Updated: Nov 15
Mother Nature, Shark Week, “I want to curl up in a ball and never leave my bed” time of the month - whatever you call it, your period may leave you feeling defeated. Symptoms such as headaches, cramps, bloating, fatigue, insomnia, feelings of anxiety and depression are extremely common in many women.1,2 The exact reason behind PMS is still unknown, however research suggests that it is a result of the many hormonal changes that occur before, during, and after your period. Hormones like estrogen and progesterone (our sex hormones), and serotonin (the “feel-good” hormone) fluctuate during your period and can cause these PMS symptoms we may be familiar with.3 While we cannot control our bodies hormone production, we can use nutrition to support our physical and mental health at this time.
Foods to minimize
While life is all about balance, certain foods may worsen our PMS symptoms due to their impact on our body functions. Heavily processed foods, high sugar and sodium, caffeine, and alcohol all may heighten our PMS symptoms.1-6
Again, the research behind PMS and our bodies varies as our bodies are all so unique and there are a variety of factors, from lifestyle to stress, that play an important role in PMS as well. However, these nutrition tips and tricks may be exactly what your body needs.
Next period, try minimizing some of these nutrients and see how your body responds. Incorporate some of these simple swaps to still satisfy your cravings while supporting your body in the process.
If you are craving:
Salt…. Try spicing it up with different herbs and spices! Seasonings like rosemary, thyme, garlic, cayenne, dill, etc., are a great way to spice up your plate and minimize excess sodium. You also could incorporate some high-quality “saltier” foods like cottage cheese. Cottage cheese can satisfy that salty craving while giving you an extra dose of calcium, which may be beneficial in decreasing PMS symptoms.6 Try cottage cheese and whole-wheat crackers or carrots for a nice savory snack!
Sugar… Opt for a natural sugar like fruit, honey, and dark chocolate to help meet those sweet needs. Adding in protein and a healthy fat as well is a great way to keep those blood sugars balanced as well to help stabilize your mood.
Try these combos:
DIY trail mix: nut of choice, dark chocolate, dried cherries
Energy bites with oatmeal, honey, dark chocolate, chia seeds, and coconut flakes
Dark chocolate covered raspberries
PB, cacao, banana smoothie
Foods to Maximize
Calcium is not only great for bone health, it may help to minimize PMS symptoms due to fluctuating calcium levels at this time of the month. Intentionally incorporating calcium- rich foods may benefit your symptoms and mood.1,6
Some calcium-rich food ideas:
Dairy products like yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese
Soy products (tofu, edamame)
Fortified foods like plant-based milks
There may be a correlation between increased prostaglandins and PMS symptoms due to their role in the inflammatory response and cramping.7 Integrating anti-inflammatory foods can help support your body and may help relieve some of your symptoms - all while giving you the energy you need to get through your days.8
An anti-inflammatory dietary pattern should really be the emphasis, rather than specific foods. Incorporating protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats is essential to promoting anti-inflammation.8
Healthy fats - specifically Omega-3’s, are a powerhouse for promoting hormonal balance and anti-inflammation.
Great sources of Omega-3’s include:
Chia and flax seeds (easy additions to oatmeals, smoothies, yogurt)
Fatty fish (salmon, sardines)
All in all, a wholesome, balanced diet that focuses on healthy fat, fiber, protein, fruits and vegetables, can empower your health at any time of the month. While these tips and tricks may not cure your PMS, these foods are all an important piece to a nutrient-rich, fulfilling diet and may provide relief from Aunt Flo.
Happy Eating! - Emily LaBombard, MPH, RDN, LDN
Premenstrual Syndrome. www.eatright.org. Accessed March 10, 2023. https://www.eatright.org/health/pregnancy/fertility-and-reproduction/premenstrual-syndrome#:~:text=Diet%20and%20PMS&text=Include%20sources%20of%20vitamin%20B6
Mayo Clinic. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) - symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Published 2018. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/premenstrual-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20376780
Gudipally PR, Sharma GK. Premenstrual Syndrome. [Updated 2022 Jul 18]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560698/
Purdue-Smithe AC, Manson JE, Hankinson SE, Bertone-Johnson ER. A prospective study of caffeine and coffee intake and premenstrual syndrome. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016;104(2):499-507. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.127027
Latif S, Naz S, Ashraf S, Jafri SA. Junk food consumption in relation to menstrual abnormalities among adolescent girls: A comparative cross sectional study. Pak J Med Sci. 2022;38(8):2307-2312. doi:10.12669/pjms.38.8.6177
Arab A, Rafie N, Askari G, Taghiabadi M. Beneficial Role of Calcium in Premenstrual Syndrome: A Systematic Review of Current Literature. Int J Prev Med. 2020;11:156. Published 2020 Sep 22. doi:10.4103/ijpvm.IJPVM_243_19
Prostaglandins: What It Is, Function & Side Effects. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/24411-prostaglandins
Harvard Health Publishing. Foods that fight inflammation - Harvard Health. Harvard Health. Published November 7, 2018. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation