Maria Bez, is a registered Nutritional Therapist and Kinesiologist. She is also a GenderGP community member. Maria is the mother of a transgender son, and a health professional. Helping transgender people stay healthy or address specific physical or emotional symptoms through diet and lifestyle, is a subject very close to her heart.
Everyone can benefit physically from making healthy food choices. It doesn’t have to cost anything if you buy locally grown fruit and vegetables and it can help you feel good too.
- Achieving your ideal hormone balance
- Reducing body dysphoria
- Giving you a sense of control in life
- Addressing other health problems
- Improving how clothes look and fit
- Uplifting your mood, energy, and self-esteem
- Helping with sleep
- Reducing depression and anxiety
As a trans person you will have various nutritional needs depending on which hormones you’re taking and what your overall health is like. Below I have outlined some general tips and considerations. These guidelines do not replace advice from a medical practitioner.
Let’s start with the basics: our diets are made up of protein, carbohydrate and fat. The variation of these key elements determine how healthy our overall diet is. Too much in one direction or another can lead to an unbalanced, unhealthy diet. My healthy eating plate graphic outlines what proportion of fats, protein etc you need.
So where do I find these key elements?
Found in meat, fish, nuts, seeds, tofu, eggs. No specific protein recommendations exist for transgender people, although a slightly higher protein intake may be beneficial in the context of weight gain, if you are a transgender man who is also looking to build muscle. Protein is also useful if you are a transgender female trying to keep to a healthy weight because it helps control insulin which is also known as the ‘fat storage hormone’.
As a guide, I usually say to my clients that a piece of meat or fish the size of your palm is enough for a meal. For transgender men I would urge caution in going to extremes and having too much protein – for example in protein shakes etc to build muscle as this can lead to kidney problems. My advice to those looking to bulk up is to have moderate amounts of protein and do weight bearing exercises.
Fats are an essential component in any healthy, balanced diet. They can be divided into good and bad fats. Here we will focus on the good fats.
Hormones are made of fat, so it’s important to eat good fats to help with hormone development. Fat is also essential as it coats your nerve cells which helps you to cope with stress and stay emotionally balanced.
Good fats include avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds and oily fish. Be conscious of products that are marketed as being healthy. For example, did you know that ‘healthy spreads’ are grey in colour, before they are bleached by the manufacturer to look like butter! Who wants to eat that! It’s best to consume food in its most natural form i.e. a little butter spread on your toast is healthier than a grey mush!
Saturated fats (bad fats) may lead to increased blood fats (triglyerides) and unhealthy cholesterol. Bad fats include items such as cheese as well as the processed fats found in deep fried food and crisps etc.
Carbohydrates are mainly sugars and starches that the body breaks down into glucose for energy. They include: potatoes, rice, pasta, cereals and sugars. These foods make it harder to lose fat, because your body uses these for energy before it uses fat.
Consuming an excessive amount of refined carbs will cause blood sugar to rise which can trigger fat storage rather than fat burning. It also triggers high cortisol which can make any feelings of anxiety worse. Once insulin and cortisol rise too high, they work to decrease testosterone.
Ideally, you should include carbohydrates in your diet to help increase your energy levels, but try to choose healthier unrefined versions: e.g. wholegrain rice, pasta, wholemeal bread, cereals and starchy veg (potatoes, carrots, parsnips).
Other healthy food choices include unprocessed fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, nuts, and seeds. Products which are high in animal fat should be avoided.
It is also important to ensure that you are having enough fibre through vegetables.
Please see my healthy eating plate diagram which outlines the ideal portions. Colourful vegetables are very important because they provide protective phytonutrients. Peppers, beetroot, carrots, tomatoes, squash have been shown to protect against diseases and aging.
Specific guidelines for transgender individuals:
To lower testosterone for transgender women
- Reduce meat but make sure you have protein from e.g. nuts, seeds, eggs.
- Reduce cholesterol by cutting back on saturated fats, processed food and deep-fried food (crisps, fish and chips).
- Increase soy from tofu, miso, soya sauce, edamame beans.
- Eat organic food.
To lower oestrogen for transgender men
- Increase fibre from vegetables.
- Increase flaxseed.
- Increase foods with sulphur: eggs, meat, fish, nuts, seeds.
- Increase organic food.
- Reduce caffeine.
- Reduce processed food.
To count or not to count?
Calorie counting is not going to drive healthier eating or give you a healthy weight. If you count calories, you will think that an avocado and a doughnut are equal (an avocado has 250 calories and a jam doughnut has 252 calories). But they are not.
- Burned at a higher rate than other types of fats.
- Increase the rate at which fat is burned.
- Cause the body to burn more calories after eating.
- Reduce appetite and decrease the desire to eat after a meal.
A doughnut does none of the above!
I like to make a big frittata (effectively a thick omelet) using 10 eggs and loads of vegetables. I then keep it in the fridge and have a slice for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s a quick way of getting something healthy into your diet and helps to control blood sugar. It can last up to four days in the fridge.
Water is vitally important to our health. It helps regulate our blood pressure, helps concentration and detoxification. Aim to drink between one and two litres of water throughout the day.
Alcohol can disrupt blood sugar levels and hormones and make depression worse. Always moderate alcohol and try to keep to less than seven units per week.