Eating for your menstrual cycle
by Jodie Abrahams, 17th February 2019
Do you adjust your diet throughout your menstrual cycle to compliment the changing hormones? That's what nutritionist Jodie Abrahams recommends for a calmer cycle. Here are her tips...
Our hormones can be likened to a carefully choreographed dance or symphony; they work in fine tune with each other, and if one's out of balance it can set off a cascade of changes.
When it comes to our sex hormones, this often leads to symptoms including PMS, cramps and breast tenderness. But the good news is that what you eat can help to re-establish balance at each stage of your cycle.
PMS is thought to be caused by the interaction between the ovarian hormones oestrogen and progesterone and your brain's neurotransmitters. This is why you might feel irritable, more stressed or sad in the lead up to your period, or more creative and clear headed (with a higher libido) around ovulation.
There are three stages of a monthly cycle (the following is based on a 28 day cycle, but this will differ based on each woman's unique cycle length):
- Days 1-13 Menstrual & Follicular This phase starts with menstruation (ie. your period), typically lasting 5-7 days. Oestrogen and progesterone levels are low during menstruation, when the lining of the uterus is shed. Following your period, oestrogen rises and the follicles (which store your eggs) are stimulated to grow, getting ready for ovulation.
During this phase, replenish your iron levels with plenty of lentils, beans, spinach, broccoli and dried apricots with a small amount of organic meat if you eat it. Prioritise rest with early nights to avoid feeling tired.
Turmeric, ginger, berries, fatty fish and plenty of green veggies can help to reduce inflammation that causes period pain. Vitamin C and B vitamins are also beneficial during this time, so keep up the dark green veggies plus kiwi, and citrus fruits with wholegrains like brown rice and quinoa, nuts, seeds, eggs and fish.
- Days 14-17 - Ovulatory You ovulate when an egg is released from its follicle and travels to the fallopian tube, ready to be fertilised. This is triggered by a peak in oestrogen. Many women feel at their most energetic during this phase of their cycle. But the change in hormone levels can also set off sugar cravings. Sip on cinnamon tea and eat porridge for breakfast: both contain chromium which helps keep your blood sugar more stable.
- Days 18-28 - Luteal Progesterone and oestrogen levels peak then drop if an egg isn't fertilised bringing you back round to menstruation. Serotonin (the feel good neurotransmitter) also decreases during this phase of the cycle, which can lead to low mood and sugar and carb cravings.
To prevent PMS and to boost mood, avoid foods that can contribute to inflammation (as above). Reducing sugar, caffeine and alcohol will all help. Alcohol in particular puts an extra strain on your liver, which is already working hard to detoxify hormones you've produced during your cycle. Salty foods can make bloating worse and sugar can increase mood swings and fatigue.
Instead, increase magnesium for more energy and to reduce cramping: eat pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, spinach, chard, black beans and quinoa. Up your omega 3 fats to reduce PMS symptoms, with wild fatty fish like salmon and sardines plus walnuts and flaxseeds; and eat plenty of fruit, veg, legumes and wholegrains to increase your fibre. Remember to drink enough water too to prevent constipation. Regular, healthy bowel movements help to clear all the old hormones and toxins your liver's been busy clearing up.
Understanding your body's natural hormonal shifts can help you make choices that support them. Try eating for your cycle this month and see how different it feels.