Foods to help you through your period
Here I explore how different foods, and more specifically, as a result of the different nutrients these contain; from iron, to magnesium and vitamin D, and how they can help manage monthly symptoms of periods.
1. Top up your iron levels
Unsurprisingly, what you put into your body has a big part to play in how bad your period will be. There are a variety of things that can make symptoms worse including refined sugar and processed foods but equally, there are a number of foods that might help too.
One of the best things you can do on your period is top up your iron intake because our levels of this mineral decline as we lose blood each month. Iron can be found in hemoglobin which is responsible for transporting oxygen around the body.
What I would say, is to get your levels checked with your doctor if you worry you could be deficient, and not just your iron or haemoglobin levels, but also your ferritin levels. This is your storage form of iron which helps to really give us a better idea of your overall iron status.
Therefore, not having enough iron in your body could inhibit this process and leave you feeling tired and fatigued. This, in turn, will only worsen what are already troublesome period symptoms.
If you wish to use your diet to top up your iron levels, fortunately there are plenty of options to choose from:
- Meat – beef, liver, lamb
- Vegan options – tofu, quinoa
- Fish – mussels, clams, oysters
- Vegetables – spinach (and other leafy green vegetables), broccoli, lentils, kidney beans, pinto beans, soybeans, kale
- Snacks – pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, dried figs, dried apricots
If you need a little inspiration when it comes to cooking with any of these iron-rich ingredients, you can turn to our recipe hub. Here we have a range of delicious and healthy dishes to pick from but some popular choices include:
2. Increase your magnesium intake
Magnesium is another mineral that, for a variety of reasons, is essential when you’re on your period. Some studies have found that it could help reduce the prominence of menstrual migraines(1) whilst others have said it may even help with period cramps.(2)
Magnesium is necessary for a range of bodily functions including blood pressure regulation and muscle contraction but the changes to hormone levels that occur during menstruation may alter how effectively our bodies can use magnesium for these purposes. Therefore, increasing your magnesium intake could help to level things off and fight any additional symptoms.
Surprisingly, an excellent source of magnesium is good quality dark chocolate (aim for one with around 70% cocoa content or higher). So, you can get your sweet fix and it will still help you through your period! However, if that doesn’t take your fancy there are a host of other foods with good magnesium content.
- Vegan options – quinoa, brown rice, tofu
- Fish – mackerel
- Vegetables – spinach, avocado, black beans, edamame beans
- Snacks – pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews
- Fruit – figs, bananas (these also contain potassium and vitamin B6 which together help to fight off bloating and even mood swings)
Again, there are a number of recipes you can try if you want to use any of these ingredients in a slightly more interesting way including:
3. Get more omega-3
As well as looking at the effect of iron and magnesium on period symptoms, science has also looked at what impact omega-3 could have. One study conducted in Denmark had particularly promising results as participants who took fish oil reported less period discomfort than those who took a placebo of regular oil. It was also found that these positive effects continued up to three months after participants had stopped taking the fish oil.(3)
The reasons for these positive results are quite clear – it’s to do with omega-3’s anti-inflammatory properties. Many period symptoms including cramps and headaches arise as a result of excess prostaglandins in the body which also happen to be pro-inflammatory. Therefore, including lots of omega-3 in your diet could help to counter the effects of prostaglandins.
Here are some popular choices when it comes to foods that contain omega-3:
- Fish – salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, anchovies, tuna
- Vegetables – soybeans
- Nuts and seeds – walnuts, chai seeds, flaxseeds
As well as using your diet to increase the amount of omega-3 you consume, you may also wish to try a supplement. If so I’d recommend you go for one that’s completely natural and 100% derived from fish as this way you’ll gain the most benefit from taking it.
4. Ramp up your vitamin D intake
As I’m sure you will now be aware, there are a number of vitamins and minerals that can help with period symptoms and vitamin D is just another of these. Research has shown that vitamin D may reduce the severity of period pain and so again you may find it beneficial to increase your intake.(4) Some foods with vitamin D include the following:
- Vegan options – tofu
- Fish – mackerel, salmon
- Vegetables – shiitake mushrooms
- Drinks – milk, almond milk
- Other – yogurts
5. Don’t forget about zinc!
Zinc has a number of important functions, one of which is to produce hormones including insulin which we need to regulate our blood sugar levels. However, zinc also helps produce the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone - we need these hormones to stay in check so that the menstrual cycle stays regular.
Oysters happen to hold the highest zinc content but I realise these aren’t exactly an everyday food so here are some other options:
- Meat - beef
- Fish – mussels
- Seeds and nuts – pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts
- Other – wheat germ, eggs, ricotta cheese
The period diet
You’re probably thinking that there are so many foods listed in this blog how could you possibly consume all of them during the course of your period? Well, my advice would be to ensure you eat three meals a day (preferably no skipping breakfast!) and eat little but often around this to keep your energy and sugar levels steady. Fruit, seeds and nuts make good snacks plus they contain many of the vitamins and minerals I’ve listed above. Eating and preparing fresh, whole foods really is the key, since processed foods lose key nutrients with every food production step.
Our Balance Mineral Drink is another option when it comes to topping up your vitamin and mineral intake. This contains magnesium, zinc, potassium, calcium and vitamin D which, as I have explained above, are all super beneficial when you are on your period!
Originally published in August 2018, updated in March 2022.