Cramps, mood swings, body aches, headaches…just a few common symptoms we hear about during your period. How much can we do to minimize those symptoms? Did you know your diet plays a huge role in your cycle and can help blast away those unwanted symptoms?
Basically, a healthy period requires the right nutrients. Though there is no single best diet for period health, a focus on providing your body with an adequate supply of anti-inflammatory can keep you feeling your best.
Let’s dig a little deeper into my top ten nutrients to feel your best during that time of the month.
Table of Contents
Carbohydrates are your body’s favorite source of energy! This macronutrient partners with the thyroid hormone to calm your nervous system, resulting in lower cortisol levels. When your cortisol stays high for many days, this can weaken your immune system and suppress ovulation and prevent ovarian steroid protections.
A low carb diet can increase your cortisol levels, affect your thyroid, and cause constipation, just to name a few. Women need carbohydrates to ovulate. Eventually, you may lose your period if you follow a low carbohydrate diet long-term.
Most health professionals recommend around 150 grams of carbs per day for women. The goal is to focus more on complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, peas, and beans.
Protein provides all the amino acids that are needed to maintain your hormones, muscles, organs, and body systems. Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues. Protein has a variety of functions but is an important building block of enzymes, hormones, and body chemicals.
Choose a variety of protein-rich foods daily, such as meat, fish eggs, dairy, lentils, nuts, and tofu. This super macronutrient can help fight those period cravings by keeping your full for longer. The common recommendations are at least one gram of protein for every kilogram of your body weight. If you prefer plant proteins (lentils, nuts, tofu, etc) it’s recommended to supplement with a multivitamin, B12, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Fat is your period’s best friend. Fat is the building block for estrogen and progesterone, the two most important hormones in the female body. By eating fat, you feel satisfied and fuller for longer.
Fats also help your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Healthy fats not only create hormones but are good for your heart, cholesterol, and overall health. Fats like omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties that can help counter the proinflammatory changes released by the body right before your period. Omega 3s are found in salmon, nuts, seeds, and plant oils.
As a reminder, menstruation itself is an inflammatory process. I recommend trying to incorporate inflammatory foods to improve your symptoms.
Magnesium is known as the “miracle mineral” of period health. It is found primarily in plants: nuts, seeds, and green vegetables. However, the average woman does not get enough through the diet.
Magnesium is released during stressful situations to help calm your nervous system. Over time if you are not eating enough magnesium-rich foods your stores are never able to fully replete. A magnesium supplement can aid in sleep, relaxation, improve the function of the thyroid and increase production in steroid hormones (estrogen, progesterone).
Unless you have chronic kidney disease, magnesium is 100% safe in the supplement form for long term use. Common recommendations range from 150mg- 300mg daily. However, always work with your health professional to find the correct dosage for you.
Let’s think of zinc as your second-best mineral for period health. Zinc is an anti-inflammatory mineral found in animal products (predominantly red meat). It regulates your stress response and promotes healthy ovulation.
Also, it is essential for the creation, transport, and action of all hormones in your body. It’s important to note that your body can’t store zinc, so you need a small amount every single day. Some of the benefits of zinc include improving symptoms related to PCOS, PMS, period pain, and acne. It also aids in maintaining a healthy immune system.
Yes, iodine is critical for your thyroid, but it also affects both ovulation and estrogen. Iodine promotes a regular metabolism of estrogen and makes cells less sensitive to this hormone. Your ovaries need iodine to make your estrogen receptors healthy and regulate ovulation.
Research has shown a positive relationship with iodine and breast pain, ovarian cysts, and PMS. The most important way to test if your iodine is low to check your thyroid antibodies. I recommend working with a healthcare professional on the correct dosage as the recommendations are controversial. Though you can get iodine in your diet from foods such as iodized salt, seafood, mushrooms, leafy greens, and seaweed.
7. Vitamin D
The sunshine vitamin! Vitamin D is a special vitamin. It is a steroid hormone that regulates hundreds of genes in your body. You normally synthesize vitamin D from the activation of cholesterol when your skin is exposed to UV light.
However, it is also found in egg yolks and fatty fish. Vit D’s most popular role is how it helps absorb calcium and phosphorus to deposit it into your bone. Did you know that Vitamin D is essential for healthy insulin sensitivity and ovulation? This makes it critical for period health.
Good sources of calcium include milk, cheese, yogurt, fish, and leafy greens. Most promising research has shown that having a diet higher in calcium may lower the risk of PMS and reduce period cramps.
Iron is a mineral found in hemoglobin. Hemoglobin carries oxygen in the blood all over the body. During your menstrual period, women need more iron to make up for the amount of blood loss every day of bleeding.
The recommended amount of iron is 18mg per day or 27mg if pregnant. Iron deficiency is common in women, often adolescents, and can lead to anemia. Anemia may result in tiredness, brain fog, and breathlessness.
Great sources of iron include red meat, chicken, fish, fortified cereals, legumes, and leafy green vegetables. However, let’s not forget that the amount of iron absorbed can be impaired by many different factors like alcohol, high calcium diet, phytates, and tannins (found in tea).
While not a food, making sure you are drinking adequate water is essential to period health. Adequate hydration can help reduce many poor period health symptoms like cramps.
When you are dehydrated, your body holds on to all the water to keep your cells happy and body functioning. This water retention may be the reason you feel more bloated or have pain throughout your menstruation.
Also, wherever sodium (salt) goes, water flows! It may be beneficial to reduce your sodium intake during your period, as this can all contribute to your bloating and breast pain. All women should aim for three liters per day of pure water..
To get all the nutrients you need, I encourage you to eat full, nutrient-dense meals, and feel your best while doing it! When your body is fueled right and then combined with regular exercise and adequate sleep – you are on the roadmap to a healthy period.
Author: Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD