This week on the blog we’re talking about period food: what to eat when you’re menstruating. You may not realize, but the foods you eat before, during and after your menstrual cycle can have a huge effect on your period. Now, I’m not writing this blog post to tell you that you need to go vegetarian, or vegan or gluten-free to have a pain-free period but I am going to tell you that eating a little healthier overall can alleviate a lot of those horrible symptoms when Aunt Flo is in town.
Best foods to eat on your period
When it comes to eating and drinking on your period, the number one tip I can give you is to stay hydrated. It’s commonly recommended the average person should drink about eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. Not only does staying hydrated make you look like you have the skin of a newborn, it also helps with brain and muscle power. When my period comes, not only did I used to be insanely fatigued but I was also sore. I would have period cramps, but overall my body would feel super achey. As soon as I started drinking more water daily, I noticed a boost in my overall health both physically and mentally, especially when it came to my period. I’m more alert, my cramps aren’t as severe and my body doesn’t feel achey breaky 24/7.
If you’re looking to calm your period cramps even more, fruit (specifically blueberries and blackberries) can help fight off those uterus ninjas. Since berries are high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, they can help balance out the hormonal changes your body is going through during your cycle. On top of that, berries are believed by some to help with low estrogen levels, which causes some to lose sleep during their period. Taking all this into consideration you might want to pop some berries into your breakfast cereal during that time of the month.
Iron Rich Lentils and Fish
Replace proteins that can make your period symptoms worse (like red meat - see below) with fatty fish and delicious lentils, and you just might see a boost in your energy levels during your period. While menstruating, your iron levels can take a hit, especially if you have a heavy flow. Salmon and other oily fish, coupled with a side of lentils, can help you regain some of that energy and shake the sluggish feeling of being on your period.
Foods to avoid when menstruating
Next, let’s get into the foods you should avoid on your period (and enjoy in moderation when you’re not on your period). Eating the wrong foods during your period can exacerbate your symptoms like bloating, mood swings and decreased energy levels. No one needs that, so at the very least try and wean yourself off the following food groups for the duration of your cycle. This is what not to eat when you’re on your period:
1. Salty food
I feel like this should seem obvious but not a lot of people know that foods with an excess of salt cause water retention and bloating - not just on your period! The hormones that come along with your period already cause bloating, so you don’t want to add to this by inhaling a bunch of salty food and drink like fast food, canned soup, frozen dinners or soda.
If you’re not a functional human being before your first cup of coffee, I feel you. But, drinking coffee during your period can actually make your cramps worse. Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it makes the blood vessels in your body constrict. This can cause the vessels that feed your uterus to tighten, making your period cramps even more painful than they already were.
There’s a ton of debate surrounding the health benefits (or lack thereof) of coffee, but as a general rule of thumb you should try to stick to a max of one cup of coffee per day, especially if we’re talking about period food and drink. If you can cut it out during your period, kudos to you (I haven’t managed that much self-restraint yet).
Your blood sugar levels are all over the place when you’re menstruating, and sugar only adds to the rollercoaster. Sugar is inflammatory, so it has the ability to make your cramps feel worse during your period. It can also make you super bloated whether you’re on or off your period, and no one wants that.
Ever heard of a sugar rush? It’s a real thing. Eating a ton of sugar can give you an immediate ‘high’ or burst of energy, however it comes crashing down just as quickly. Your menstrual cycle makes you tired, and adding in a sugar crash will have you falling asleep at your desk. Sugar is a definite no-no when it comes to what you should eat on your period.
I would just like to say that aspartame isn’t any better. In my opinion, sugar and aspartame aren’t the devil if either are enjoyed in moderation - but, if you’re looking to keep your period as pain-free as possible, maybe stay away from the donuts for that week…
4. Fatty meats
I personally love steak, so this one is a little upsetting for me. However, red meat really isn’t the best thing to be putting in your body in general, not just when you’re on your period. Having a diet high in saturated fats can cause you to break out more intensely before your period and can exacerbate bloating and breast tenderness during your menstrual cycle.
A diet high in saturated fats can also increase the level of cholesterol in your blood, which down the road increases your chances of a heart attack or stroke. In my opinion, something like red meat should be a food you treat yourself to occasionally. Trust me, I’m helping you in the long run. Fatty meats taste good, but they’re a food to avoid when you’re menstruating.
Ah, dairy. There are truly so many debates surrounding dairy - I’m not even going to get into the arguments. However, when we’re talking about foods to avoid while you’re on your period, I will say that consuming a lot of dairy during or outside of your menstrual cycle can make Aunt Flo a lot worse. Foods like milk, cheese and ice cream contain arachidonic acid, which is an omega-6 fatty acid that can increase inflammation and cause cramping.
These are only some of the main foods that can contribute to an extra-blah period. I’m not saying you need to cut these foods out entirely, but I’m saying especially during your period, it helps to be conscious of what you’re putting in your body. Not only can it improve your dreaded time-of-month, but it can help add a little pep in your step year-round. Who doesn’t want that?!