As a nutritionist, I often talk about the huge impact a healthful diet has on our health & wellbeing. Whilst recommendations differ slightly depending on factors such as age, pregnancy, certain illnesses etc, as a general rule, a nutrient-dense wholefood diet is a great place to start.
So what about menstruators?
The Fundamentals for Healthy Eating very much still stand when addressing hormonal imbalance & reducing symptoms of PMS (& other menstrual cycle issues) - these recommendations are a great starting point for anyone looking to improve their health & well-being through a natural, wholefood approach.
Fundamentals for good health summary:
Wholesome, nutrient-dense diet
Avoid non-nutritive foods
Low / Moderate alcohol intake
Plenty of rest
Whole Foods-based diet that:
Has plenty of variety, with animal &/or plant foods
Is low in added sugar & white grain/flour products
Is low in refined oils but with good quality fats/oils, including DHA & EPA
Is not extreme or monotonous, except for short periods, e.g. fasting, or for sensible weight control, e.g. 5:2 diet
Supports the individual’s unique needs, including age, stressors, intolerances, preferences, other factors (e.g. pregnancy)
The Alliance for Natural Health Guidelines outline this approach in a super useful & accessible way.
Whilst these tips are great for general health, we menstruators have additional nutritive needs that vary depending on where we are in our cycle. If you're not already tracking your cycle, the first steps to doing so are outline in my previous post - Cycle Tracking for Beginners.
Eating in the menstrual phase (days 1 – 5)
During your period, your body needs rest and support - as menstruation is an inflammatory response to encourage shedding of the uterine lining, eating plenty of nutrient-rich inflammatory foods is particularly important in this phase.
Also, as blood is rich in iron, and during menstruation we lose a lot of blood, we need to replenish iron by consuming iron-rich foods. Get your Pop-Eye on & dose up on greens such as spinach. Other sources of iron include sweet potatoes, berries, and healthy fats, like avocado.
Avoid foods high in sugar as much as possible; if you have a craving for chocolate, opt for a high-quality dark chocolate (>80% cocoa solids).
Best foods for the menstrual phase:
Beans and legumes
Eating in the follicular phase (days 6 – 14)
Many menstruators feel their best selves during follicular phase as there’s not quite so much hormonal upheaval going on inside during this phase. A regular, balanced diet following the Fundamentals for Health Guidelines will help the maturing follicle get the nutrients it needs.
That said, some may feel particularly prone to dehydration as hormonal levels increase during this phase, so be sure to drink plenty of water and other hydrating liquids (like unsweetened herbal tea) during this phase.
Best foods for the follicular phase:
Organic chicken & turkey
Eating in the ovulatory phase (days 15 – 17)
Menstruating bodies may need a little extra help during ovulation in order to efficiently & effectively rid themselves of toxins in order to promote metabolism and elimination of hormones that were generated during the follicular phase.
Foods that support your liver, such as cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli & cauliflower), berries, & protein-rich foods are of particular importance. Fibre also helps your body along with the elimination process (💩), so consume generously! If digestive issues arise, make sure to opt for easily digestible foods, & opt for probiotic foods such as yogurt & sauerkraut to give your gut a helping hand.
Best foods for the ovulatory phase:
Probiotic foods (yogurt, sauerkraut)
Eating in the luteal/premenstrual phase (days 18 – 28)
Uh-oh - if you're here to address PMS the luteal phase may fill you with fear. But no longer should it! With some extra support from you diet, the week prior to menstruation is when you can give your body some extra support & love to to avoid uncomfortable symptoms.
Magnesium rich foods such as nuts, seeds, leafy greens, bananas & dark chocolate (remember, >80% cocoa solids) can help ease cramps, sleep problems, & headaches. N
Many menstruators experience cravings during this phase, particularly for sugary or other less nutritious foods. Unfortunately this isn't our body looking out for us & providing an excuse to go all out... in fact, these foods can increase inflammation, disrupt your hormones, & actually cause you to feel worse in the end.
Following the previous tips for Fundamentals of Good Health as well as eating in-line with your cycle may help you to experience fewer cravings (and improvements in other PMS symptoms). In the meantime, while a treat here and there is okay, try to opt for healthy, comforting options such as a bowl of warming chicken soup instead - your body will certainly thank you.
Best foods for the premenstrual phase:
Nuts & seeds
Have you heard of seed cycling? This lesser known trick can have a huge impact on your premenstrual symptoms - find out more here.