When it comes to our health, we all know what we should be doing: Drinking more water, getting in some cardio, and eating healthy, even when we have our period. But when your hormones are raging and your stomach is cramping, satisfying whatever food craving you’re lusting after is a lot more comforting than reaching for a salad.
Need a reason to stay on the straight and narrow when it comes to eating healthy while you have your period? Here’s one: Your diet can have a major impact on your menstrual cycle. “Poor eating habits, sugar, caffeine, and sodium intake have been associated with increased PMS symptoms,” explains healthy cooking expert Regina Ragone, MS, RDN. “Vitamin and mineral deficiencies also may play a role in PMS, with calcium and certain B vitamins being the most problematic.”
That’s not all. “Alcohol can contribute to a hormonal imbalance and thus affect your menstrual cycle,” says Lisa M. Valle, DO, gynecologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. “Changes in eating habits, such as drastically decreasing your caloric intake, can cause irregular periods.”
So what’s a girl to do to keep her eating on point during her period? Load up on good-for-you foods, of course. “A healthy diet full of a variety of fruits, vegetables, foods rich in omega-3 fatty foods such as fish, whole grains, and lean meats are best while you have your period,” Valle says.
Add these to your diet during that time of the month to make the week a little easier.
“Calcium may help reduce fluid retention and regulate mood-related brain chemicals,” Ragone explains. “The probiotics in yogurt are also great for your digestive track, which can be problematic for some people during their period.”
We lose lots of iron every month when we have our period, so it’s important to up our intake to compensate. Lentils are packed with iron, which helps replace what is lost in blood during your period.
“This complex carb contains magnesium, which helps fight water retention and bloating,” Ragone says. “Vitamin B6 helps the body make dopamine (a neurotransmitter), and may reduce irritability, depression and breast tenderness, while manganese may also help with irritability and depression.”
Leafy green vegetables
Load up on leafy greens, like Swiss chard or kale, since they’re quite the multitasker for that time of the month. They’re rich in magnesium, which may be beneficial for mood, water retention, breast tenderness and insomnia, explains Ragone.
“It’s a great source of vitamin D, which has been shown to ease depression and inflammation,” Ragone says. “Other research has found vitamin D mediates cramps and PMS symptoms.”
Foods to avoid
No one knows exactly why your body crave certain foods while you have your period. “However, it is theorized that premenstrual sugary cravings are correlated with the decreasing hormone levels while serotonin drops as well and cortisol, your stress hormone, increases,” Valle says. “Foods high in sugar can cause serotonin levels to rise.”
That means you’ll want to harness some willpower and refuse to give into junk food hankerings. “Junk food is usually high in salt,” Valle says. “These type of cravings should be avoided because they will cause increased bloating, fluid retention and breast tenderness.” For the same reason, you’ll want to avoid foods high in salt, which includes packaged or processed foods, like soup, and takeout, as well as drinks with lots of caffeine.
“While carbohydrates can help improve mood, it’s important to know the difference between the effects of complex (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) versus refined (cookies, cakes candy) carbohydrates,” Ragone says. “When cravings lead to an increased intake of simple refined carbohydrates, insulin levels can spike, causing not only fluid retention, but also potentially increasing the excretion of magnesium through the urine.”
Of course, soothing period symptoms isn’t just about your diet. Drinks lots of water, get plenty of rest and hit the gym. “Exercise stimulates the release of brain endorphins, which can help relive moodiness,” Ragone says. “Physical activity can help keep calorie intake under control and your weight stable. Plus, sweating may help reduce bloating if you retain water.”