Menstruation, commonly known as periods, is the normal vaginal bleeding that occurs as part of a woman's monthly cycle. It is the shedding of the lining of the uterus (womb) in the form of blood, through your vagina (an elastic, muscular canal with a soft, flexible lining, which is a part of the female reproductive tract). The average menstrual cycle is 28 days, but this can vary in some women due to various diseases/factors. 

Most women experience pain and cramps during their periods. What foods you do or do not eat before, during, and after your period largely affects your menstrual health.

Before we dive into the list of foods, let us understand certain concepts revolving around your periods. 

Hormones (your body's chemical messengers) play an important role in maintaining and regulating your menstrual health. The main sex hormones in females are estrogen and progesterone which are produced by the ovaries (the primary female reproductive organs).

  • Estrogen regulates your menstrual (period) flow and stimulates the growth of the egg follicles (sac-like structures filled with fluid in which an egg develops). 

  • An imbalance in estrogen levels can affect your menstrual cycle and produce various symptoms. 

Know What to Eat Before, During, and After Your Period

Before Your Period

If there’s an excessive amount of estrogen in your body, you may experience premenstrual syndrome or PMS. PMS is a group of changes that happen before your monthly period and its symptoms include breast tenderness, abdominal distension, fatigue, irritability, or insomnia (difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep).

Certain foods can help your body process estrogen more efficiently, and therefore reduce or eliminate PMS symptoms.

The following dietary guidelines are recommended during 10 days before your period:

  • Eat light, easy-to-digest, nutritious and balanced meals, including beans and legumes, fish, leafy greens, and fruits. 

  • Drink a lot of water to keep regular and smooth bowel movements, which helps reduce bloating (excess water retention) in the abdominal area, which is a common symptom of menstruation.

  • Avoid spicy and stimulating foods, such as cayenne pepper, ginger, garlic, etc. Eating spicy food can hamper your digestive health and lead to increased abdominal pain. 

  • Reduce the consumption of greasy and oily foods and sweets, to avoid overtaxing your digestive system. Since hormones are metabolized through your digestive systems, a healthy gut is essential for maintaining healthy menstrual cycles.

  • Cut down on salt. Too much salt impairs the functioning of your blood vessels and kidneys, which can cause a headache, irritability, and an accumulation of fluids in the body, leading to bloating.

During Your Period

Your estrogen starts to rise during the initial days of your period and hence you have only a small appetite. You are mostly bloated, fatigued, and irritated during your period. Thus, it is recommended to eat light meals and small portions while you are on your period. 

  • Replenish your iron content. Normally women lose about 30-80 ml of blood and 15-25 ml of iron during each menstruation. It is important that you replenish your blood and iron during this time. Foods rich in iron include organic red meat, liver, egg yolks, spinach, collards, dried prunes, raisins, turkey, chicken giblets, beans, lentils, chickpeas.

  • Avoid drinking strong teas. The tannic acid present in tea may disrupt the normal absorption of protein and iron in food. It can also cause stomach irritation and nausea. Other sources of tannic acid include coffee, wine, and chocolate.

  • Eat foods rich in magnesium which is required to relieve your menstrual cramps and stabilize your mood. Rich sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, black beans, quinoa, and whole grains.

  • Include herbal teas in your diet during your period. Herbal teas have anti inflammatory properties that help in reducing bloating, pain from cramps and boosts your mood. Recommended teas are chamomile, peppermint, and other flavored green teas.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation and help tackle period pain. Omega-3 is available in foods like walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, sardines, soybeans, and canola oil.

After Your Period

Once you are through your period week, you might feel fully energized. Your mood swings generally subside and bloating reduces. It is necessary to eat foods to metabolize your estrogen levels that rise again after your periods are over. Eating a balanced diet filled with nutrition is the way to go!

  • Nourish your blood. The optimal time to nourish your blood is within 1-5 days after you stop bleeding. Eat figs, prunes, cherries, pomegranates, and dark green leafy vegetables. 

  • Eat raw, sprouted, and fermented foods to help the liver detoxify the estrogen hormone.

  • Continue to avoid sugary foods as much as possible. Blood sugar fluctuation is one of the main causes of PMS symptoms (higher blood sugar levels will increase the intensity of symptoms in your next period). Keep your blood sugar stable by avoiding sugary foods, such as soft drinks, candies, and cakes.

  • Consume foods high in fiber. Food such as veggies, fruits, and whole grains contain a lot of fiber. This can help metabolize excess estrogen from your body, regulating your periods, reducing PMS, and help in relieving stress.

  • Go for healthy snacks for additional nutrition and energy. Eat healthy snacks rich in vitamin B, such as walnuts and cashews, in between your meals. You can also opt for unbuttered popcorn, fruit salads or smoothies, and protein-rich snacks like yogurt and boiled eggs.

  • Have sufficient protein in your meals, such as salmon, organic meat, and eggs. Protein is the building block of your body and it is required for all types of repair of wear and tear of your body.

  • Eat your meals regularly and on time. Following a meal schedule on a daily basis is important to avoid blood sugar fluctuation and to strengthen your digestion.

  • Consume calcium-rich foods, such as organic milk and yogurt, dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, turnips, and collard greens.  

Consult your gyneacologist for additional dietary recommendations that may be required to improve your menstrual health.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.