This chocolate bark though. First, it reminds me of those I-just-can’t-stop-eating-them “bark thins” with pumpkin seeds and sea salt. AGH. Not only is this dark chocolate bark freaking delicious, but it has a HUGE added benefit – it’s can help you balance your hormones. And no, I don’t mean by satisfying your chocolate cravings during your cycle (though this would definitely help that too, hah!) Now you have an excuse to eat chocolate every day…as if you needed one, right? Because literally, this chocolate is going to help regulate your cycle and PMS symptoms via seed cycling for hormone balance!
Hold up, Dana. So first, you’re telling me I can eat this chocolate every day. AND that it’s healthy. AND that it’s going to help me balance out my cycle, to make it more regular and most likely experience LESS of the PMS symptoms we all hate?
YES. *praise* AND hashtag blessed, am I right? So let’s talk about seed cycling.
What the heck is seed cycling and what does it do?
Seed cycling is a natural way to help restore hormonal balance for women. The way it works, is you introduce different seeds at different points in the menstrual cycle, including flax seeds + pumpkin seeds which will help boost estrogen in the first half, and sesame seeds + sunflower seeds in the second half, which will produce progesterone, to help create a natural rhythm with your hormones. The seed hulls and oils are where you will find the most benefit, so instead of consuming the seeds whole (which will most likely just pass through your body undigested), we ground the seeds to get maximum impact. The compounds known as lignans in the seeds are known to bind to excess hormones and naturally carry them out of the body, while the other compounds in the seeds (vitamins, healthy fatty acids) help naturally produce the hormones we need in each stage of the menstrual cycle.
The great thing about seed cycling is, not only is it totally natural (hormone balancing through food? Sign me up), very gentile on the body, but it’s a tool that can be used whether you have a regular cycle, sporadic cycle, or even if you’ve lost your cycle due to amenorrhea. When you have a ‘regular’ cycle (consistent periods, this does NOT mean you *must* cycle every 28 days), you’ll take the seeds according to which part of your cycle you are in. If you’re irregular or not experiencing cycles at all, you’ll cycle with the moon – I know it sounds TOTAL *woo woo*, but you’ll understand more soon! Keep reading.
Who is seed cycling for?
Everyone! Whether you have a regular, irregular, or absent cycle, experience PMS symptoms, or are just trying to figure out when you ovulate, seed cycling is a great natural way to regulate your cycle and reduce PMS symptoms.
Many women experience hormonal imbalances (you are not alone!); most of the time, women have an excess of estrogen and too little progesterone. This can happen for a myriad of reasons, from toxin exposure in cosmetics, bathroom products, household cleaning agents and plastics that produce estrogenic effects, or simply from having too much stress and an excess of cortisol in the body, causing the body to ‘steal’ the raw materials (pregnenolone) needed to make progesterone and balance out our estrogen levels. (See the Pregnenolone Steal). Hormonal imbalance can be made worse by poor diet choices or food sensitivities, digestive or processing issues with the liver, excessive coffee or alcohol consumption.
Seed cycling can help balance out those hormones, create more regular menstrual cycles, and lessen the sh*tty PMS symptoms you may experience every month.
Why these seeds in particular?
In the first half of the cycle, we use a combination of flax + pumpkin seeds. Flaxseeds are known as phytoestrogens, which can help naturally boost your body’s estrogen levels by providing the precursors (aka building blocks or natural materials) needed to make that hormone. Both flax and pumpkin seeds contain lignans and are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help maintain cell membrane integrity, optimize cell receptors (which keeps hormones balanced), and provide those natural materials necessary for steroid hormone synthesis.
Background: steroid hormones include your sex hormones (androgens, estrogens, and progesterone) and hormones produced by the adrenal glands (aldosterone, cortisol, and androgens). Meaning if you don’t have enough healthy fats in your diet, it’s going to be difficult for you to make enough of these hormones.
In the second half, we use a combination of sesame seeds + sunflower seeds. These seeds also contain lignans, which provide the same benefits as flax + pumpkin seeds in the first half, but instead of boosting estrogen, they boost progesterone and inhibit the production of more estrogen during the second half of the cycle.
PRO TIP: make sure your seeds are organic, whole, and RAW when you buy them. I’d recommend getting a little coffee/seed grinder like this one so you can grind your seeds every week.
How use seeds to sync up with your cycle
*note: everyone’s cycle is different, and not everyone has a 28-day cycle. But we’ll just use 28 days for simplification purposes. If you do have a regular cycle, here’s what to do:
The FIRST part of your cycle is called the FOLLICULAR phase.
- Usually occurs around days 1-14, starting with the first day of your period and ends one day before ovulation.
- During a normal cycle, estrogen increases during this time.
- Flax and pumpkin seeds are phytoestrogens, which means they help to naturally increase estrogen levels in the body. They are also great sources of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids.
- Flaxseeds contain lignans which bind to excess estrogens and helps carry them out of the body. (Excess estrogen can be a cause of PMS symptoms)
- Pumpkin seeds contain high levels of zinc, which help support the increase in progesterone in the second phase of your cycle.
- WHAT TO DO to support the natural rise in estrogen levels during this phase: take 1 Tbsp each ground flaxseeds and ground pumpkin seeds.
The SECOND part of your cycle is called the LUTEAL phase.
- Usually occurs around days 15-28, starting with ovulating and ends one day before your next period starts.
- Progesterone typically increases during this phase.
- Sunflower/sesame seeds help naturally increase your progesterone levels during this phase. They are both great sources of omega-6 fatty acids
- Sunflower seeds are high in selenium, which helps support the liver in its normal detoxification processes (the liver is where hormones are processed and filtered out if in excess!), which helps support hormonal balance.
- Sesame seeds, like flax, contain lignans that help block excess estrogen production during this cycle (which helps prevent and moderate any PMS symptoms you may experience!)
- WHAT TO DO to support the natural rise in estrogen levels during this phase: take 1 Tbsp each ground sunflower and ground sesame seeds.
If you DON’T have a regular cycle – it’s irregular or absent, we will cycle with the moon’s phases.
Before the modern age, this is what women used to do to figure out their cycles – the amount of light that the moon would emit in each stage of it’s cycle would in turn influence women’s menstrual cycles. If your cycle is in sync with the moon’s phases, menses typically start around the new moon, the time between the new moon and the full moon is when estrogen increases, and then ovulation typically occurs at the full moon. To sync up with the moon, begin the pumpkin + flax cycle at the new moon (check a moon calendar! Or just google it. It’ll be there), and switch to the sunflower + sesame cycle at the full moon (about 2 weeks later).
Once you have your cycle back (at least once or twice!) you can seed cycle according to your body’s natural rhythms. Begin the pumpkin + flax with the first day of menses, and switch to sesame + sunflower about two weeks later – then continue the sesame + sunflower until your next period.
What if I already started my period? Can you start halfway through your cycle?
Definitely! If you know the full length of your cycle, divide that in half to figure out how long each phase is for you. Let’s say each phase is 14 days for the sake of ease. If you are on day 3 of your period, start taking the pumpkin + flax seeds today, and then for 11 more days. Then, you’ll have reached the stage around ovulation, where you will start taking the sesame + sunflower seeds daily, for 14 days, or until the start of your next period.
How do you eat the seeds?
Every day, add 2 Tbsp of the ground up seeds (depending on where you are in your cycle) to soups, salads, smoothies, oatmeal, chia puddings, on scrambled eggs or roasted veggies, on ice cream or another treat…or in this chocolate bark!!
Remember, you have to grind up the seeds before eating them; otherwise you won’t absorb them and get the maximum amount of nutrients, which are located in the hulls and oils of the seeds – which we can only release by grinding.
If you experience digestive issues, you might want to soak + dry your seeds before eating them for seed cycling. Soaking seeds can reduce their natural phytic acid content, which can cause some digestive distress for people who have malabsorption issues or deal with inflammation in the GI tract.
What kind of seeds should I get? How do I find the right kind?
Make sure the seeds you buy are organic, whole, and RAW when you buy them. Ground seeds go bad much faster than whole seeds (especially flax). Here are the ones I get:
Again, I’d recommend getting a little coffee/seed grinder like this one so you can grind your seeds every week.
Some people say you should grind up the seeds every day right before use to get the maximum benefits, but I’ve seen great results grinding up what I need for a few days or even a week at the time, and then stored the seeds in a glass jar in either the refrigerator or freezer.
For the whole seeds that you aren’t using, I’d highly recommend storing them in the freezer to retain freshness for as long as possible. Make sure you push as much air as possible out of the bags before re-sealing them.
One thing to note: THIS IS NOT A QUICK FIX.
But you probably knew that. It’s just like with food – if you’re switching over to a real foods, anti-inflammatory, autoimmune protocol, Whole30, etc. type of eating, all the positive changes don’t happen overnight. It’s a process that your body has to get used to. Many naturopaths say that this will take between 3-4 months (or 3-4 cycles) to see some real change, though this timeframe totally depends on how regular your cycles are when you start, whether you’re getting off birth control or an IUD, haven’t had your cycle for a while, etc. If you have underlying hormonal disruption like PCOS, endometriosis, adrenal or thyroid dysfunction, seed cycling alone will probably not be enough to fix your problem – though it is a great start! I highly recommend working with a naturopath or nutritionist (oh hey, like me!) to dig deeper into your health history.
And now let’s get to the chocolate bark!! Because seed cycling for hormone balance is the best. And even better when it’s an excuse to each chocolate every night. Duuuh.
- ½ cup coconut oil
- ¾ cup cocoa powder
- 2 Tbsp coconut butter (sub your favorite kind of nut or seed butter!)
- 3 - 4 Tbsp maple syrup (depending on how sweet you want it!)
- ¼ cup pumpkin seeds*
- ¼ cup flax seeds, ground
- ¼ cup shredded coconut flakes
- 1 pinch fine sea salt + coarse sea salt for topping
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Melt the coconut oil and coconut butter (or nut butter) together in a glass jar (or over a double boiler). In a mixing bowl, whisk together the melted oil and coconut butter, maple syrup, and cocoa powder, plus a small pinch of sea salt, until no lumps remain.
- Pour the mixture onto the parchment paper and use a rubber spatula to spread it out evenly (don’t make it too thin though!). Scatter the pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, and coconut on top.
- Place on a level surface in the freezer for about 15-20 minutes, until completely frozen.
- Break up into pieces before serving. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt!
- Store in the freezer. It melts fast if you keep it at room temperature.
**note: for this recipe, I kept the pumpkin seeds whole because I like the crunch and the way they make the bark look. HOWEVER, if you want the biggest benefits for seed cycling, they should be ground up. For the second phase of your cycle, substitute sunflower and sesame seeds.
Great recipes you could put your cycle’s seeds on…