Your menstrual cycle is an integral part of your reproductive health. By following a healthy diet, you're improving your lifestyle and can positively enhance how you experience your period. Because our bodies are going through constant changes every month, it is necessary to maintain good nutrition. A good diet doesn't mean restricting yourself or limiting what you eat. When we talk about a good diet, we talk about a healthy, well-balanced regime high in vegetables, iron, healthy fats, and protein. We all need to eat well whether we have a menstrual cycle or not, but the results of a poor diet in menstruating individuals can affect them significantly.
Throughout your menstrual cycle phases, your body can react differently to all the changes it's going through; this may be a reason for cravings during specific periods of the month. Though this does not mean that you need to change your diet for every phase of the cycle, you must understand what's going on and what foods you might want to eat more during certain days.
During your menstrual bleeding, you may be looking at some iron loss. In fact, studies have shown that approximately 10% of women lose more than 1.4 mg of iron per day through menstrual bleeding. If you are a heavy bleeder, you may be wanting to pick up foods with iron in them, like red meat. If you're vegetarian or vegan, nuts, seeds, legumes, and green leafy vegetables will be your source of iron. Loss of iron may be the reason why you feel tired and dull during your period; not only that, but extreme iron deficiency can translate into anemia. Anemia will leave you short of breath, weak, dizzy, and weight gain due to the underactive thyroid gland.
Fats can be good
We understand everyone wants to look and feel good with their own bodies, but to what extent? There is a dangerous myth in extreme diet culture that fats will make you fat.
There are four types of fats in our foods, categorized as good and bad fats. We all need good fats but crave bad fats. 💀 Your good fats, also known as unsaturated fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats; and the bad fats come from trans fats and saturated fats.
Vegetable oils like olive, canola, peanut, safflower, and sesame oil are examples of monounsaturated fats. These oils provide nutrients, vitamin E, and antioxidants needed for your body's proper function. Safflower oil is rich in vitamin E, which can reduce cramping, anxiety, and cravings symptoms.
Soybean oil, corn oil, sunflowers, tofu, and soybeans are polyunsaturated fats. These fats can provide omega-6 and omega-3, which your body can't produce on its own. Tofu is rich in iron, magnesium, and calcium, helping relieve period pains or liquid retention.
There are two types of trans fats, those that are naturally-occurring, meaning they are produced in the gut of an animal, or artificial trans fats created by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils. Trans fats are typically found in fast foods like doughnuts, cakes, pies, pizza, cookies, etc. Fast foods are probably at the top of our cravings during PMS, but trans fats in these foods can cause inflammation in the body and worsen cramps.
Foods with saturated fats mainly come from animal sources like lamb, pork, beef, butter, cheese, and dairy products made from whole or 2% milk. Even though dairy contains calcium, which is good for you, the arachidonic acid in dairy can increase inflammation and worsen your cramps.
Knowing the difference between good and bad fats can help you make a more conscious decision at mealtime and improve your menstrual health. Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fat, essential in our diet. Studies suggest that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of PMS symptoms. Omega-3 has anti-inflammatory effects that will help limit the pain associated with the natural release of prostaglandins (lipids that create normal inflammatory pain) from the uterus, says registered dietitian Tracy Lockwood.
What foods should I avoid?
While there are foods that will help you throughout your cycle, you may want to avoid others. Salt, for example, can help with fluid retention, which means bloating, breast swelling, and pain. Consuming high caffeinated beverages can cause irritability, lack of sleep, and worsen menstrual cramps.
But remember, it's not only what to avoid but how you eat. Overeating or eating too little can affect your body and your hormones. Dramatic weight gain and weight loss can also affect your menstrual cycle and lead to amenorrhea. Eating disorders like Anorexia, can also cause your menstruation to stop.
Keep track of what makes you feel good
Food can help your menstrual cycle by helping ease cramps, and it can even help regulate your hormones, but remember that all bodies are different. While you may suffer from mood swings and sweet cravings, others may not. You must keep track of what you're eating and how it may or may not affect your body's normal process. Because some women experience an increased appetite, it may lead to weight gain during PMS, and that's completely normal. If you want to be careful and not go overboard, keep a food journal and find healthy nutritional substitutes for your cravings.
Remember, looking good on the inside is just as valuable as looking good on the outside. Listen to your body and feed it nutritious and healthy meals.