A lot of us like to eat (and eat and eat) while we're on our periods. It's an indulgence we allow ourselves during that special time of the month that our guts are being twisted inside out and our hormones are raging — and it turns out if we decide to binge on the right foods, we might actually be doing our bodies (and our minds) a solid.
Most of us who have periods are all-too familiar with that special brand of rage and all of the other nasty symptoms (like cramps) that come along with having a cycle. We can try to tame things with some slow, deep breaths and gentle exercise — but health experts insist that you can totally change your premenstrual experience by making some adjustments to what you eat.
Next time you have a particularly bad period, try these five nourishing foods that can balance your body and help you feel a whole lot better.
When it comes down to it, the best way to prepare your body for its monthly visitor is to maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet. Easier said than done, right?! Try integrating some of these period-friendly foods into your nutrition plan for a less painful time of the month.
Leafy green vegetables
According to Dr. Christine O'Connor of The Gynecology Center, leafy greens (think kale or Swiss chard) can benefit your body several ways during that time of the month. Not only are they rich in iron and B vitamins; their high fiber count also can help with digestive issues often associated with your menstrual cycle.
Instead of reaching for that bag of licorice come snack time, reach for a bag of nuts. "Foods that are rich in good fats or omega-3s (such as nuts) can be helpful and much more filling than the calories in junk foods," Dr. O'Connor said.
Another food to aid your period-related digestive problems is fruit. Stock up on your favorite fresh fruit before your flow begins to ensure a healthy digestive system.
Just like fruit, the fiber in whole grains can help you stay regular, especially during your period. Whole grains also include complex carbohydrates, which provide important vitamins and minerals.
It's important to increase your iron intake during your period to make up for what's lost each month. "A diet high in iron helps avoid anemia and symptoms that can go along with it," said Dr. Sharon R. Thompson of Central Phoenix Obstetrics and Gynecology. "Women who eat red meat will be able to get sufficient iron from food." However, if you're not a meat-eater, Dr. Thompson recommends taking a supplement to maintain adequate iron stores.
Quick tip: In addition to a healthy diet, Alyssa Dweck, MD, recommends regular aerobic exercise, yoga, meditation and breathing exercises to help alleviate period symptoms.
Foods to avoid
As tempting as those freshly baked cookies are, it's best to resist your period-induced urges.
"Many women have the urge to snack on junk food and empty calories," Dr. O'Connor explained. "This ends up not being nutritionally filling, and can lead to an uncomfortable, bloated feeling."
In addition, Dr. O'Connor recommends steering clear of foods and beverages with high sodium content, which can also contribute to bloating.
Every woman is different
Dr. Thompson points out that it's important to keep in mind that every woman is different. "There can be a lot of variation among women in terms of how foods affect their symptoms," she said. "For example, some women may notice that decreased salt intake reduces bloating with menses, while for other women, this makes no significant difference. The same is true for mood symptoms, pain with menses, amount of menstrual flow, etc."
Originally published March 2012. Updated September 2017.