We’ll be the first to admit that a Midol or two can be a woman’s saving grace when her period shows up for its monthly routine of causing havoc. But seeing as how we still need to eat several times a day, wouldn’t it make sense to make sure the foods we’re putting into our body are the best choices for our lives during our cycles? That’s why we’ve set out to discover exactly what to eat — and what not to eat — on your period.
Here’s what’s up: There are a number of commonly-consumed foods rich in nutrients that help your body fight back against the wrath of your out-of-control hormone and symptoms. Meanwhile, experts have identified a number of things you should avoid because they can make symptoms (like bloating and cramps) even worse.
To help you better cope with the most painful and annoying aspects of both PMS and your period, we pulled together the foods that can either help or hinder your hopes for feeling more normal. Check ’em out and then don’t miss these best foods for women! And while you’re adopting healthier habits, be sure to check out these 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.
First, The Best Foods To Eat On Your Period
If every month, like clockwork, you get wild cravings for cookies and are as emotional as you did the first time you watched The Notebook, you’re not alone. The tears are flowing and your appetite is going wild because your serotonin (the mood-boosting, feel-good hormone) levels have dipped. Carb-rich foods (like those cookies calling you like a siren song) help to increase the amount of the hormone in your system. That’s why those cravings are so hard to say no to—your body is hunting for a hormonal overhaul.
Instead of caving to your inner Cookie Monster, turn to a healthy source of complex carbs like whole-grain bread. The raisins in the Ezekiel 4:9 Cinnamon Raisin Sprouted Whole-Grain Bread provide natural sweetness to nip your sugar craving in the bud while the vitamin B6 and manganese-rich whole grains help boost your mood. “Whole wheat toast can provide us with the B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin,” says April Bruns, RDN, LD, a registered dietician with Clear Springs Foods. “B vitamins are essential during a woman’s cycle because they help our metabolism by releasing energy from protein, fat, and carbohydrates. These complex carbohydrates also provide us with fiber, which helps with bloating and constipation and helps us feel full with fewer calories.” Toast up a slice as a mid-morning mood-boosting snack.
“PMS can be worsened by low serotonin levels, making a woman feel moody or sad. Our body does not make serotonin, but we can naturally increase our serotonin levels by eating foods high in tryptophan,” Bruns tells us. “Tryptophan is converted into serotonin and can aid in improved mood, less depression, and better sleep. Pumpkin seeds are an overlooked source of tryptophan that can easily be tossed into salads, smoothies or eaten as a snack.”
If you’re cranky and seem to snap at the drop of a hat when it’s that time of the month, reach for these little bullets that can ease your symptoms. Just one ounce of the seeds serves up 75 percent of your day’s magnesium, which can make you feel more positive and ward off water retention. The nutrient can also help relax your blood vessels, nixing painful headaches, too, according to research in Magnesium in the Central Nervous System. Mix pumpkin seeds into your salads and veggie side dishes for a touch of crunch and some much-needed relief.
Having a hard time buttoning those skinny jeans that just fit a couple of days ago? Breathe easy: you didn’t gain weight! In the days leading up to your period, your body begins storing sodium and fluids. Instead of trading in your favorite pants for sweats and leggings, try munching on honeydew melon to de-bloat. Bruns suggests increasing your intake of water-rich foods such as melon instead of reaching for a salty, bloating snack. “Melon is made mostly of water and is a natural diuretic, which means it can help cure that puffy feeling you get during your period. Foods high in water will keep your body hydrated, reduce cramps and help improve your mood,” Bruns says.
What’s more, research suggests the fruit contains a compound called Cucumis melo, a diuretic that helps flush excess fluid from the body. That sugar and alcohol-filled daiquiri you’re craving, however, does the opposite. The bottom line? Skip the fruity cocktail and stick with the fruit if you want to zip up your pants. Bookmark these foods to stop belly bloat for more smart bites!
Yes, you read that right! Popcorn is a powerful solution for the same reason Ezekiel bread is beneficial; it’s a whole grain that boosts the production of serotonin. “Whole grains cause the body to release insulin which promotes tryptophan absorption. Tryptophan is converted to serotonin, which can help us have a better mood, decreased depression, and improved sleep,” Bruns tells us. “The key is combining a whole-grain snack, like popcorn, with a protein source of tryptophan. Try sprinkling spices with no salt on air-popped popcorn and tossing in a handful of nuts while you’re watching your favorite late-night TV.
Stick to unsalted varieties to keep salt-induced bloating at bay while simultaneously improving your mood. So go ahead, pop a fresh bag and turn on Netflix. If there’s any time you get a free pass to binge-watch Scandal guilt-free, it’s this week. Just pass on the red wine.
If you typically feel so blue you want nothing more than to lie in a dark bedroom during Mother Nature’s monthly visit, we may have the cure you’ve been looking for: saffron. A British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology study found that consuming the yellow-hued spice can significantly reduce feelings of depression.
How? The spice increases serotonin levels, which typically drop before menstruation. Although saffron is one of the most expensive spices, a little of it goes a long way. Use it to whip up African, Middle Eastern, and European-inspired dishes and reap the PMS-busting benefits. The only caveat? You’ll need to crawl out of bed to do your cooking or cajole your significant other into whipping up dinner.
“Not only are omega-3 fats good for our heart and brain,” Bruns says, “but they can also help women relieve some PMS symptoms. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods such as chia seeds and rainbow trout. These healthy fats can help ease period cramping due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Rainbow trout is also rich in high-quality protein loaded with B vitamins, helping you gain energy and stabilize mood swings.”
If you can’t keep your eyes dry and cry at the drop of a hat, you probably need a nutritional fix. Adding some omega-3s to your plate may just do the trick. Harvard researchers think the nutrient may function as an antidepressant, although they aren’t sure exactly which mechanisms are involved quite yet. Some researchers believe the nutrient makes it easier for serotonin to pass through the cell membranes; in turn, making the effects of serotonin more powerful.
While omega-3s can be found in salmon, enriched eggs, and grass-fed beef, we like chia seeds because they are portable and easy to pop into just about anything. Add the small, but mighty seed into cereal, smoothies, and homemade baked goods to boost your intake and keep menstrual blues at bay.
Before we even get into their benefits, you should know this is leading to a brownie recipe. Beans are a magnesium-rich food that helps boost serotonin levels and diminish water retention. Since a woman’s period can cause a lot of discomfort on digestion, accelerating menstrual cramps, foods high in fiber and magnesium can help with cramps, constipation, and diarrhea that may be experienced during that time,” Bruns explains. “Magnesium acts as a natural muscle relaxer, giving women relief from menstrual cramps. Beans are a great combo of fiber and magnesium and can quickly be tossed in salads, soups, or wraps for a nutritious meal.”
When choosing a can to prepare, stick with no-salt-added varieties. Sodium can make your body hold onto water, undermining the bean’s bloat-busting effects. Bonus: These small but mighty seeds are antioxidant-rich and loaded with other good-for-you nutrients like iron, fiber, copper, zinc, and potassium.
Add beans to salads, soups, or whole-grain pasta and rice dishes. Craving something more indulgent? Here it is, folks, the healthy bean brownies we promised: Blend 15 ounces of black beans and 1 cup of water together in a blender. Combine with a package of organic brownie mix and combine until smooth. Bake in a greased baking dish for 25 minutes at 350 degrees F. Enjoy!
Now, The Worst Foods To Eat On Your Period
“You may have heard that calcium helps with cramps, but that’s not the case when it comes from dairy,” warns registered dietitian Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN. “Dairy naturally contains arachidonic acids, that stimulate prostaglandins (hormone-like substances) that can intensify menstrual cramps.” So if Advil tends to be your BFF, ditch the yogurt and milk and load up on other sources of the nutrient, like edamame, greens, nuts, and chia seeds, suggests Smith. And if your go-to PMS treat is something cold and sweet like ice cream, be sure to check out these dairy-free frozen desserts!
“When women lose blood during their period, they’re also losing iron which is why many ladies are left feeling rundown and tired,” Smith tells us. But fight back the urge to size up to fight the fatigue. “Caffeine causes blood vessels to constrict, and that includes those that feed the uterus. When this happens, it can bring on more intense cramps,” Smith explains. Aside from steering clear of things like coffee, tea, and soda, be sure to avoid hidden sources of caffeine (like chocolate, coffee- and chocolate-flavored snacks, as well as certain nutrition bars, multivitamins, and vitamin-infused beverages)—especially if you’re period often leaves you doubled over in pain. If you can’t perk up without a dietary crutch, at least make the switch to half-caf or decaf beverages (both of which still contain a bit of caffeine), or try some of these best foods for energy!
Does your period leave you looking more bloated than a pufferfish that just guzzled a gallon of water? Your love for all things salty may be to blame. “In the days leading up to your period, your body begins storing sodium and fluids. And when you’re already bloated, eating high-salt food will only result in more water retention,” warns Smith. If you’re hankering for salty deliciousness if too hard to ignore, pair it with an extra cup of water (or better yet, some slimming detox water) and a second food that’s a natural diuretic (like asparagus, parsley, beets, lettuce, and ginger). Looking for low-sodium alternatives to some of your favorite treats can be another effective way to keep your stomach flat.
“A week or two before your period, hormone levels change. Estrogen levels increase and progesterone levels decrease. These changing hormone levels can cause your body to retain more water than normal, explains Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD. “And like excess salt, consuming too many carbs can make the bloating worse.”
If your period often leaves your energy zapped, you may have heard that upping your iron intake can help. But before you load up on red meat (one of the most potent sources of the stuff), consider this: Like dairy, burgers, meatballs, and taco meat all contains arachidonic acids. That means you may be boosting your energy while simultaneously worsening your cramps. Ouch!
“Something like a chickpea burger or a fresh wild salmon filet will provide some iron along with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, too, making it a smart swap,” Smith tells us. Pair either option with some green leafy vegetables for an additional dose of energy-boosting iron.
“Large amounts of alcohol can slow stomach emptying, which can contribute to feeling heavy and bloated you may already experience during your period,” warns Rumsey. “Plus, alcohol also can cause you to retain water, so you can feel more puffy and bloated. This is exacerbated by alcohol’s diuretic effect, as a dehydrated body will retain more water than a hydrated one. Counteract this by keeping your alcohol intake to a moderate amount of one or two drinks per night, and alternating each boozy drink with a glass of water,” she adds.
Processed, sugary foods like cake, cookies, candy bars, and soda (and even hidden sugar bombs like flavored yogurts and BBQ sauce) can shift levels of estrogen and testosterone, decreasing serotonin levels, explains Smith. “Pair that with the fact that sugar causes blood sugar levels to rise and drop, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for some crazy mood swings. Plus, too much sugar also makes you feel extra run-down and tired.” For even more ways to cut back on the sweet stuff, check out these easy ways to stop eating so much sugar.