It's not exactly breaking news that treating your body with some extra TLC during your period can help make your symptoms feel a little more manageable. But you might not know that what you eat throughout your entire cycle—that is, well before you start actually bleeding—can make even more of a difference. That's because our diet has a direct impact on our hormonal balance, and certain foods can exacerbate things like cramping, mood swings, nausea, and bloating.
"The foods you eat make the hormones that fuel your whole cycle," says nutritionist and hormone expert Alisa Vitti, whose platform, Flo Living, focuses on naturally supporting hormonal balance. "But by the time you start bleeding, the die is cast. The food changes have to happen before the bleed."
That also means doubling down on the foods that help support a happier period, in addition to limiting those that don't. Keep reading to learn exactly how your diet can help improve your period.
If you suffer from heavy periods (also known as menorrhagia), then consuming flax ahead of your cycle is a must, says Vitti. "It helps flush out excess estrogen that can lead to heavy bleeding and clots," she explains.
Try adding some ground flaxseed to a smoothie, or even sprinkle it atop yogurt and fruit. It also makes for a great egg replacement in vegan baked goods.
Avoid: Foods Produced With Pesticides
Buying organic foods as often as possible (because we get it—it's expensive AF) is ideal for both environmental and health reasons, not the least of which is that pesticides are proven hormone disruptors. This study explains that estrogenic pesticides found in common produce can increase estrogen in the body—which in turn is linked to heavier blood flow and debilitating cramps.
Eat: Avocado (and Other Healthy Fats)
Those who suffer from murderous cramps, take note: Focusing on the fats you're consuming can make all the difference. That's because certain fatty acids impact the production of prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that, among a large scope of bodily functions, control the contraction of the uterus.
Specifically, a variety called prostaglandin E2 (or PGE2) is linked with cramping and inflammation, so Vitti advises avoiding fatty compounds that can contribute to its production, like dairy and other animal-sourced fats. "If you change the fats you're eating, then you'll make less PGE2 and more PGE1 and 3, which cause uterine relaxation, thereby reducing if not eliminating your cramps," she says.
You can do that by focusing on omega-3-rich fats sourced from avocado, the aforementioned flaxseed, and fish (as well as fish oils).
Avoid: Animal Fats and Dairy
Again, PGE2 is heavily linked to inflammation, so it would be wise to avoid the fats that stimulate its production throughout your entire menstrual cycle—and especially before your period.
That means limiting foods heavy in omega-6 fatty acids, such as dairy, meats, and other processed foods.
Eat: Leafy Greens
If you're prone to bloating, Vitti advises sticking to vegetables rich in magnesium and fiber. There's no better source of both than leafy greens like kale, spinach, and collards.
Period-related sluggishness might make you feel even more inclined to reach for the cold brew, but research shows that coffee can seriously exacerbate menstrual pain. That's because caffeine makes our blood vessels constrict, which can ultimately have a tightening effect on the uterus.
If you're craving a little more regularity with your period, might we suggest snacking on some hummus? "Chickpeas provide a B6 boost to help with progesterone levels for an on-time bleed," says Vitti.
Avoid: Sugar and Artifical Sweeteners
We fully understand that when your uterine lining is plotting its exit strategy, few things are more satisfying than a soft-baked chocolate chip cookie from your local coffee shop. Just keep in mind that sugar is a slippery slope, especially when it comes to mitigating your period symptoms. By messing with your blood sugar and cortisol levels, sugar will likely only exacerbate bad mood swings, acne, and energy levels. That's especially important to remember if overwhelming fatigue is one of your most consistent side effects.
Artificial sweeteners aren't a wise replacement, since they're shown to disrupt hormones as well. Our advice? If you're craving something naughty, reach for some unsweetened dark chocolate instead.
We tend to retain more water around our periods, which can be the main culprit behind bloating. Potassium helps restore the natural fluid balance in our bodies, and bananas are chock-full of it. So are oranges, cantaloupe, and apricots.
Avoid: Processed Soy Products
While most soy products have only a mild estrogenic effect, they also won't do you any favors in terms of hormonal balance, says Vitti. While small amounts of unprocessed, fermented soy—like miso, for example—provide a nice dose of nutrients, she recommends steering clear of processed sources like tofu, soy milk, and artificial meats.
EAT: CHAMOMILE TEA
Swap out your caffeinated beverages for chamomile tea. According to certified nutritionist Ariane Resnick, it "relaxes muscles, eases nerves, reduce hormone-related anxiety."
Alcohol may sound tempting, but it won't make you feel better. "Your body is already on overdrive and fatigued. Adding a toxin to your body will do more harm than good," explains Laura Martin, certified holistic health and wellness consultant, gut specialist, and founder of Healing to Happy. "Give yourself the five to seven days to just relax with some chocolate and chamomile tea instead."
The curcumin found in turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory food. This can help ease the tension and inflammation you feel during your cycle. "I have my clients sip on a soothing turmeric latte made with coconut milk, turmeric, cinnamon, ashwagandha, and cracked black pepper as a hormone-balancing tonic," recommends Martin. "Make sure to use the cracked black pepper so you can absorb the medical benefits of turmeric and pair it with healthy fat, as curcumin is fat-soluble."