I was having issues with soy so I try to avoid it too. But I had no idea that all those other foods were potentially causing issues too!! Thanks for the great info!! I’ll have to start watching my intake of some of the other items on that list now!! Don’t know if I can ever give up garlic, but perhaps I can limit how much I eat in a week, or just limit some of the other items on the list like some of the nuts, seeds, and their oils.

  2. Wow! Thanks for this list! As one who has estrogen dominance issues thanks to a thyroid & adrenal imbalance, I knew to avoid/severely limit some of the items on this list, but others were a total shock (but explain a lot of thing!)

    I have a question regarding the table you link to – there’s no context for the amount of food for the amount of phytoestrogens. So is it 1 apricot that will yield 443 phytoestrogens or 1 oz, or 1#. Couldn’t quite discern from the article.


    • Yeah, I’m sure it’s in the “methods” section, but I’d have to take a look and don’t have the time at this precise moment. What I can tell you is that it’s all the same amount of each compound: for example, in 10 grams of soy there’s x micrograms of phytoestrogen. The same goes for 10 grams of apricot, dried apricot, etc. This similarity is what enables us to have a basis for comparison. In fact, I’d argue that the absolute values aren’t necessarily that important. We’d have no use for them. Just being able to compare the amounts is probably sufficient. Knowing that soy is 100,000 units of potency and flax is 3 times that, we can see how much we want to avoid flax. And the same goes for broccoli, which is only 100 units per x amount of material.

      • Thanks! That makes sense…

        Thanks again for pulling all this information together.

      • Hey, do you happen to have a source for the flax amount? Also, do you have a source for the sunflower seed amount? I eat a lot of sunflower seeds and would like to avoid it if its high doses.


    • I think I’ve responded to another comment similarly– I’m not sure on the amount. But the whole point is to relativize it anyway. The exact measure doesn’t matter so long as we can compare the foods. If you know that soy is “SO BAD” then you can tell that 300,000 units in it is 10,000 times worse than half a serving of broccoli.

  3. When I saw this list, I thought, ‘Surely she’s not suggesting giving up all of these foods.’ Then, at the end of your article, I was relieved to see that you don’t. You might want to move that advice up to the top of the list, though, since not everyone reads the entire article, and you’re such an advocate for people to not over-restrict themselves.

  4. I also get cystic acne from certain foods. I have literally spent two years tracking everything I eat in an effort to narrow it down. Soy is TOP on the list (I avoid every variation of it – no small feat), as is dairy (though I’ve determined whey is somehow okay), and all grains. Some of the reactive foods also cause constipation, which helped me pinpoint them since that’s a more immediate raction than a cyst, which takes a couple days to show up (for me).

    However, I do still get acne from time to time, usually from restaurants (I’ve learned to get very very detailed in my order – which I hate), and sometimes I can’t pinpoint ingesting any of my “known” reactants. This list will help! I can easily eliminate things I eat regularly without reactions, the things I KNOW cause reactions – and what I’m left with are foods I shall test. Thank you!

  5. I guess if I’m eating a number of many of the items on this list it can really add up quickly, eh? Looks like I need to reevaluate my meal plans. : (
    So long sweet potatoes…?

    • Just do some playing around and see what works. I personally do just fine on sweet potatoes but the legumes, nuts, and seeds all make differences in my acne.

  6. Many of those vegetables are high in histamine, which is also linked to acne!

    Also, you listed sunflower seeds twice, as *high* and not high. Which is it?

    • I’d say “moderately.” It’s all relative. I can’t do seeds at all or they give me acne.

      Interesting note on the histamine, definitely. I’ll try and write on histamines as soon as I can.

      • I suffered cystic acne for over 12 years. During that time, everything I ate seemed to give me acne: chocolate, mango, broccoli, milk, … especially cheese. Though I don’t think it’s because of phytoestrogen. Because now, I know how to rid myself of cystic acne, and I can enjoy any of the above food without breaking out. I’ve learned to cleanse my kidney and liver several time before my skin cleared out, and repeating once of each every other year or so. It seems that our organs were sluggish and can’t flush out used hormones as well as toxin. Those built up in our system for so long that our skin is now responsible for releasing those. I found your article intriguing about hops and marijuana, because I took hops and maca (for a self-trial for keeping youngful look… lol), and sure enough I have strong case of PMS, and very moody (plus higher libido) which I don’t, since I cleansed kidney and liver, and then major menstrual cramps. I stopped hops and maca, cleanse my kidney again, and the symptoms are gone.

  7. I have question. I had a hysterectomy in May 2012. I struggle with endometriosis, hashimoto’s, Sjögren’s syndrome & celiac. I’m on estrogen therapy & the autoimmune protocol but my allergies are getting worse! I eat meat, non starchy vegetables & fruit. I can’t tolerate any spices or starches & my allergies continue to worsen. Any suggestions?

    • Dear Jeanine,

      drink Lemon Balm tea to keep your TSH down. Calms the whole system and stomach soothing, good for brain too. Auto-immune problems generally caused by food allergies. I would do a food sensitivity test.Regards, Bridget

  8. When I stopped eating grains I had a daily “one minute muffin” made with flax to replace the bread and cereal. A few weeks in I started spotting, which gradually progressed to bleeding and then very heavy–almost hemorrhagic–bleeding. My doctor told me it was “just menopause” but I was anemic after 8 weeks of bleeding and getting frightened by the intensity. I googled and found that bleeding was linked to flax ingestion so I stopped immediately and the bleeding stopped two days later. So much for menopause!

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  10. Omigosh–this is SO helpful! I’ve had phytoestrogens on my mind a lot lately. I used to be a vegan, and I randomly developed amenorrhea after about 8 months of my soy-heavy animal-free diet. That, and my horrific acne (which seemed correlated with my vegan diet) was one of the primary motivators for my trying Paleo. Everything else, health-wise, seemed to get better, including the acne to some extent, but no return of menstruation. So I did some research and bought raw maca powder. Within two weeks, I had my period back.

    I’m concerned, because I think I’m doing more harm than good in continuing to feed my body phytoestrogens. I think the soy destroyed my body’s ability to make its own hormones, and now I need to supplement with plant estrogens just to have my body function as it should…

    Anyway, I so appreciate all of your fantastic info–maybe I need to take a look at my diet and see where I can start cutting down on the plant estrogens to just give my body a chance to reset…

    • So you’ ve decided that replacing plant estrogens with real estrogen from dead corpses might solve your problem ? ” Brilliant ” . You were never a vegan . You were on a plant based diet . Vegan is an ethical term . Eating murdered animals to hopefully make yourself feel better is something a vegan would never do .

  11. Great post…!!! pulling all this information together in a great way.

  12. I am so glad I have found this site. I do have a question for you Stefani regarding PCOS. I have a fairly advanced case of PCOS to the point of consideration of the removal of my ovaries. I’m not too concerned about the reproducing anymore offspring but I am very concerned about the hormonal shifts that are going on with my body. I am currently on hormone treatment but in all honesty, I feel worse than when I started as everything feels off center. I stumbled upon your website researching the Paleo lifestyle and was pleasantly surprised to see the tie in to PCOS! I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m commenting on this article but being an avid consumer of marijuana, I had to click and read. Admittedly, I was quite disappointed in what I read not about marijuana but more about seeds, nuts and quinoa. I was under the impression that quinoa was NOT a grain but rather a seed. I’ve successfully omitted all grains, beans, soya (always had a sensitivity to this so this wasn’t that hard!) from my diet and this was a major bummer to read 🙁
    I am feeling very deprived right now thinking of the possibility of having to omit this as well. Thank you for the great article however and keep up the great work.

    • Ha! Scratch that first line. I really don’t have a question regarding I meant to say quinoa but took the long winded route asking!

  13. This is really helpful. Another case against nuts for me — which I know I do better without, but have a tendency to eat anyways because they are so snackable — thank you for the info!

  14. Hi! I just found out i have high levels of progesterone in my body and i want to make sure i cut out foods that are adding to this hormonal imbalance. i am confused as to if the foods listed in this article INCREASE estrogen or INCREASE progesterone?! Thanks for your information, it is so appreciated!!!

  15. Pingback: Paleo for Women | The Estrogen Dominance Post: Where Its Coming From, and What to Do About It

  16. So you have said before to eat carbs….but what carb is possibly left? Do you have any advice on particular brands of pre packaged food that we CAN eat? I don’t always have time to make everything from scratch, and I am a huge snacker! I think this list was very helpful, but making a list of things we can eat would help me soooooo much! At least some ideas….and maybe some less obvious choices, like this nut is ok, and this carb is ok, and this pre packaged snack food is also ok. I am looking forward to that!!!! Thank you for all of your help tho!

    • I think fruit is great — what about some raisins or other dried fruits? They are enormously calorically dense, so I’d step a bit cautiously around them. Nuts of course are okay in moderation, too, so that makes trailmix all right. And with dark chocolate… sounds quite tasty! Some protein bars are also okay to throw on the list so long as you are someone who can tolerate that moderate amount of nuts… Lara bars come to mind. There are also “tanka” bars (google!) which are expressly paleo, if you’re into that kind of thing. 🙂

  17. Thanks for the post! It is very important to warn as many people with estrogen dominance about the role of food we eat for this condition.

    Though, I must note that it is very individual: some phytoestrogen containing foods and herbs also contain estrogen blockers, and fiber helping to eliminate excess estrogen and can contribute to the restoration of the hormonal balance.

    These foods, however, must be first tested in small quantities, because, again, it is individual.

    For example broccoli. When I discovered that my PMS, weight gain and never ending breast pain are caused by excess estrogen I have been put on progestogen only pill. It made my ED symptoms better, BUT gave me depression and total lack of energy. So I have stopped taking it after a year.

    I have started taking broccoli extract together with vitex. Both contain phytoestrogen, but my condition improved tremendously in about 3 month. I have to say that at the same time I’ve stopped consuming milk, cheese, and soy and reduced the amount of non organic eggs, poultry and meat.

    So broccoli which I eat very often, quinoa, and buckwheat don’t seem make estrogen dominance worse. Quinoa and buckwheat are considered inflammatory, so I balance it with mackerel and cod liver oil. AlsoI eat about 1oz of soaked almonds every day, because they are a great pre-exercise snack easy to carry, and it seems to be ok.

    I believe I have managed to improve my condition with proper diet and exercise without taking synthetic drugs (which on the long run made things worse for me).

    The last thing I would like to add, is that apart from foods, people with hormonal imbalance will benefit from eliminating cosmetics with mineral oils and BPA, petroleum based laundry softeners and avoid overexercising.

  18. Pingback: Estrogen Dominance and Amenorrhea | Erica House

  19. damn. I’m horribly estrogen dominant (or progesterone deficient) and this post is a huge facepalm. cystic acne breakouts are my sign that things are not going right at all and now I see that just being vigilant about avoiding soy is not enough.
    I’m insulin resistant, hypothyroid, ADHD, deal with anxiety, mood swings, severe insomnia, severe food allergies, infertility, and the list goes on. Since discovering I was hormonally out of balance life has improved so much BUT there’s still bouts of WTH did I do wrong THIS time? Now I know.
    Buh-bye pistachios, asparagus, and cinnamon. It’s for the best.

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  22. I think I’m in about the same boat as you were, Stephani! I’m low on estrogen and looking to cut out any extra phytoestrogen-containing foods. But I see sweet potatoes and olive oil are on here!!! Are they really that bad?

    • Nope! Please feel free to eat them … just don’t make them 100 percent of your calories. 🙂

  23. Excellent article. I too suffer from cystic acne! I have eliminated Dairy, soy (except for traces hidden in processed food) Flax, all alcohol and caffeine even the little in chocolate. Not only do these foods trigger my cystic acne but they aggravate my TMJD (I had both jaw joints replaced 14 yrs ago). I have found a couple things that really help. Decolorized iodine(SSKI potassium iodide) topically at the first sign of a cyst can make it DIE on the spot! Also a pico ionic Magnesium supplement called ReMag taken orally has changed my life in terms of everything health related. I recently started putting fresh Aloe in my green smoothies and I didn’t get acne but had a weird breakthrough bleeding episode which made me inquire if Aloe is a phytoestrogen and sure enough it is! WHO DA THUNK IT?

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  25. That’s interesting,however some foods you mention in your list as being estrogenic are listed in this list as being estrogen-blocking? (like cabbages,onion,blackberry…and all animalfood is supposed to be estrogenic so also seafood.)


    So,it’s kind of a problem with all these different lists out there…

  26. I guess I have the opposite problem. When I eat a diet rich in phytoestrogens it had a good impacr on my body. But it is not 100% of my diet, Also I prefer whole, natural sources. Our bodies our different. The Liver Doctor has a good quiz to find out which of the four body types you are. I am gynaeoid, and that means my fat is distributed around my ovaries( lower stomach, upper thighs, buttocks). Each body type has different reccomendations for food, exercise, and supplements. And it is all helpful.

  27. I have been attempting to research the correlation between vitamin c and estrogen dominance after researching why I get a high feeling from dairy products especially liquid cow milk and attempting to research a study indicating how vitamin c reduces the autoimmune reaction to gliadan. I learned there is a lot of conflicting information in regard to vitamin c and estrogen depletes the vitamin c in the body and possibly increases estrogen levels. (I could not find information on whether this is a regulatory effect to balance the various types of estrogen or not) I did learn symptoms of estrogen dominance are similar to symptoms of low vitamin c levels. I stumbled on an old article from the Harvard Gazette: http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2006/12.07/11-dairy.html. It discusses the high levels of estrone sulfate found in milk of pregnant cows. It also indicates concern of added estrogen from animal sources. I would project these high levels come from the feed they are fed. Further research indicates to me the estrone sulfate in high amounts is not healthy for humans. I had been wondering why I would get a high feeling coupled with anxiousness and irritability when I consumed dairy products. Estrogen triggers serotonin, epinephrine and nor-epinepherine production amongst other things. Suddenly the symptoms I have been experiencing align. It also makes sense that the foods high in phyto-estrogens are also problematic for my system. I was reading a couple of your articles and really I was just curious if you had considered animal sources of estrogen and phyto estrogen and what your take on them is?

  28. Hey Stefani!

    I’m so confused! I’ve read that sweet potatoes and turmeric are both really good for acne prone skin. I’ve been doing great on paleo for over a year but can’t clear my skin. Is it a good idea to cut all phytoestrogen sources from my diet for a month and see if there are any differences?


    • I think removing flax and soy is important, and other phytos should at least have an eye kept on them. It’s probably more important to figure out whether you have hormone balances and which ones, and also to focus on gut healing and cooling inflammation

  29. As a stage IV ca survivor, my diet includes many herbs and spices. It saddened me to have to give up my Ceylon cinnamon. On the upside, I understand that turmeric is an estrogen blocker! Yay!

  30. What about men?

  31. Broccoli has indol 3 carbinol and estrogen blocker. Why would you say it causes estrogen dominance that is crap

  32. What am I going to eat? I had a bilateral mastectomy 3 years ago after a breast cancer diagnosis. I am a food “nut,” and I thought I was eating extremely healthfully until I read this article. As an estrogen-receptive woman I have avoided soy and eat mostly vegan. I had NO IDEA that nuts, seeds and beans (the foundation of protein in my diet)are phytoestrogens. I am 5’5″ tall and weigh 110 pounds. I do not want to lose any weight. What can I eat? This is very discouraging.

    • I feel the same way! I feel like, what am I supposed to eat then? !

      • NOTHING.

        That’s a joke. Eat all the things. 🙂

  33. Pingback: Phytoestrogens in common foods | Worts & All

  34. It should be noted in your article, as it is not, phytoestrogens are good for women with fibroids. Hundreds of doctors and thousands of web resources will tell you this. You are speaking for the norm and that’s pushing it because I find your article to be in the minority. Just google fibroids and how to combat them and you will find that phytoestrogens are important for women with this condition.

  35. I think it’s great that you’re making this info available on your blog, but I would say that your summary is somewhat misleading. You introduce your list by saying these are foods that are the most “problematic” and appear in study after study. All the sources you’ve listed simply list these foods as having traceable amounts of phytoestrogens, not that they are harmful for health. In one of your links which lists various abstracts the benefits of many of these foods (like legumes) are the focus of the study (e.g., anticancerous properties), while none of the abstracts I looked indicated these foods caused health problems of any kind. Here’s an academic article exploring this topic and summarizes studies conducted on health effects and indicates there are many demonstrated benefits, while acknowledging there are precautions that may be needed in the case of excesses, pregnant women, etc. http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Wendie_Cohick/publication/8593845_Dietary_phytoestrogens_and_health/file/72e7e519623e2417b9.pdf

    So when you say this list of foods is problematic, I believe you mean problematic for people like you who are highly sensitive to phytoestrogens, I presume due to uncorrected estrogen dominance and maybe some specifics of your physiology.

    I also think most people reading your blog post will not look at the attached articles/lists and will not realize that there is an enormous difference between the level of phytoestrogens in soy beans (~104,000 mcg/100 gm) and cooked kidney beans which have a measly 41 mcg/100 gm. The phytoestrogenic content in sunflower seeds which you give one star to has a content of 216 mcg/100 gm, or roughly 2/1000th the phytoestrogenic content of soy beans. Just because tests can measure phytoestrogens doesn’t mean their levels are at all significant for most people.

    And how on earth does beer make it onto your list? Hops appears somewhere in a non-academic source list, and hops is a common beer ingredient. But beer itself is on one of your linked tables and it reads in at a whopping 2.7 mcg/100 gm (that’s 2.7 mcg in 5 LITRES of beer).

    The list might be more useful and less alarming to people if you include the figures next to the food, to put the degree of exposure into perspective.

  36. Been knowingly phytoestrogenic sensitive for about 8 years now and I just wanted to encourage you to do a bit more research on phytoestrogenic properties of sweet potatoes. It is my understanding, and experience, that sweet potatoes are not phytoestrogenic. As Wild Yam is not on your list, I think you may have swapped the two. They are very different plants from different families.

  37. So…is there a list somewhere of foods I CAN eat??? Because it looks like I wont be eating ever again after reading this list! Wow…

  38. Hello!

    Thanks for this list! I recently stumbled on your blog, and it’s been very helpful. I have a question similar to someone above…what ‘good’ carbs are left for someone with endometriosis (major estrogen dominance)? I don’t have a huge budget for my family, so buying in bulk is really really helpful, but since beans have phytoestrogens, it’s hard to know if I should be buying them. I soak my beans and whatever grains I do eat like quinoa, but not sure what would be a good “replacement” for these carbs in meals. Any thoughts?

  39. From what I’ve read about iodine, I think it might be the missing element in treating estrogen dominant allergies, acne, pms, and cancers. Most North Americans are actually iodine deficient and this is exacerbated by fluoride and chloride in tap water and bromine in breads and flour, because these are all halogens that compete for receptor spots in the body, when iodine is what thyroid needs. The Weston A Price foundation has a good discussion of iodine. It is what your thyroid needs to turn dangerous forms of estrogen into useable form. Dido for men, why they find their testosterone levels are improved with iodine supplementation with lugols or seaweed. Ryan Drum has a great website on seaweed benefits. Selenium and iodine should always be taken together and there are many naturopaths and biochemists who can explain why. There is a whole literature on vitamins by the orthomolecular researchers like Linus Pauling and Dr. Kunin.

    Long story short, you need to avoid fluoride and chloride from tap water and bromide from baked goods, which most paleo folks already do. Then you need to research iodine and selenium and decide if you are low in these anti-inflammatory nutrients. There is a Canadian dr who is convinced these two elements could prevent and treat estrogen based cancers.

  40. Here is one good article on the history of potassium iodide use in medicine: http://www.westonaprice.org/modern-diseases/the-great-iodine-debate/

    As far as I can tell iodine is needed:
    As an anti-inflammatory, prevents oxidation of fats including omega 3
    As anti microbial, kills fungus, bacteria, viruses
    As detoxifier (binds with heavy metals for excretion, as does selenium)
    For preventing fibroids and any abnormal fibrous growths, cysts, tumors
    Keeping tissue soft and pliable, including arteries

    The benefits are long, but it must be taken with a good understanding of how much for how long etc.

    Fluoride is the other side of the story, as I mention briefly above. You can learn more at the Fluoride Action Network. In the 1800s fluoride was used to lower thyroid function, so when consumed by people with normal to low thyroid function, it is very damaging, as you can imagine. Especially as it competes with the much needed iodine.

  41. I am an oestrogen dependent breastcancer survivor and have discovered that my efforts to reduce raised cholesterol levels twenty five years ago by reducing animal proteins to micro-portions in my diet, increasing soy products, flax, sesame seed, and other phyto-oestrogen rich foods knowingly, and consuming soy products (listed as emulsifier, vegetable oil, soy, soya, soya flour, and in 70 % of ALL supermarket food), were based on myths created by well meaning naturopaths, dieticians, and healthfood vendors.

    Investigations into internet discussions of the role of soya in causing this type of breast cance has been extremely confusing; some saying “eat more” some saying the “findings are controversial”. The latest readings, 2013, are now saying unequivocally “soya causes breastcancer, and my oncologist has now confirmed it. I now bake bread with non-GMO, seventh generation, organicaly farmed, unbleached, heavy vintage species, unbleached, stone ground wheat, and soya free flour and I am on as close to a 100% non-soya and flax seed diet, and a reduction in other phyto-oestrogen bearing foods.

    I am currently looking at oestrogen-clearing foods such as celery, organic eggs (the good stuff is in the yolk), which we farm ourselves, and oats, which we buy in. And yes, it is all about the quantities of the oestrogen in the food, not simply the presence.

  42. I have a comment awaiting moderation under estrogen dominance, but yes. Major issues thanks to flaxseed.

  43. I’m very surprised that parsley is on the list?!

    • I doubt you eat it in high enough amounts for it to make a difference 🙂

  44. Although this is a little off topic, I found this discussion and page due to my search for exactly which foods are phytoestrogens. The reason for my search? I am a breeder/exhibitor of Longhaired Miniature Dachshunds. I am having severe repro issues in my dogs. This has gone on now for approximately 10 years. I have had extreme infertility in my girls. Sometimes one will become pregnant but absorb the litter midway through gestation. I’ve spent thousands of dollars at repro vets trying to find an answer with no luck. Many breeders are having the same issues. We’ve been discussing food as a source of the problem. If you look at dog food ingredient labels on the better quality foods, you’ll find LOTS of flax seed. Peas have crept in during the last 5 years or so. The better quality foods have lots of the products on this list. However, I’d like to discuss sweet potatoes. It is my understanding that Yams are a totally different item than a sweet potato and that it is the Yam that is so high in phytoestrogens, not the sweet potato. I have spent the day attempting to local a dog food kibble without phytoestrogens in them but that is still a quality food. It is almost impossible. It will be interesting to see if, after 6 months or so on a diet with fewer phytoestrogens in it if the problem is any better. But any input on sweet potato vs the highly phytoestrogenic yam is appreciated.

    • I agree, I think sweet potatoes are okay. Sweet potatoes are very modestly phytoestrogenic…not nearly as much as “real yams” 🙂

    • Sweet potatoes are a strange one; I’ve read that they’re Phytoestrogenic more often than not, but I’ve also seen that they promote testosterone production. I have to say, being that I only eat brown rice, beans, eggs occasionally and a lot of sweet potatoes, there seems to be an increased production of both estrogen and testosterone. I just got back from the doctor today over the fact that I’m getting breast development on one side. I am certain it’s the sweet potatoes. This happened when I first started eating them on the advice of a thick hawaiian bodybuilder; he said it was one of the ways Hawaiians got big. It was true, I put on ten pounds of extra muscle just doing the normal lifting I was already doing; but after a month of a sweet potato a day, sure enough, one nipple started really reacting. I picked up on the why, stopped eating them, it resolved. I just started sweet potatoes again a couple months ago, and this time it hit me hard. Researching it, i find most sites for reducing estrogen in men suggest them, amazingly. The theory is that the Phytoestrogens work by replacing the true estrogens at the receptors. Phytoestrogens are much lower in estrogen content, obviously, so it’s actually the IDEA to eat them. This makes sense… but whatever the logic on the sweet potato, the fact is, it’s definitely triggering both testosterone and estrogen. I put on at least ten pounds of muscle again, but I also thickened out in the waist, though still muscle, and got a little bit of surface fat: Something that’s never happened in my entire life, and is consistent with estrogen. The point is, reduce your diet entirely for a few weeks; go to brown rice, beans and seasonings. When you actually feel balanced again, add an item at a time and see how you do. It will take awhile to get the range of your diet back, but if you don’t, you’re just going to find your own reaction to this or that may not reflect what you read it should be… and sweet potatoes are definitely screwing up a lot of men. I hope this helps, I was dismayed to run into this article after reading so many sites PROMOTING phytoestrogenic foods. The logic of how they actually work, replacing estrogen at the receptor level, is sound. Look into it, you may WANT to be eating them.

  45. Is there any research on how long the phytoestrogens remain in your body once you cease consuming them? Is it an immediate effect or does it take a while to “leech” out of your body?

  46. Hi Stefani,

    I am slightly confused, I noticed someone mentioned above here that they (and you ) are low on estrogen so you cut out phyto strogens??? I would have thought if estrogen is low then you should add (especially) naturally plant based estrogen so so could get your levels higher to a balanced level. It just seems unatural to reduce your intake surely you should be looking at increasing it. I have to agree with another lady that after cleansing the liver and especially colon I had noticed huge diffrence in my skin clearing up (amongst other things) I reckon keeping the colon and liver clean will reduce if not take a lot of what you mention.

    Just a bit of feedback on your article. I found it filled with lots of good information but at the end of it I was so scared of phyto strogens I wanted to avoid them at all costs. Maybe you could add the benefits of phyto estrogens and not focus so much on the negative. I also did bit of my own research and found good benefits for eating foods rich phyto estrogens so to appeal to a wider audience and have a balanced article that’s what I would recommend.

  47. Hi Stefani,
    Thanks for the post. I have hormonal imbalance/lean pcos….someone recommended me seed cycling (everyday: 1 tbsp flax/pumpkin seeds in follicular phase of cycle; 1 tbsp of sesame/sunflower seeds in luteal phase). What are your thoughts on that? I’ve started the seed cycling, but after reading your post, I’m wondering if that would make my hormones worse!
    Thanks very much!

    • I personally am not a huge fan of seed cycling… its just another form of estrogen supplementation. It looks to me like both your follicular and your luteal phase have estrogen in them, just that the follicular phase has more. I guess this is intended to compensate for the higher natural levels you’d experience in the luteal phase? It could help you experience balance, but you are right that I am skeptical about its ability to rehabilitate your in the longterm. On the other hand Idon’t think it would do permanent damage, so if you wanted to experiment with you should definitely feel free to!

  48. hi I’m trying to get a little clarification on turmeric ? I take DIM to help lower my estrogen levels and have had great success @ controlling pms synotoms of breast tenderness, hot flashes etc. how is it possible that turmeric is high in phytonutrients? also cinnamon is excellent for fiber – a lot of these foods listed are highly beneficial in fibers, vita c, magnesium etc. and we’re encouraged to consume – especially when you look at diets to reduce inflammation in the body, gaps, aip etc. I’m very confused. Thank You

  49. I am wondering about chia seeds. They are supposed to be good for the fiber and various minerals, vitamin B and omega 3. Do you have any info on their phytoestrogen content?

  50. What are you using for birth control? I had a Mirena IUD and it is implanted with Progestin, a synthetic progesterone. I used to get cystic acne on that, along my chin/jawline. Your problems with cystic acne may be progesterone or progestin (the synthetic version, especially) related rather than phytoestrogen related. After my Mirena IUD was removed, I went into estrogen dominance fibroids went crazy, and found estrogens and xenoestrogens everywhere!! A year later I had a hysterectomy, and am now dealing with the opposite problem, NEEDING phytoestrogens to help with Atrophic Vaginitis, ugh. Being female sucks. Good luck to you, hope this info helps.

  51. I was surprised and pleased to find this list. My doctor has said NO PLANT BASED ESTROGENS if possible, which of course is not possible. But I had endometrial cancer and am to avoid as much of this as possible and definitely not take any supplements that contain these. This was surprising information. Particularly since I take a tablespoon full of flax/chia mix daily and nobody told me it was high in estrogen.

  52. 6 months ago I began to take flax oil (Udo’s blend) everyday because of the omega 3. As a guy, after a while I noticed I started gaining gut fat and love handles. I never had this problem ever before. I started doing some reading and found the flax seed phytoestrogen issue. I was completely shocked!!! I immediately stopped taking the oil. Within 2 weeks I had lost a noticeable amount of the fat I had gained. It was truly amazing.

    • Thank you for sharing – the struggle is real!!

  53. Thank you for this information, but I think you made a small mistake with the list. Peas are very low in estrogens and also a good paleo food. Sugar snap peas do have a moderate amount of estrogen, but not plain old peas.

  54. If you want detailed list of phytoestrogens in foods, from a recent study, please copy and paste the following title into google: “Phytoestrogen Content of Foods Consumed in Canada, Including
    Isoflavones, Lignans, and Coumestan”
    This study (quoted in many professional journals has a detailed chart showing a long list of phytoestrogens in different foods. It even lists the different kinds of phytoestrogens within each plant. Some of the information conflicts with the study in your link above and I think this one is more recent. The worst offenders are nuts and seeds (especially sesame seeds). As for me my sensitivity is that a day or two after consuming high phytoestrogen food I break out in random intense underarm sweats…(dripping) unaccompanied by heat and only in my art pits! Not a hot flash per se – just rain dripping from my body. It was unbelievable and embarrassing and no-one could tell me what it was. I thought I was getting early menopause. It had gotten worse when in trying to eat healthfully (I follow Dr. Fuhrman’s high nutrient diet (so what am I doing on a Paleo website?? lol!), I’d increased flax consumtion (in smoothies, muffins, almond meal in pancakes (avoiding gluten), added chia seeds for powerfood smoothies. I ate almonds for snacks when out and about so as not to eat junk…the list goes on. Here I was thinking I was improving my health while running around sweating. I had NO idea what was going on. I’d known for years that soy didn’t work for me, but didn’t connect the dots till I started digging around for anyone else who was dripping under the armpits like me. It’s a relief to find the study and your article explains a possibility of what’s happening. I’m guessing my estrogen drops when eating these foods causing my body to mimic menopause (lowered estrogen) hence the “flashes”. I went from wearing tank tops in winter (when dripping the scent was as bad as if I’d run a marathon. I’m not exaggerating!) to being able to wear normal clothes – like t-shirts & sweaters. It totally affected my social life – I used to carry baby wipes or used paper towels. Anyway, the chart I’ve listed above (cut & paste into google and the free pdf will download) has been such a help. I’m still playing with the amount of food and therefore phytoestrogen I can consume from one plant at a time. Hope this hellos someone.

  55. Do you have any credentials ? I didn’t notice any listed nor did I notice any citations on any of your statements or footnotes .
    Not sure how you worked out that the culprit was totsie rolls but I’m guessing there are other things besides soy in them that could be the culprit like corn syrup , sugar and chocolate . Or the fact that you eat junk like totsie rolls in general and claim to be worried about your health .
    I used to have terrible cystic acne and breasts . It all went away when I went vegan . Since meat and dairy are naturally swimming in hormones I’m guessing that had something to do with it .

  56. Hello,

    I agree that phytoestrogens could be a problem for most, but have you read any literature on Ray Peat? He actually says that milk and all dairy products neutralize the free-floating faux estrogens.

    Please let me know, thank you!


  57. Wow, that is quite a list. So I understood it correctly if you want to deal with oestrogen dominance you should avoid all of this? And that are exactly the main ingredients in my diet: nuts, seeds, garlic, licorice root, etc… I am in the perimenopause and gained a shocking 22 kilos already which I can’t get rid of, but worst of all the menorrhagia. I will give it a try for a while and see what results it will give.


    Sources of Soy Isoflavones12
    Soybeans are by far the most concentrated source of isoflavones in the human diet.

    • The highest concentrations of isoflavones are found in soyfoods that aren’t highly processed, such as tofu, soymilk, soynuts, tempeh, miso, and edamame. Soy flour and textured soy protein also contain significant amounts of isoflavones.

    • Soy protein concentrates vary dramatically in their isoflavone content depending on how the protein was extracted.

    • Processed soyfoods that contain considerable amounts of non-soy ingredients, such as soy hot dogs, ice cream, or snack bars, have much lower amounts of isoflavones than whole soyfoods.

    Soybeans and soy products are the richest source of isoflavones in the human diet. Isoflavones are phytoestrogens, or plant chemicals capable of exerting estrogenlike effects.
    • Soy oil and soy sauce contain no isoflavones.


  59. Pingback: Paleo for Women Are you estrogen dominant? - Paleo for Women

  60. No, no, no, no.

    You want some phytoestrogens! Many of the ones listed promote the C-2 pathway, which is essentially what you want to lower toxic estrogen levels. This means that a receptor will be occupied by a phytoestrogen instead of a true or chemical estrogen. Since a C-2 promoting has .001% of the effect that true/chemical estrogen has… that means it is essentially negating any effect true/chemical estrogen would have had on the body. If you’re not consuming these, true estrogen is instead binding to these receptors.

    They also increase SHBG levels, inhibit aromatase production and help naturally-produced estrogen in the body to metabolize down the C-2 pathway.

    Flax, sesame, legumes and leafy greens are pretty much the *best* things you can eat to produce proper estrogen metabolization and reduce high levels of estrogen accumulating in the body.

    Many of the things you list also contain DIM, a substance key to methylizing estrogen safely from the body. Broccoli, for example, is one of the most potent sources.

    Estrogen overabundance is most likely due to a B vitamin deficiency, insufficient protein intake, inadequate fiber, poor gut function (not enough glucuronic acid), S-adenosylmethionine and/or magnesium deficiency. Also, estrogen mimicking chemicals, like BPA (found mostly in plastic), “fragrance”, chemicals in personal care and cleaning products (like DBP, DMP, DEP, etc). Also, RECEIPTS. Cashiers have been shown to have elevated BPA levels as over half of receipt paper brands (especially the most common) contain very high levels of BPA.

    If you’re having issues with one of the good phytoestrogen, it’s not for the reasons you think. ^_^

  61. I am just stumbling upon this, and a lot of my symptoms fit the bill. I had blood work done about 4 years ago and I I was told I already had low progesterone and did not really worry about it and was never given a recommendation. Since January, I had made a resolution to go plant based. For majority of the year I have consumed a lot of these plants and even more soy than ever. I have had these symptoms for a really long time and my mood swings have gotten so bad when my PMS starts to kick in and I want to cry at the drop of a hat (my husband is concerned). I feel terrible for unknowingly making my situation even worse. Since the beginning of Sept. I have started to eat more meat and considering going full Paleo because I just feel so brain foggy and tired when I consume excess carbs, gluten, grains and I just need to listen to my body. Can I REVERSE the damage that I have done to my hormones and get back in balance? Do you think this will have a major impact on trying to have kids in 2-3 years? Will all the soy have imbalanced my husband’s body?

    • yes i think that is definitely possible, and no, don’t worry about your husband being affected by your body 🙂

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