The pre-menstrual phase, the days before our period, is often the most tricky for us women. It’s when we are more likely to have symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, mood swings and definitely.. CRAVINGS. Choosing the right pre-menstrual diet to support your body during the pre-menstrual phase can go a long way to reducing annoying PMS symptoms and helping you to sail through these dreaded days with ease.
What is the pre-menstrual phase?
The luteal or pre-menstrual phase is the after ovulation and before your period starts. During this time progesterone is the dominant hormone which is important to maintain the thick lining of your womb and support a potential pregnancy. Progesterone has a calming affect on the brain which is why you might notice lower energy and a more chilled out mood during this phase compared to earlier in your cycle. If you don’t get pregnant, progesterone production falls rapidly towards the end of the luteal phase and this is what triggers shedding of your womb lining (i.e. your period) and can also lead to those dreaded PMS symptoms such as irritability, anxiety and cravings.
What is the pre-menstrual diet?
The pre-menstrual diet is designed to help you:
- Stabilise your blood sugar to maintain healthy hormone balance
- Reduce cravings, especially for sweet foods
- Provide your body with minerals to build the blood
- Reduce bloating and water retention
- Support a calm, relaxed mental state
So how can we eat to satisfy our hunger and support our body with the energy and nutrients it needs during this time? I’ll start by saying there is no perfect one-size-fits-all diet for anyone. We all have different needs, health history, culture, tastes and ethics. But there are certain principles to apply which can help us hugely with maintaining our health during this part of our cycle which I will explain throughout this article.
How much should I eat in the pre-menstrual diet? Why am I more hungry before my period?
Our metabolism naturally raises slightly after ovulation During the pre-menstrual phase of our cycle we burn up to 10% more calories therefore we need to fuel ourselves properly. If we don’t eat enough, our bodies can start to crave sweet or fatty processed foods as a way to get us to eat more and give it the calories it needs – sneaky! The pre-menstrual phase is not the best time to start a new restrictive diet. Maybe we can get away with this during the early phases of our cycle (although I never recommend it) but it’s especially important to provide our bodies with enough energy and nutrients at this time.
If you are trying to lose weight, I recommend cycling your calories throughout the month by eating less during the follicular and ovulatory phases and increasing your calories during the pre-menstrual diet. You mind find that you are less hungry in the start of your cycle and that it feels natural to eat this way.
Even if you are eating the same amount of food throughout your cycle, focusing on the foods and cooking methods I recommend for each phase of the cycle will automatically have this calorie cycling effect as we focus on lighter foods during the follicular and ovulatory phases of your cycle and more energy dense foods in the luteal and menstrual phases. Working with your body in this way, rather than against it, can help to avoid binge eating and “falling off the diet wagon”.
Macro-nutrients in the pre-menstrual diet? Carbs, fats, proteins?
In the pre-menstrual diet it is important to include sources of complex carbohydrates. Getting plenty of foods such as wholegrains, root vegetables and legumes can help to sustain our blood sugar and energy levels and reduce cravings for sweets. We want to try to stabilize our blood sugar as much as possible during this phase and combining complex carbs with fibre from veggies is a great way to do this. Unstable blood sugar sets off a cascade in the body leading to hormonal chaos – think acne, mood swings and fatigue!
When we are craving something sweet, fruit is a great option. Especially sweet fruits such as apples, pears, dates and raisins. You can also pair fruits with vegetables or nuts/seeds to slow down the release of these natural sugars into the bloodstream even further. Even some proponents of extremely low-carb diets such as keto recommend that women need to make adjustments to avoid hormonal imbalances by carb-cycling and consuming more carbohydrates at this time of the month.
Fats and proteins are also important during this time, to provide additional minerals and to build the blood. If you eat animal products, the days before your period are a good time to eat a bit of red meat, especially beef. Oily fish like salmon or sardines are also great to provide a source of anti-inflammatory omega-3s. For veggies and vegans, chickpeas with tahini such as in hummus is a perfect combo to add protein and fat to your meals.
Dark leafy greens are another great way to boost your iron, magnesium and calcium which can help to reduce cramps and bloating towards the end of the luteal phase. These vegetables also provide B vitamins which support a healthy metabolism and fertility. Especially vitamin B6 which helps to support healthy progesterone levels, great if you are trying to lengthen your luteal phase. Just 100g or a half cup cooked dark leafy greens provides 10% of your daily B6 requirements!
Foods to include in the pre-menstrual diet? Best foods for PMS?
- Root veggies – potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, parsnips, squash
- Grains – whole grains such as oats, rice, bread, pasta
- Proteins – red meat, oily fish, chickpeas, navy beans
- Sweet fruits – apples, pears, dates, raisins
- Veggies – cooked dark leafy greens e.g. kale, collard greens, spinach, chard
- Seeds and nuts – sesame (tahini), sunflower, hemp, walnuts
You can create super satisfying and healthy meals by combining these with a variety of veggies of your choice, a source of animal or plant-based protein such as meat, fish or beans and a small amount of fat from high quality olive/coconut oil, nuts or seeds.
How should I cook during the pre-menstrual phase of my cycle?
Depending on your system, you might find it better to eat less raw food during this time and opt for more comforting cooking methods such as baking or roasting. This can be especially useful for anyone who struggles with digestive issues such as gas and bloating during the luteal phase. It’s quite common as progesterone can lead to slowing down of the digestive process leading to constipation and in some case heartburn. You might find that a grazing style eating i.e. little and often feels better in your body than big meals. Watching your salt intake can also help to reduce symptoms of fluid retention such as bloating and swollen breasts, although there is no need to cut it out altogether. Drinking peppermint tea is also a great option to reduce bloating and digestive discomfort.
Foods to avoid in the pre-menstrual diet?
In the days before our period, it’s better to avoid alcohol and caffeine such as black tea and coffee wherever possible as they can stress out our system and affect our sleep at a time when rest and relaxation is most needed. For anyone prone to PMS this is especially important as both alcohol and caffeine can worsen symptoms such as headaches, anxiety and mood swings.
Same goes for sugar, eating some chocolate or sweets now and again is unlikely to do much harm but indulging our sugar cravings too much can send us on a blood sugar roller coaster. It might seem harmless but if you struggle with severe PMS, irregular periods or any other hormonal imbalance I’d strongly recommend to make sure you are eating plenty of fruit and starches, especially during the pre-menstrual phase of your cycle.
If you do consume these things, try keeping a journal to see how they affect you at different parts of your cycle and you might be surprised. I know sometimes I am caught off guard with this if I’m not paying attention to my cycle day and end up completely frazzled after 1 coffee.. eek! Switching to green tea is a great option during the pre-menstrual phase. Or if you crave chocolate during this time, a warming hot chocolate can be a good way to satisfy your cravings and get a little caffeine boost without over doing it.
Summary of the pre-menstrual diet
- Make sure you are eating enough to meet your bodies energy needs
- Consume plenty of complex carbs e.g. root veggies and whole grains
- Replace sugary snacks with sweet fruits such as bananas, apples and dates
- Consume more cooked vegetables to help with digestion
- Reduce salt intake if you struggle with bloating or water retention
- Cut down or avoid alcohol and caffeine
Over to you…
If you would like to work with me to balance your hormones and improve your health, contact me to set up a free 15 minute discovery call. I am a nutritionist, yoga teacher and women’s wellness coach. We work together using a combination of modalities to support your individual needs and help you to feel your best.
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Krishnan S., Tryon R., et al. 2016. Estradiol, SHBG and leptin interplay with food craving and intake across the menstrual cycle. Physiology & Behavior. 165
Soheila S., Faezeh K, et al. 2016. Effects of vitamin B6 on premenstrual syndrome: A systematic review and meta-Analysis. Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences. 9 (3).
Behboudi-Gandevani S., Hariri F. & Moghaddam-Banaem, M. 2018. The effect of omega 3 fatty acid supplementation on premenstrual syndrome and health-related quality of life: a randomized clinical trial. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology. 39:4,