I got a lot of positive feedback on my last post about how to eat to optimise the pre-menstrual phase. So I thought I’d carry on to the other phases of the cycle. Next up is the bleed itself! The best diet for your period aka the menstrual phase. In this post I will explain what to eat during your period. This way of eating will help to support your body at this time of the month.
What is the menstrual phase?
Your period represents the start of a new cycle and it’s usually around 5-7 days. At this point all of your sex hormones are at their lowest point and your core body temperature drops again. You might have low energy during this part of our cycle. Some women have physical symptoms such as pain, bloating and fatigue. Or perhaps psychological symptoms such as feeling low, irritable or anxious. Your experience is unique to YOU! Some women actually really enjoy this phase as it can be extremely nurturing and a time to relax and reflect.
What does the diet for your period do?
The diet for your period is designed to:
- Support the blood building process with minerals
- Provide enough energy and nutrients whilst being easy on digestion
- Reduce inflammation to minimise painful cramps
- Keep your body warm during this “cold” phase of the cycle
Why do you eat more on your period?
It’s not actually clear if women do get hungrier during menstruation, it really depends on the woman! You might find you are extremely hungry in the days before your period. Then once you start to bleed your appetite drops off a cliff. If you experience bloating or digestive issues, you might find you feel very full around this time of the month. Or perhaps you just don’t get as hungry as during the pre-menstrual phase. Or maybe you have more cravings during this time and tend to eat more, especially sweet stuff.
Scientifically, our metabolism drops slightly after being higher for the last couple of weeks. Often we are less active but we still need to eat. It’s important to make sure we are supporting our body and restocking our nutrient stores for the cycle ahead. The best thing to do is to listen to your body. If you are hungrier than usual, try to nourish your body with healthy foods as much as you can. If you aren’t hungry, don’t worry you will make up for it sometime in your next cycle. This is the beauty of cycle syncing your diet! The diet for your period is the one that supports you best.
Best diet for your period? Carbs, fats, proteins?
The diet for your period is slightly different as our bodies go through a huge shift at this time. The key macro-nutrients we need at this times are fats and proteins. These are the building blocks for repair of our tissues. Now is the time to get those omega-3 fats in! These fats are anti-inflammatory and have been shown to reduce menstrual pain.
Good sources of omega-3 are eggs and oily fish such as sardines and salmon. Or for non-vegans or seeds such as chia and hemp for anyone on a plant based diet. These foods will also provide complete proteins which supports healthy hormone production. Other great sources of plant-based proteins are lentils, kidney and black beans. A cup of black beans contains 14g of protein, 22% of your daily iron and 10% of your daily calcium needs.
As well as oily fish, other mineral-rich seafoods such as mussels, squid and oysters are great to eat during menstruation. If you don’t consume seafood, I recommend adding some sea vegetables or seaweed into your diet during this phase to boost your iodine and zinc levels. Nutrients are used up during menstruation and they are more difficult to get in on a plant-based diet. You can try nori sheets in sushi rolls or add kelp or dulse flakes to any savory dish. If you have access to an Asian supermarket you will find lots of other sea vegetables to experiment with.
Although less than the pre-menstrual diet, you still need a source of carbs in the diet for your period. You are in the rebuilding phase, turning your energy inwards rather than outwards. Dried fruits such as prunes, figs, apricots and dates are beneficial at this time. They provide a source of potassium and other minerals to help with muscle cramps and support building of the blood. A 100g serving of dried apricots can provide 15% of your daily iron needs too!
Dried fruits are also more dense and less water rich than other fruits. This means you can take in more calories with a smaller volume of food. Perfect if you have little appetite and are struggling to meet your daily energy needs. Dried fruits also have the benefit of easing constipation which some women experience during menstruation.
I still recommend including grains and complex carbs in the diet for your diet. However, I recommend choosing lighter options such as sweet potatoes or buckwheat. If you struggle with digestion during this time, choosing more processed grains such as white rice and pasta might feel better than wholegrain options. I bet you never thought you’d hear a nutritionist say that!
What foods should you eat on your period?
My recommendations for the best foods to eat during your period:
- Proteins – lentils, kidney/black beans, red meat, eggs, oily fish
- Seeds – pumpkin, flax, hemp or chia seeds
- Veggies – sea vegetables, dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, chard, beetroot and mushrooms
- Fruit – dense fruits such as bananas, dates and antioxidant rich dark fruits such as blueberries, blackberries and cherries
- Chocolate or cacao!
Making soups or stews with veggies, carbs and proteins is a really good way to eat during your period. These meals are super warming and nourishing and easier on the digestion. Especially if you feel bloated or have slower digestion during your menstrual phase, this can be a really nice way to eat. You can also include warming spices such as chili, cinnamon and cloves. Menstruation is considered the “inner winter” of our cycle. So think about the ways you eat during the outer season of winter and you’ll be on the right track.
Why do you crave chocolate on your period?
We need minerals such as iron, magnesium and calcium to rebuild the blood and reduce muscle cramping which causes period pains. My favourite source of magnesium and iron is chocolate! Go for good quality dark chocolate or add cacao/cocoa powder to oats, smoothies or hot chocolate to satisfy chocolate cravings and get a boost of feel good neurotransmitters. I love treating myself with chocolate based meals during my period. It always cheers me up and makes me feel like a feminine queen.
We can get also iron from plant-based sources such as beans/lentils, blackstrap molasses. Vegetables such as beetroot and red meat including as beef and lamb also include iron. When we think of calcium most people think of milk, cheese and yogurt. However some women with hormonal imbalances don’t do well on dairy products. Vegetable sources of calcium include green veggies such as kale, broccoli and spinach. Other great sources are fortified non-dairy milks, tofu and sesame seeds or tahini.
What foods should you avoid during your period?
Another question is what should you not eat on your period? Even though its tempting to give in to cravings for sweet and fatty foods during this time, try to nourish your body with healthy foods first. Have these small treats on the side. There is no such thing as good and bad foods but some foods will support you more than others. A healthy diet will reduce symptoms and help you to feel better if you are struggling during this phase.
Same goes for stimulants and relaxants such as caffeine and alcohol. They can help you to feel better in the short term but they can leave you feeling worse afterwards. Using coffee to power through when our bodies are crying out for rest will only dig us deeper into that energy deficit. It’s much better to give your body the rest it needs, even if its only a 10 minute nap, than carry on regardless and end up crashing later. I am speaking from experience here and its a hard lesson to learn! I recommend not to drink coffee during your period, or to switch to decaf
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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Other posts you might like
Skolmowska, D., & Głąbska, D., (2019). Analysis of the possibility to compensate menstrual blood loss in young Polish women by the dietary iron intake. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 78
Rahbar N., Asgharzadeh N. & Ghorbani R., (2012). Effect of omega-3 fatty acids on intensity of primary dysmenorrhea. International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics. 117(1)
Mahmoud, A. Makhdoom A. et al. 2014. Association between menstrual disturbances and habitual use of caffeine. Journal of Taibah University Medical Sciences. 9(4).