Wondering what foods to eat on your period? Discover the perfect diet to help reduce cramps and pains, as well as surprise endorphin boosting foods, plus what foods to avoid too.
What to Eat on your period
We all know that eating a healthy, balanced diet helps us to maintain good overall physical and emotional wellbeing. But are there actually foods that can help to alleviate period cramps? Read on to find out.
Dark Leafy Greens
Dark, leafy greens such as spinach, swiss chard and kale are rich in iron, making them an excellent food choice during your period.
Our blood is also rich in iron, which is essential for maintaining proper function of red blood cells in the body. The red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen, so when iron is low, we often end up feeling fatigued- and when there aren’t enough red blood cells to carry the oxygen to our muscles either, the result can be more frequent and painful cramps. Studies also suggest that lack of iron can lead to a higher risk of menstrual migraines too.
If you experience heavy bleeding during your period, try adding in some dark, leafy greens to boost your iron intake and to reduce period cramps- but make sure you include them throughout the whole month, and not just when you’re on your period.
Meat eaters will be delighted to know that red meat is another great source of iron and will help to reduce period cramps and headaches. If you’re not a meat eater, upping your intake of lentils, beans and pulses will bring similar benefits.
Salmon is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential fats- meaning the body can’t make them, so we have to add them to our diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in assisting hormones responsible for blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls and inflammation- and this is why eating foods rich in them can help with period cramps during your cycle. In fact, this study found that Omega-3 fatty acids are more effective in reducing period cramps than ibuprofen!
Sardines are also high in Omega-3 fatty acids- and for those who prefer not to eat fish, chia seeds and ground flaxseeds are also good sources.
Great news! Chocolate is a good food to eat on your period… but there are some caveats, because it actually matters which chocolate bar you reach for next time your cravings strike.
Dark chocolate is high in polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that are able to reduce inflammation in the body. It’s also high in magnesium, iron, copper and manganese too- and when combined, can pack a pretty powerful punch in just a few small squares.
Studies have found that consuming dark chocolate can help to reduce period cramps- and its thought this is thanks to the high levels of polyphenols and magnesium, both working to reduce inflammation and relaxing the muscles in the uterus. Another study found that the copper in dark chocolate works to synthesise endorphins in the body, helping to relieve pain and stress. Low levels of copper in the body can also lead to the body failing to absorb enough iron from the gut too- yet another reason to indulge regularly.
Sadly, milk chocolate has not been found to have the same health benefits as dark chocolate, but let’s not discount the importance of emotional well-being too. A little of what you fancy won’t do you any harm (and will do wonders for boosting your mood and satisfying those sweet cravings), but just make sure you mix it up with some good quality dark chocolate too.
Whole grains are a good source of fibre, and a really great way to keep hunger pangs at bay- especially when they’re period related hunger pangs!
Ok, so foods such as quinoa and brown rice might not have the same appeal as chocolate when cravings strike, but don’t dismiss them just yet. Foods that are rich in whole grains have been found to ease symptoms of PMS and period cramps- according to this study there were “clinically significant improvements in the severity of general, physical, mood and behavioural symptoms of PMS.” following a 3 month trial.
The study concluded that the effectiveness of whole grains is down to vitamins B, E and C as well as minerals zinc, magnesium, and calcium; women with diets low in these vitamins and minerals experienced an increase in PMS symptoms.
To get more whole grains in your diet, opt for brown rice over white, and try adding oats, buckwheat, popcorn and whole-wheat bread, pasta and crackers to your shopping list. You night be surprised at the difference it can make!
Lean meats are a fantastic source of protein, which will not only help to keep you feeling full and energised, but will give you that much needed boost of iron too. If you suffer with heavy periods, opt for foods such as extra lean beef and chicken without the skin.
The proteins found in a grilled chicken breast are also a lot more easily absorbed by the body too, but if you don’t eat meat, good sources of protein include Greek yogurt, lentils and tofu.
Bananas are an amazing way to beat PMS symptoms and period cramps, and they can be paired with other foods on our list too. Add banana to your oats for breakfast, pop one into a smoothie with leafy greens, or just grab one for an easy snack on the go. Delicious, and packed with benefits too, thanks to high levels of potassium and vitamin b6.
Potassium is known to alleviate muscle cramps and can help to reduce water retention and bloating too. Bananas are also a good choice if you’re suffering with low mood or period anxiety- Vitamin B6 is known to relieve these symptoms.
Foods to avoid on your period
Armed with a new shopping list filled with foods that will help you Wake Up and Kick Ass even when you’re on your period- are you wondering now which foods you should avoid? Sadly, there are some foods that might not be optimal to consume, or at least you might want to eat less of them.
Foods that have lots of salt added tend to be bad news for overall health, but they can have a detrimental effect during your period specifically. Salty foods can cause the muscles in your body to become dehydrated, which can lead to cramps- and if you’re already experiencing period cramps, these foods are definitely not going to make you feel any better.
it’s not good news for the sugary food and drinks that we all seem to crave when we have our period.
Sugar can cause inflammation in the body, and studies have found that there are links between inflammation and painful periods. Its thought that sugar actually increases the production of prostaglandins, which lead to the pain we feel as the uterus contracts during our period.
So while it might seem unfair, steering clear of sweet treats during your period might actually help to ease the painful cramps that have you reaching for the biscuit tin every month.
Its estimated that around 70% of the UK drinks coffee regularly, with 12% consuming more than 20 cups per week. But is it ok to drink coffee during your period? Brace yourselves, it might not be what you want to hear.
The caffeine found in the average cup of coffee is thought to cause blood vessels to shrink, thus slowing the flow of blood. Its also been suggested that coffee can cause inflammation, bloating and cramps too- not ideal when you have your period. Although the experts don’t all agree, it might be best to limit the amount of coffee you drink if your experience painful periods.
It’s bad news for mojitos if you suffer with period cramps too. Alcohol makes us pee more, which leads to dehydration, which can make cramps worse and can cause headaches too. We also tend to struggle to sleep well after a night drinking, so end up feeling more fatigued and hungover the next day. Fatigue and low mood/ irritability go almost hand in hand for most, so the results aren’t a pretty sight for the most part.
But that’s not to say you should never drink alcohol while on your period. You know your body best, and you know what you can tolerate in terms of drinks. Just don’t expect that third glass of wine to do you any favours if you’re looking to ease symptoms of PMS.
Many people find that eating spicy foods can cause digestive issues, and if you’re already suffering with cramps and period related nausea etc, it might be a good idea to skip the curry for a few days.
Processed foods tend to be filled with excess fat, sugar and salt, not to mention other preservatives, colourings and flavourings. And, you guessed it- none of these are a good idea if you’re trying to maintain a healthy diet. The things they add to processed foods are known to cause inflammation in the body, which we know can lead to a worsening of period cramps and other PMS symptoms.