Cramps, mood swings, crappy food cravings, headaches … need I say more? Besides some Midol and hot compresses, there’s not much we can do to minimize period pain; but what if our diet, no matter where we’re at in our cycle, could curb some of these unwelcome symptoms? Today, we’ll discuss just that—nutrition tips to promote balance and well-being throughout a woman’s monthly cycle.
Let it be known I think the female body is one of the most amazing things in existence. No, I don’t rejoice when Aunt Flo arrives, but when you stop to consider the complexities that occur inside your body leading menstruation, it can be quite eye-opening. Below you’ll find a review of each phase of the menstrual cycle, as summarized by the
Follicular Phase (days 1-12):
The follicular phase starts on the first day of your period (some call the actual period portion the “menstrual phase,” but technically menstruation marks the beginning of the follicular phase). Throughout the follicular phase, your brain releases hormones that both stimulate the production of eggs in your ovaries while also increasing estrogen production.
With period-related blood loss, it’s important to up the iron, vitamin C and B vitamins to help promote blood cell production and prevent anemia. Low levels of
Iron – beef, chicken, turkey, dried beans, leafy greens, egg yolks, fortified cereals
Vitamin C – citrus fruits, kiwi, pineapple, cantaloupe, kale, yellow peppers, broccoli
B12 – clams, salmon, tuna, fortified cereals, fortified plant-milks and some fortified soy products
B6 – turkey, fish, potatoes, starchy vegetables, non-citrus fruits
Anti-inflammatory herbs and spices – ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, cilantro, garlic parsley … incorporate these herbs into fresh, plant-based meals to help combat cramping and inflammation.
Ovulatory Phase (days 12-14):
Eggs are released from the ovary (aka ovulation) into the fallopian tube. You’ll notice a change or increase in your cervical mucus, which would eventually help to capture and nourish sperm for fertilization.
Some people notice a heightened sense of smell or breast tenderness around this time. Many women also experience increased energy (and libido, heyy-o) so make sure you’re not countering all that extra energy expenditure with junk food. Hormone shifts around ovulation have been known to increase sugar cravings so prepare yourself and keep plenty of healthy, easy-to-grab sweet snacks at hand. Make sure you’re getting plenty of fiber to prevent bloating and ensure bowel regularity (gals, we recommend 25 grams of fiber a day). Fermented foods can also help promote gut health, bowel regularity and fluid balance, so consider incorporating kombucha, kefir, yogurt or raw apple cider vinegar into your daily regimen.
Fiber – fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, seeds, nuts, beans (real foods are always preferred over fiber-supplements).
Healthy sweet fixes – dark chocolate, fresh, in-season fruits, greek yogurts, dates, apple chips … or check out any of the RD approved weekday recipes in
Luteal Phase (days 14-28):
This phase begins right after ovulation. Estrogen and progesterone levels increase which prepare the egg for implantation. A non-fertilized egg will pass through the uterus until the uterine lining sheds and … voila, you have a period and find yourself back at day 1 of the follicular phase.
Ladies, this is the time to really up your game in preparation for your monthly stay at the Red Roof Inn. Research reveals women who experience greater pain during periods have higher levels of
Omega-3 fatty acids – coconut oils, olive oils, grass-fed butter and beef, salmon, leafy greens, avocados, walnuts
Omega-6 fatty acids – vegetable oils, processed foods, mayonnaise, salad dressings
Ancient Ayurvedic medicine believes your period acts similarly to a built-in detox system. So if you’ve had a stressful month of junk food, boozing and little exercise, the thought is that your period will be pretty brutal. On the contrary, if you’ve taken good care of yourself, chances are your period will be much lighter. (2) Speaking of booze, consider avoiding alcohol if you’re experiencing PMS symptoms. Sources say drinking alcohol can actually worsen symptoms of headaches, breast tenderness and mood swings. Of course moderation throughout the rest of your cycle is generally okay, but I would suggest avoiding alcohol altogether towards the start of your period.
Concerning caffeine, great news! No need to pass on your morning cup of joe when experiencing PMS, as if anyone ever thought that was a good idea?! A 2016 study in
Bloating is common during the follicular and luteal phases, as are food cravings, thanks to increases in the hormone
As a reminder, menstruation in and of itself is an inflammatory process. I recommend trying to follow the anti-inflammatory as consistently as possible throughout your entire cycle. Luckily, Lindsey just covered this
A note from Lindsey:
Great stuff, Sarah! Full disclosure, PMS gets me down from time to time. I always seem to notice I have more energy and am less emotional in the few days before my cycle if I’m getting regular exercise. Turns out, it may not just all be in my head. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists touts