If you have period pain, you know what a literal pain it is. You might feel a little bloated and crampy, or you might be doubled over once a month, missing school. But did you know that what you eat and drink (we're looking at you, coffee) during and before your period can make or break your cramps?
It’s true—and what you don’t eat is just as important as what you do. This means having a teensy bit of self-control, which is easier said than done once those cravings hit. Are you always going to get it right? Definitely not, and that’s okay. Learning what works for you is a process, and you’ve got plenty of time. The first step is learning: what foods make my period a rollercoaster and which ones get rid of my cramps?
Take a look at this roundup of the best (and worst) food to eat on your period and then get curious—see for yourself what works for you.
Which foods help relieve menstrual cramps?
You’re going to notice a pattern here. The foods that help with period cramps have two superpowers:
1) they’re anti-inflammatory, and
2) they help to lower estrogen levels.
So what’s this about? Basically, period pain is caused by two things: inflammation and estrogen in the body. And certain foods are just really good at making these things go away. For the best results, add these foods to your full-time diet before your period begins.
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Okay, this may seem a little obvious. But hear us out: good old H20 is hands down the simplest thing you can do to make your period a happy one. Why? Because drinking water makes you less bloated and helps with brain and muscle power.
Not to mention, increasing your water intake can help with a slew of body concerns. For starters, it can make your skin as soft as the skin of a newborn baby. If brain fog is something you suffer from, drink more water every day. You may notice a boost in your overall health, but when it comes to your period, you’re likely to be more alert with fewer aches and less painful cramps.
Pro-tip: Did you know you need 8 eight-ounce glasses of water each day? Make it fun by adding fruit, cucumber or mint—we love tossing orange slices into ours for an increase in Vitamin D—and get a cool, funky water bottle that you can decorate with stickers. This will help you keep track of your intake.
If you’re looking to calm your period cramps even more, fruit (specifically blueberries and blackberries) can help fight off those uterus ninjas.
We all know that being on our period makes us feel like we're on a roller coaster, and in fact, we are—a hormone roller coaster. If you’ve ever started randomly crying, you know what we’re talking about. Berries have antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that even this bumpy ride out.
Pro-tip: Make it fun by adding berries on top of your cereal or making a smoothie with chocolate protein powder (to feed that chocolate-eating monster that lives inside you, of course).
Lentils and Salmon
Introducing the new power couple of your uterus: iron-rich lentils and omega-3 rich salmon. This duo lowers inflammation in the body, and some studies even suggest that taking fish oil on its own prevents pain better than ibuprofen. Talk about relieving menstrual cramps!
These anti inflammatory foods help in more ways then one. During your period, your iron levels take a hit, but some iron-rich proteins only make your period symptoms worse, such as red meat (more on that later). But with fatty fish and delicious lentils, you just might see a boost in your energy levels.
Pro-tip: Test out a lentil salad topped with a piece of salmon makes for a delicious summertime salad. Change up the dressing to keep things interesting!
Want to really treat your uterus to the ultimate spa day? Add cruciferous vegetables to that lentil and salmon salad. Cruciferous vegetables are dark leafy greens like kale, arugula, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, collards, radishes and brussels sprouts.
They’re nutritional powerhouses, truly. Packed with tons of vitamins, Vitamins A and C being among them, adding these vegetables to your diet lowers inflammation and gives your body the fiber it needs to move excess estrogen out of your body. In other words: green veggies can seriously help with severe cramps.
There’s another reason why dark leafy greens are so good for period pain: Many of them contain more calcium than dairy, which not only helps with menstrual cramps but other emotional PMS symptoms (pre-menstrual syndrome), as well as premenstrual dysphoric disorder. And because they’re so densely packed with nutrients, even small portions will make you feel better.
Pro-tip: Steam or sauté kale with your favorite seasonings (we love soy sauce and ground ginger) or have your cauliflower go undercover in your smoothie. Steam up a chopped head of cauliflower, throw it in the freezer, then toss it in the blender with your berries. You won’t even know it’s there.
Further reading: Can you get TSS from pads?
Did you know that what kind of grains you eat matter too? Whole grains help to get rid of estrogen because they’re rich in fiber. Plus they have potassium, magnesium and iron, all minerals your uterus needs to take a chill pill.
And they’re way better for you than refined grains that you find in your bread, cereal, crackers and bagels.
Here’s how to do this: Use brown rice instead of white rice. Switch out your white bread for whole wheat. Use whole-grain pasta. Easy peasy!
Pro-tip: Keep some popcorn kernels on hand for when the cravings hit. Believe it or not, popcorn is a whole grain! But you want to have homemade popcorn, not the stuff from the store which is loaded with salt and sugar.
Which brings us to our next point…
Avoid painful menstrual cramps by not eating these foods
Okay, so we’ve gone over what foods help reduce period cramps. But just as important are what foods actually cause menstrual cramps or make cramps worse. Eating the wrong foods during your period can make your symptoms worse: bloating, mood swings and decreased energy levels are all influenced by what you eat and drink.
No one needs that, so at the very least, try and wean yourself off the following food groups when that time of the month is coming up.
Want to know how to get rid of cramps? Skip the salty snacks during your period. Too much salt causes bloating which actually makes your cramps worse. On one hand, salt is an essential mineral that we need to live healthy lives. It’s okay to use it when you’re cooking. On the other hand, most junk food is loaded with salt. It’s just too much for our bodies to process.
You might notice that by cutting back on salty foods, bloating and your cramps both go down. What a relief!
Pro-tip: If you give into a salty craving (which happens to the best of us) just make sure to drink lots of water and eat your fruits and veggies. This will help you keep your salt levels down.
If you’re not a functioning human before your first cup of coffee, we feel you. But caffeine intake during your period can actually make your period cramps. If you can’t go without it, limiting your intake of coffee, soft drinks and certain teas will still make a difference. Who knows, this might even help your sleep, too!
Coffee is inflammatory. It slows the flow of blood in your veins (but not your uterus) and the vessels that feed your uterus tighten, which means cramp-central. Ouch.
Pro-tip: Try replacing your coffee with caffeine-free herbal tea or lower-caffeinated tea varieties like certain types of green tea or white tea (black tea also has lower caffeine relative to coffee). Both have less caffeine than coffee, but they also have anti-inflammatory properties. That’s a win-win! Or if you're someone who loves the taste more than anything, try switching to decaf coffee for a less caffeinated, yet still delicious morning drink.
Ah, sugar. Only the best thing to be invented in the history of humanity. Is it addictive? Yes. Is it the tastiest ingredient ever? Yes. Does it make your cramps way worse than they need to be? Also yes.
Sugar is inflammatory with a capital I. This is a huge one to avoid if menstrual cramps are a problem for you. It also makes you super bloated, messes with your hormone levels and, yes, it increases estrogen levels. Like, a lot.
When it comes to menstrual cramps, sugar is deserving of the ultimate side-eye.
Pro-tip: Not many people realize that fruit juice is just as bad as drinking a soda, as far as sugar levels are concerned. When fruit is juiced, it is separated from the fiber of the fruit and that means when you drink it, your body can’t process it slowly. This is the meaning of a sugar rush.
Do your uterus a favor and eat your fruit whole, rather than drinking juice.
Red meat really isn’t the best thing to be putting in your body in general, but especially when you’re on your period. Red meat has no fiber, which means that estrogen has no way out of your body, and just gets recycled, causing cramps.
Plus, eating a lot of red meat can make you break out more intensely before your period and can cause major bloating and breast tenderness.
Pro-tip: Give your cravings something to talk about with a veggie burger over greens or a salmon burger on a whole wheat bun. Yum.
Food Cravings and Premenstrual Syndrome
Menstruators are known to experience food cravings a week or two before their medium flow period starts. These are associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), in which fluctuating hormones and serotonin levels can cause a drop in blood sugar, which leads to sugar cravings.
Our advice? Figure out what works for you.
Everybody is different, and everyone experiences their menstrual cycle differently. What works for someone else might look different for you. (For example, some people prefer using reusable pads and others don't!) Take your time and experiment with these foods and others.
Life doesn’t stop for your uterus (wouldn’t it be cool if it did?) so try not to be too rigid with yourself—if you need to grab that cup of coffee, make it up with a healthy meal and plenty of water for lunch. You can’t do any better than your best, and what’s the point of beating yourself up about it? No reason to make your period harder than it is.
But do go the extra mile to balance the not-so-helpful things with the helpful things and you might just find that you’ve found your ticket to a happy, pain-free period.