When I’m on my period, all I want to do is curl up with a heating pad and eat an entire bag of Goldfish. But as satisfying as that might sound, it’s not the best thing I can do for my raging symptoms — at least from a nutritional standpoint, says Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD, author of The Better Period Food Solution.
“The food you choose to eat has a direct impact on the health of your period,” she says. According to her, certain dietary choices can heal your body, while others can stress it.
Many period-related symptoms like cramping, anxiety, moodiness, breast pain, and acne are caused by hormonal fluctuations, Beckerman says. What you eat can make those swings better — or worse.
“I always recommend avoiding caffeine, alcohol, high sodium foods, refined sugars, and low fiber foods to women who experience uncomfortable period symptoms,” explains Hillary Cecere, RD, nutritionist at Eat Clean Bro. So my salty Goldfish might taste like relief in the moment, but they may be working against me in the long term.
Okay, so I shouldn't dine out exclusively on crackers and chocolate during this time. But what are the best foods to eat? I asked the experts for their suggestions, so I can spend a little less time under the heating pad this month.
Oats are rich in heart-healthy fiber, whole grains, and vitamin B1, known as thiamin, Beckerman says. “That's a water soluble vitamin that can essentially bring you back to life when PMS is in town," she says. “That’s because thiamin-rich foods break down carbohydrates in the body, so more mood-boosting neurotransmitters become available in the brain. This process can help combat PMS-related moodiness and anxiety.”
Sure enough, women with a higher dietary intake of thiamin had a lower risk of developing PMS, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
To integrate more of these nutrients into your diet, make overnight oats or lighten your coffee with oat milk.
Staying hydrated can help you control bloating and prevent constipation, Cecere says. But guzzling plain H2O isn’t the only way to up your water intake. Juicy foods like watermelon contain plenty — plus, a dose of other good-for-you nutrients like vitamin B6, which studies show can ease the irritability, bloating, and anxiety associated with PMS, Beckerman says.
Throw some watermelon into a warm grain salad, or eat it picnic-style, plain and sliced, she suggests.
A good source of omega-3s: flaxseeds. Grind them up and sprinkle them over your morning parfait, or mix a few tablespoons into a smoothie, she suggests.
Many mushrooms are rich in vitamin D, which plays a critical role in reproductive health and mood regulation. “When estrogen drops right before your period, it also takes down vitamin D, which can send your energy and mood south,” Beckerman says. “That’s why the couch looks more desirable leading up to your period than ever.”
Saute some mushrooms in an omelette or chop them up and mix them into a pasta sauce to get an extra shot of this nutrient. Other good sources include fish, cheese, and egg yolks, or supplements.
“We know this fish is a top source of inflammation-fighting omega 3s, and it’s also high in calcium,” Beckerman says. “Low amounts of calcium in the diet is thought to contribute to PMS, so eating three servings of salmon the week [leading up to] your period may be the ticket to easing period symptoms.”
Nuts, seeds, and beans
These are all good sources of magnesium, which Cecere says can help prevent irritability. Beckerman adds that the nutrient may also help relax muscle contractions coming from the uterus during PMS.