Sometimes a blessing, sometimes a curse, every 28 days your period makes its presence known with a weekly dose of cramps, cravings, and a whole lot of blood. While periods are an everyday part of women’s lives, the conversation around menstrual care often feels incredibly quiet. As author and menstrual cycle coach Claire Baker says, “I really believe understanding the menstrual cycle is a missing key in the wellbeing and creative output of women.” While women menstruate every month, it often feels like there’s a discourse that’s lacking surrounding menstrual health. There are a number of menstrual care factors you may not even be considering just because we don’t talk about periods enough. 

Well, no more! We’re here to get the menstrual health convo started by focusing on one of the most important parts of any period: the foods you eat! Many women report experiencing elevated food cravings during the onset of and throughout their menstrual cycles. Let’s be real, we’ve all found ourselves at the end of a box of chocolates or the bottom of a bag of chips thanks to Mother Nature at some point in our menstrual cycle history. While indulging in sweet and salty cravings can be a good thing in moderation, there are a number of foods out there that can actually be of benefit to you during your period.

But what foods are best to eat to support your period? We’ve got you covered with a list of culinary do’s and don’ts for your time of the month. 

How Your Menstrual Cycle Affects Your Appetite

It’s incredibly common for women to have a stronger appetite during the days before their period starts, and throughout the course of their cycle. “During the premenstrual cycle, your levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone start to decline,” says Susan Shaffer, President of Pneuma Nitric Oxide. “Progesterone is more prominent during this point in the menstrual cycle, and this can lead to the increase in appetite that many women report as a part of their premenstrual symptoms.” 

As your menstrual cycle begins, your hormones continue to decline, and you can experience more cravings for food than usual. “If you’ve ever felt hungrier than usual while on your period, it’s totally normal,” Michael Bell, CEO of Manukora assures us. “It’s also common to experience cravings for sweet and salty food items, typically things we associate with being comfort foods. This can in part be attributed to the fact that your levels of serotonin, the happiness hormone, decrease and levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, increase when you’re on your period.” When you feel stressed, sweet and salty foods can act as an easy mood booster, especially when your period shows up at your body’s doorstep. 

The Best Foods to Eat During Your Menstrual Cycle

Leafy Green Vegetables

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Leafy greens like spinach and kale are a great source of a variety of nutrients that can be beneficial to you throughout your menstrual cycle. “During your period, it’s common for women to experience a reduction in their iron levels. This can be especially true if a woman suffers from a heavier menstrual cycle,” says Drake Ballew, CEO of Practice Health. “Leafy greens are iron-rich, which makes them an ideal food to eat during your menstrual cycle to replenish your iron stores and fight off symptoms of low iron which can include dizziness and fatigue.”

Iron isn’t the only benefit of eating leafy greens during your menstrual cycle. “Spinach and kale also contain high levels of calcium, which can help to reduce PMS symptoms like cramps and bloating,” says Amy Keller, Co-Founder and CEO of Faves. “On top of that, spinach is rich in magnesium, a nutrient that helps muscles to relax, and can aid with cramping and headache symptoms associated with your period.” 

Lean Proteins

While they’re a key part of any diet, eating lean proteins during your menstrual cycle can be especially helpful. “Lean proteins like chicken, turkey, legumes, and nuts can help to keep you fuller for longer and diminish period cravings,” says Lydia Boychuk, VP of Marketing from More Labs. “Meat protein sources are a great source of iron as well, which makes them even more beneficial when on your period. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan and don’t eat meat, tofu is another great source of lean protein that you can work into meals during your period.” 

Yogurt

Yogurt is also a source of protein and calcium that can provide additional benefits to you when you’re on your period. “Periods tend to throw off the natural pH levels of the vagina, which can lead to yeast infections,” says Michael Fischer, Founder of Elite HRT. “Yogurts with live active cultures contain probiotics that can help to regulate your pH levels and balance out the amount of yeast and bacteria in the vagina during your period and after it ends.” If you’re looking for yogurt to try during your period, greek yogurt is great as it contains probiotics and a high dose of protein. Plus, it comes in a variety of fun flavors to choose from and explore.. 

The Best Foods to Avoid During Your Menstrual Cycle

Chocolate

Sadly, while chocolate may be one of the most common foods women crave for before and during their menstrual cycle, it can actually do more harm than good when you’re suffering from period cramps. “Chocolate contains a stimulant, theobromine, which can lead to increased pain. When you’re already suffering from period cramps and headaches, more discomfort isn’t what you’re looking for,” says Asker A Ahmed, Director of iProcess. “Plus, chocolate contains a hefty amount of sugar which might boost your mood briefly, but lead to a crash later in the day. This can make already annoying period mood swings even worse.” 

However, if you do still crave chocolate during your period, opting for dark chocolate can be a good way to satisfy your sweet tooth. “Dark chocolate tends to have less sugar than milk chocolate, so you’re not as likely to experience a sugar rush and crash,” says Jorge Usatorres, VP of Universal Diagnostic Laboratories. “It also contains magnesium, which can help to relax your muscles and reduce cramping.” 

Coffee

We know, this one is a bummer to see on the avoid list, but forgoing coffee during your period might be beneficial to overcoming some of your worst menstrual cycle symptoms. “Coffee can cause bloating and water retention, which you’re already dealing with when you’re on your period,” says Dr. Michael Green, Chief Medical Officer at Winona. “As such, coffee can make your period symptoms worse. However, it’s important to note that caffeine withdrawal can lead to headaches, so if you’re a daily coffee drinker, don’t go cold turkey for your period. Reduce your caffeine intake when your period starts; a cup a day is great if you can.” 

We know that giving up coffee can be a big ask for those who run on their cup (or, let’s be real, cups) of daily brew. If you need a beverage to give you a boost, a great alternative would be switching to beverage options that contain lower amounts of caffeine, like tea, for the duration of your period. For instance, matcha is a natural pain reliever and can be a great drink to sip on while Mother Nature’s in town. 

Alcohol

Unfortunately, alcohol can cause a variety of symptoms that make your period worse. “Alcohol is incredibly dehydrating. When you’re on your period, this can mean worse headaches, as well as bloating, says Jodi Neuhauser, CEO of  Ovaterra. “Additionally, if you drink too much alcohol and get a hangover, you can end up with a handful of other uncomfortable symptoms on top of your period pain including stomach upset, nausea, and fatigue.” 

As always, it’s important to consume alcohol in moderation, but even more so during your period. Instead of reaching for a cocktail, try a juice mocktail to satisfy your craving for a fun drink. Water is also never a bad option during your period: drinking enough water can help to reduce bloating and water retention. 

In Conclusion 

As poet Judy Grahn once said, “Menstrual blood…is the most hidden [form of] blood, the one so rarely spoken of and almost never seen, except privately by women.” Often, conversations about menstrual health can be swept under the rug, but it’s important to talk about our periods and the way they affect us.

What you eat can play a huge role in regulating the symptoms of your menstrual cycle, as there are a number of foods that can help, or hurt, when you’re on your period. Some of the best foods to support your menstrual cycle include leafy greens like spinach and kale, lean proteins such as chicken, turkey, and tofu, and yogurts that contain probiotics. Alternatively, some foods to avoid during your period include chocolate, coffee, and alcohol, as they can each exacerbate your existing period symptoms and make you feel worse. 

As your next period approaches, take some time to consider what your cravings are, and what foods you could incorporate to help reduce uncomfortable symptoms like cramps, bloating, and headaches. With just a few swaps at the grocery store, you can help yourself have a much more pleasant menstrual cycle the next time Mother Nature rolls into town. 

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