Period diet: what should you eat?

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

Emma Thornton

07 July 2016

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. Protein 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 more stable 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 which are good sources of protein or a add a tablespoon of a plant-based protein powder into your smoothies – pack protein into your snacks and you won’t regret it

Ensure you hit your recommended daily dose of fibre – The recommended daily intake of fibre increased from 18g to 30g last year. 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 –more a fan of eating the right types of food in the right amounts in order 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. Include plenty of fruit and vegetables (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 vitamin which is especially important around the time of your period for a number of reasons. First and foremost the contraceptive pill can reduce levels of zinc – so many of you might need a boost straight away! Zinc has a number of important functions; it is involved in the production of many important hormones, from the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone (we need these to exist in balance!) to the hormone insulin, which can also impact your sex hormones as well as having a major role in regulating your blood sugar. 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 (very good for sperm!). 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 – We need iron! Unfortunately you menstruating women are particularly at-risk of having low levels and in some cases becoming anaemic as a result of losing precious iron during each menstrual cycle. Iron is an important component of haemoglobin 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. Consume plenty of green, leafy veg 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 – up your intake around that certain time of the month and you could observe a noticeable difference. Many of the symptoms of periods and PMS are thought to be as a result of excess prostaglandins in the body. These pesky pro-inflammatory chemicals are thought to give rise to cramp and headaches and other nasty symptoms if they get out of control. Omega-3, as opposed to prostaglandins, is anti-inflammatory – so be sure to include plenty of oily fish, walnuts and flaxseed oil to get your fix

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 (aim for one 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 around the time of her period. Dropping levels of the sex hormone oestrogen can affect how you utilise magnesium, not to mention the hoards of medication so many women are on nowadays. Eat plenty of bananas (they contain good levels of magnesium together with potassium and vitamin B6 which work well together to fend of troublesome period symptoms such as bloating, and issues with mood) and plenty of other fresh ingredients including leafy greens, nuts and seeds

Drink up – So drinking enough liquids and staying hydrated is easier said than done – you also need to consider what you’re drinking. Water is the obvious choice – always aim to drink at least 1.5 litres of plain still water a day. Water helps to keep your bowels regular and can give dry, dull skin a surprising lift. Avoid sugary drinks and caffeine as they can do the opposite and cause a whole host of other problems; from throwing your blood sugar levels off to making 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 or go for some ginger tea if you’re feeling a bit peaky

Include wholegrains – Refined or processed foods are one of the big issues we face nowadays. They are everywhere! 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 so readily aimlessly churned into many bread, pasta and confectionary products. These types of foods are notorious for causing chaos with your blood sugar levels. Instead, opt for foods that literally contain the ‘whole’ ‘grain’ instead and you’ll benefit from some extra protein, fibre and vitamins and minerals. Bread and pasta are still pretty processed no matter what shape or form but opt for brown varieties when you can. 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 avoid overindulging! To achieve this eat a sensible selection of meals and snacks throughout the course of the day in order to keep your energy levels and blood sugar levels steady. Don’t let yourself end up feeling 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. 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! Try opting for healthier sweet options; why not try some dried figs or some Medjool dates? These are sweet, sticky and satisfying and are packed full of fibre and nutrients. Ultimately 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: it shouldn’t be too difficult as it’s all about getting in 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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