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.
Okay, so you can't "eat" water, but you should make you stay hydrated to alleviate PMS symptoms. The Cleveland Clinic recommends that you drink at least 64 ounces of water daily to reduce bloating and improve digestion.
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.
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.
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
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Swap out your caffeinated beverages for chamomile tea. According to certified nutrition coach Ariane Resnick, CNC, it "relaxes muscles, eases nerves, reduces 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."
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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."
This article was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used in the place of advice of your physician or other medical professionals. You should always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider first with any health-related questions. See our full health disclaimer here.