Ease your period pain by knowing which healing foods you should bulk up on – and what to avoid.
Between the bloating, cramping, and mood swings, “that time of the month” can be truly miserable for a lot of women. Sometimes PMS, also known as pre-menstrual syndrome, can last a full week before a period, and then in extreme cases, “Aunt Flo” can come to town for 7-10 more days.
Lifestyle factors can help ease the discomfort during this time. This positive shift can happen thanks to dietary changes and ensuring that nutrient needs are met.
Foods for Your Period: What to Eat
Period-friendly foods are nutrient-rich and help to cut down on bloating, inflammation and pain. While sugar cravings can run high at this time of the month, a little planning ahead can help you stick to a period-friendly plan, and your cycle will get a little better each time. Here are the best foods to turn to when cramps start to get the better of you.
1. Omega-3 Fats
Heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids are found in salmon, mackerel, sardines, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. These anti-inflammatory fats can help to relieve typical period discomforts like cramps and back pain when consumed regularly, as well as lower the overall risk for endometrial cancer.
Aim to have at least one serving of omega-3 foods per day for maximum benefits.
Fiber is one of those amazing nutrients that supports good gut health, the microbiome, healthy elimination, and balanced weight. Constipation can frequently pop up around the time of a period, leading to increased bloating and general discomfort. When you regularly eat a diet rich in fiber, it can cut down on these unpleasant symptoms and lead to more regular elimination.
Foods rich in fiber include:
- Brussels sprouts
- Chia seeds
Women should aim to get at least 30 grams of fiber daily for optimal gut health.
3. Serotonin boosters
Women often crave chocolate around the time of their period because it’s one way of naturally boosting serotonin, a neurotransmitter which can contribute to a more balanced and stable mood.
While chocolate isn’t the best way to boost serotonin, since it naturally comes with a side of sugar, there are other ways to supply this stabilizing neurotransmitter to the body, such as eating eggs, salmon, turkey, nuts, and seeds. You can’t directly consume serotonin, but these foods are rich in precursors to serotonin that lead the body to make more of it naturally.
4. Iron-rich Foods
Women tend to feel tired during their periods because of the loss of iron. Eating iron-rich and blood-nourishing foods isn’t so much about replenishing lost blood as it is about building up the new blood production and the uterine lining.
Eating foods rich in iron helps keep your blood oxygenated, resulting in better immunity, digestion, energy levels, sleep, brain function, and heart health.
Foods naturally rich in iron should be eaten at all times of the cycle and include:
- Dark chocolate
- Organ meats
- Red meat from beef, bison, and lamb
What Not to Eat
While eating the right foods is important, it’s just as critical to stop eating foods that worsen period pain or other symptoms. These foods are unhealthy for anyone, but they can wreak even more havoc on a woman’s body and mind when in a fragile hormonal state. Leave bloating, constipation, and mood swings behind when you cut these from your diet altogether.
1. Refined Sugar and Junk Food
Sugar offers no nutritive value, and it contributes to hormonal chaos. Junk food, which is loaded with various forms of processed sugars, preservatives, and trans fats, not only jack up the digestive system and contribute to irritable gut, constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux, and leaky gut, but can also lead to worsening reproductive symptoms like back pain, cramping, and even mood disruption.
Skip the pre-packaged junk food and indulge with these satisfying foods instead:
- 75% pure cacao dark chocolate (or darker, and with very little added sugar)
- Sweet potato fries
While a glass of wine or an alcoholic beverage here or there probably isn’t causing all of your problems, it certainly isn’t helping, either. Women prone to especially bad PMS or periods would do best to avoid all alcohol from the time they ovulate until at least four days after their period has started. This allows for the liver to focus fully on metabolizing estrogen, which is what contributes to those crazy hormonal feelings during PMS.
Instead of alcohol, focus on:
- Staying hydrated with at least nine glasses of water daily
- Kombucha, for good gut health
- Herbal teas, for improved calm and relaxation
Yes, periods make you more tired and edgy, and some rely on caffeine to get them through the day. But because caffeine sticks with you even after the initial buzz has worn off, it can also contribute to food cravings, tiredness, insomnia, and hormonal problems. If you insist on caffeine, limit yourself to one cup each day before noon, and then focus on hydrating beverages.
Swap caffeine for:
- Herbal tea
- Fruit-infused water
- Sparkling water
- Protein-containing foods for energy boosts
4. Trans Fats and Fast Food
When your hormones are already out of sync, caving in to fast food meals or takeout will make things worse. Instead, focus on quick-prep health foods that will actually help your body diffuse bothersome female symptoms.
Swap fast food for:
- Mason jar salads
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Tuna or salmon salad
- Smoothies or smoothie bowls
4 More Tips for Period Health
Even if you’re eating all the right foods and avoiding all the wrong ones, sometimes you want a little extra something to help make you feel that much better when your period strikes. Here are some tried-and-true, non-food methods to help you feel your best.
1. Yoga or Light Exercise
While exercising – or even getting off the couch – might not sound appealing during your period, light exercise or movement is actually an excellent way to relieve cramps. Cramping tends to occur more when muscles are tight, so doing some gentle exercise for 5 to 20 minutes can help relieve pain, ease bloating, and boost energy levels even better than caffeine. Don’t exert yourself more than normal – simply going for just a brief, moderately brisk walk can do wonders.
2. Change Up Your Routine
If you haven’t already, switch to menstrual cups. They can be safely worn longer than tampons, and some users report better cramps and improved mood simply from having a more manageable period. Bonus: they’re environmentally-friendly, too.
3. Heating Pad
Heat helps to relax the uterine muscles, easing cramps and pain. If you can, choose a rice-, clay-, or water-based heating pad instead of an electric one. They hold their heat for significantly longer, and usually only require one minute in a microwave to get fully hot. Add a few dabs of your favorite essential oil, like lavender or frankincense, for a soothing aroma while you relax.
4. Sleep More
Whether it’s a power nap for 20-40 minutes or hitting the sack early, getting a little more sleep before and during your period can help combat moodiness and fatigue. While it’s tempting to veg out watching Netflix because you don’t feel well, opt for reading in bed or listening to music before turning off the lights for maximum relaxation. If sleep is a problem, try meditating in the evening and making sure you cut off your caffeine intake by noon (or skip it altogether).
7-Day Meal Plan
This 7-day meal plan utilizes all of the good foods that help ease period pain, and skips those that can worsen hormonal chaos. Click the links below to get the recipes for breakfast (B), lunch (L), dinner (D), and snacks (S)!
- B: Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus with Soft-Boiled Egg
- L: Stuffed Poblano Peppers
- D: Chicken Pot Pie Soup
- B: Breakfast Smoothie
- L: Chicken Lettuce Wraps
- D: Shrimp Pasta with Zucchini Noodles
- S: Raw Chocomole
- B: Eggs in Clouds
- L: Salmon Burgers with Mango Jicama Slaw
- D: Slow Cooker Chipotle Chicken Soup
- B: Anti-Inflammatory Healing Bowl
- L: Cauliflower Shrimp Fried Rice
- D: Coconut Crusted Salmon
- S: Coconut Oil Fat Bombs
- B: Spiralized Sweet Potato Egg in a Hole
- L: Rainbow Turkey Salad
- D: Maple Dijon Chicken and Brussels Sprouts
- B: Hemp-Seed “Oatmeal”
- L: Asian-Style Cabbage Wraps
- D: Baked Salmon
- S: Sweet Potato Turmeric Muffins
- B: Spinach Quiche with Sweet Potato Crust
- L: Mahi Mahi with Mango Jalapeno Salsa
- D: Cozy Taco Soup with Ground Beef