Period diet: what should you eat?

Top tips on what to eat and what to limit around the time of your period


Emma Thornton
Qualified Nutritionist (ANutr)
@EmmaThornton
Ask Emma


21 August 2018

Let’s talk period food

Ok, so you’re on your period and you don’t know what you should be eating. You might be tempted to give in to those troublesome cravings but then you feel worse for it afterwards... so is it really worth it? Well, probably not, as diet can have a big impact on how you feel, especially at this particularly vulnerable time of the month. Why not try following my top tips below and see if you notice a difference?

Pack in protein

Protein is often misunderstood. Nowadays with the sports nutrition and supplements industry booming, too many women assume protein is only for bodybuilders and that it will cause your muscles to suddenly grow at an alarming rate... what rubbish! Protein is essential for everyone.

It is necessary for repairing and replenishing your tissues and is also crucial for other aspects of your health. Good quality protein helps to keep your blood sugar levels stable for example, which in turn helps to keep you feeling fuller for longer. This can be especially useful if you tend to fall victim to cravings around the time of your period.

Try to incorporate plenty of nuts and seeds into your diet as these are a good source of protein. Alternatively, add a tablespoon of a plant-based protein powder into your smoothies.

Ensure you hit your recommended daily dose of fibre

The recommended daily intake of fibre recently increased from 18g to 30g. Did your fibre intake increase in line with this? I’m guessing probably not. However, I’m not a huge advocate of counting calories or weighing food and instead I'd recommend that you eat the right types of food in the right amounts. This will help you to feel satisfied and maintain a healthy weight, whilst fuelling your body with the nutrients it needs.

Try to include good sources of fibre in all of your meals and you should be on track. Fibre and slow-release carbohydrates help to sustain your energy levels and as an added bonus, fibre helps to keep your bowels regular – this is exactly what you need if you suffer from monthly cramp and a bloated tum.

So, include plenty of fruit and vegetables in your diet (keeping the skins on wherever possible is a fibre-boosting top tip) and when choosing carbohydrates opt for wholegrain varieties.

Ramp up your zinc intake

Zinc is an essential mineral which, for a number of reasons, is especially important around the time of your period.

First and foremost, the contraceptive pill can reduce levels of zinc so many of you might need a boost straight away!

Also, zinc is involved in the production of many important hormones including the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone, as well as insulin. This can impact your sex hormones but also has a major role in regulating your blood sugar.

However, zinc is also thought to be particularly important for reproductive functions... so if the time comes and you want to expand your brood, make sure both you and your partner are having enough zinc (it's very good for sperm too!).

Oysters are one of the highest sources of zinc out there, however if these don’t tickle your fancy, lean meats and seeds are also good sources

Important Iron

Unfortunately you menstruating women are particularly at-risk of low levels because you lose some as you bleed. In some cases you can even become anaemic as a result of this.

Iron is an important component of haemoglobin which is found in red bloods cells. Haemoglobin is responsible for transporting oxygen around your body. This is an essential process and having too little can leave you feeling lethargic and low in energy.

So, consume plenty of green, leafy vegetables and beans and perhaps an iron-rich, juicy steak as a treat every now and again.

O is for Omega-3

The benefits of Omega-3 are endless! 

Many of the symptoms associated with periods and PMS are thought to be as a result of excess prostaglandins in the body. If they get out of control these pesky pro-inflammatory chemicals are thought to give rise to cramp, headaches and other nasty symptoms.

However, in contrast to protagladins omega-3 is anti-inflammatory so be sure to include plenty of oily fish, walnuts and flaxseed oil in your diet to balance things out.

Dare I say it – dark chocolate!

Ok, so sometimes a little sweetness isn’t so bad and I’ll explain why.

Good-quality dark chocolate of around 70% cocoa content or higher is actually a rich source of magnesium. Magnesium is the number one mineral every woman should ensure she has enough of during her period. That's because falling levels of the sex hormone oestrogen can affect how you utilise magnesium. Also, much of the contraceptive medication women are on nowadays can further depleate magnesium levels.

So, eat plenty of bananas as these contain good levels of magnesium alongside potassium and vitamin B6. These work well together to fend of troublesome period symptoms such as bloating and issues with mood. Plus, there are plenty of other fresh sources of magnesium including leafy greens, nuts and seeds.

Drink up

Water is the obvious choice when it comes to staying hydrated so always aim to drink at least 1.5 litres of plain, still water a day. Water helps to keep your bowel movements regular and can give dry, dull skin a surprising lift as well.

On top of this though, remember to avoid sugary drinks and caffeine as these can bring on a whole host of other problems. They can throw your blood sugar levels off for example, and may even make you feel jittery and anxious.

If you feel like a hot drink try opting for caffeine-free herbal tea. Chamomile is particularly calming if your mood is a bit erratic but go for some ginger tea if you’re feeling a bit peaky.

Include wholegrains

Refined or processed foods are readily available nowadays but unfortunately these aren't as nutrient dense as their fresh counterparts. 

Take a grain of wheat for example: as it’s processed the beneficial parts are removed and this leaves a bleak, sorry soul that is aimlessly churned into many bread, pasta and confectionary products. These types of foods are notorious for causing chaos with your blood sugar levels.

Instead of opting for these foods, choose ones that contain the ‘whole’ ‘grain’ instead and you’ll benefit from some extra protein, fibre and vitamins and minerals. Bread and pasta are still pretty heavily processed no matter what shape or form but opt for brown varieties when you can. Also, try adding a variety of true wholegrains to your diet such as quinoa, barley, bulgar wheat, oats and brown rice. Whole grains are rich in B vitamins which help to convert your food into energy and support the nervous system.

Eat little and often

It’s important to ensure you don’t skip meals but at the same time do avoid overindulging! To achieve this eat a sensible selection of meals and snacks throughout the course of the day. This will keep your energy and blood sugar levels steady. However, don’t let yourself get ravenous after skipping meals as this will mean you’re much more likely to eat until you’re fit to burst when you do eventually have a meal – both situations aren’t desirable and you can end up stuck in the middle of a particularly unhealthy vicious cycle.

Take control

So, this is easier said than done but it’s key!

Try to limit carbonated drinks, refined sugar and salt as these can encourage cravings and bloating. Also, avoid processed foods and opt for fresh nutritious foods as much as possible.

However, don’t completely deprive yourself as you could end up completely miserable – you can take cravings on to a certain extent but try opting for healthier sweet options like dried figs or some Medjool dates? These are sweet, sticky and satisfying and are packed full of fibre and nutrients.

Ultimately though, it all comes down to listening to your body. If it’s crying out for some sweetness, try entertaining it with a slightly healthier option. Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you start to feel full - this shouldn’t be too difficult when you get into a good routine.

Finally, your body won’t thank you for nasty junk food so don’t expect this to make you feel better. Eat healthy and feel better for it!

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Helps maintain normal healthy balance of female hormones in younger women.
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