Periods can be tricky.
As if dealing with the bleeding wasn’t difficult enough, you also have to deal with mood swings, menstrual cramps, breast tenderness, and bloating! In addition, your digestion and appetite are out of control.
Periods have a significant impact on the way a woman’s body functions. The fluctuating levels of oestrogen and progesterone affect the body’s physical state and mental well-being. As a result, many women experience severe mood swings and fall prey to intense food cravings.
Why do we experience food cravings during periods?
There are regular days, and then there is ‘that time of the month.’
Your body works differently during these two periods (yes, pun intended). When a female menstruates, her body sheds a complex lining inside her womb.
This lining helps to nourish and care for the future child. And letting go of it takes a toll on the woman’s body.
Hormones and mediators of inflammation work together to get the job done. But, it also puts the body under stress. Therefore, it is necessary to replenish whatever that’s lost during the process.
And that’s how the cravings, among other menstrual problems, begin. The next thing you know, you’re popping OTC painkillers and meds that can control the bleeding.
But is it feasible to rely solely on medications to deal with menstrual problems?
The good news is that it is possible to manage period problems with food³ too!
However, with so many options available, making the right choice can be nerve-wracking.
If you are looking for a meal plan that suits your individual needs, you should talk with your doctor and nutritionist before starting one.
What to Eat During Your Periods?
Sticking to a healthy diet during periods will help maintain a balanced state. In addition, the proper meal can effectively tackle inflammation³, bloating, indigestion, and nasty cramps and help you sleep well.
This list can be a general guideline to help you plan your meals properly.
The oldest of the old remedies, there is a reason why ginger is loved by many. Be it a cold, a stomach ailment or menses, ginger knows how to handle it well. With its anti-inflammatory properties, ginger can soothe cramps and decrease bloating.
A nice warm cup of ginger tea in the morning can be the perfect start to the day! It keeps you light and relaxed and revs up your digestive system. It is also the easiest and simplest drink to detoxify the body.
Fennel seed tea is a healthy alternative if ginger is not your cup of tea.
Iron Containing Foods
Because menstrual periods are, in essence, about bleeding every month, maintaining healthy iron4 levels in the body is of great importance. And a significant population of Indian women are struggling with anaemia as it is.
Spinach, green leafy vegetables, ragi, dates, chia seeds, and liver, among many others, are high in iron. You can have veggies as part of your daily meals in salads or dishes. Dates can be a great in-between snack that can lower your food cravings.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Don’t let the word ‘fat’ scare you. Omega-3 fatty acids have significant therapeutic value and are used as a supportive medication to treat many lifestyle disorders.
However, since the body cannot synthesise these on its own, it needs the help of sources like nuts, flaxseeds, fish (like rohu, rawas, pomfret, bangda, hilsa, singhara, etc.), their oils, and soybeans to fulfil its needs. If you are a pure vegetarian, you can supplement your daals with chilas (the desi pancake) and curd.
These polyunsaturated fats, with regular intake, can tone down that menstrual cramps¹ with ease.
But if you are considering Omega-3 supplements, go ahead only after a doctor gives you the green signal.
Your elders mean well, but unlike popular opinion, it is OK to have curd/yoghurt while on your period. Abundant calcium and probiotics can scale down the effects of menstrual cramps and improve gut health.
As an added benefit, the probiotics in yoghurt restore bacterial balance in the vagina. Therefore, yoghurt can solve two crucial concerns at a time – prevent bloating and reduce the chances of fungal infections.
You can relish it as buttermilk or an excellent smoothie for the best results.
If periods were a dating scene (try to think about it), then dark chocolate would be the most eligible bachelor/bachelorette in town! It can boost your mood like no other.
Along with excellent taste, dark chocolate is high in magnesium and flavonoids. Magnesium can relax those sore muscles, and the flavonoids from cacao are antioxidants that prevent cellular damage. In addition, it increases serotonin levels so you can tackle your mood swings better.
But one thing to keep in mind – as dark chocolate has some sugar present; it is best to have it in moderation. The sweetness feels fantastic for a while but may make you feel low once the effect wears off.
Your period can make you feel bloated, dull and sluggish. However, that shouldn’t be a reason to stop you from replenishing your fluids.
Because of fluid loss, you may experience dehydration headaches during your period. However, drinking fluids easily keep headaches and depression at bay throughout the day.
Coconut water, fruit, and vegetable juices are great options to refresh you throughout the day. Additionally, a cup of chamomile tea before bedtime guarantees a sound sleep.
Did you know that eating fewer fruits can increase your chances of menstrual pain?
Fruits are a surefire way to feel light and energetic. Packed with minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, they are simple but effective in managing bowel problems and bloating.
Apples, peaches, citrus fruits, berries, pears, and watermelons are readily available at the grocery store. If you are a banana lover, don’t be shy! They are among the best sources of potassium and fibre. You can stock these a few days in advance, so you don’t have to rush at the last moment.
As they are high in water, fruits can hydrate you well and maintain fluid levels. In addition, their fibre content gives you a sense of fullness, thus managing your hunger pangs for longer.
Eat 1-2 servings daily before your essential meals for maximum benefit.
Whole grains like brown rice, oatmeal, buckwheat (kuttu), jowar, bajra, etc., are complex carbohydrates. This unique property aids in better digestion and combats bloating.
They may sound boring, but they make for some delicious meal plans. You can experiment with yummy multigrain rotis and sabzi (veggies) or try your hand at chilas and dosas and see the difference. Then, combine them with homemade chutneys to add to their flavour.
Mother nature to the rescue! The beauty of plant life is that every part of it is valuable. Be it the bark, leaves, flowers or oil, herbs can fix various medical problems.
Painful periods (dysmenorrhea) can take the best ones down. But the good news is that several herbal remedies alleviate this.
Herbal formulations are available in capsules, tinctures, tablets, or decoctions. Here is a list of some herbs that are commonly in use:
- Pasque Flower
And the list goes on. But have a chat with your doctor first.
It seems like we can eat everything healthy under the sun. But what if we feel like snacking on something unhealthy?
What not to Eat During Your Periods?
The urge to binge during your period is natural, as hormones influence your body. The fluctuations are temporary, but giving in to your cravings ultimately may make you feel more drained out than before.
Studies prove that high intake of junk food and dysmenorrhoea² (painful periods) go hand in hand. So unhealthy foods might not be your friends on this one.
Does this mean that you can’t eat what you want to?
The answer is NO!
It’s OK to enjoy your favourite snack on occasion, be it that crackling bowl of popcorn or a small chocolate bar. However, a healthy balance between a good diet and cheat meals is the key to a happy period!
So here are some food items you need to be careful about consuming:
Because it can increase acidity, bloating, and constipation (occasionally). Tea is a better alternative.
Not everything that tastes sweet is good. Consuming too many sugary foods can cause significant shifts in blood glucose levels. This means the change in your mood from happy to sad can be quite fast.
It can impact the production of oestrogen and progesterone, which can adversely affect the functioning of the female reproductive system.
● Dairy Products:
They tend to amplify menstrual cramps because of their ability to cause congestion5. However, doctors have noticed a decline in menstrual cramps5 in females once they stop consuming dairy products while on their period.
● Oily and Fried Foods:
As they are replete with trans fats and saturated fats, their overconsumption can trigger cramping and metabolism of nutrients and hormones in the body.
● Red Meat:
Arachidonic acid is a unique fatty acid that plays an integral part in inflammation. This molecule is high in poultry items like red meat, seafood, etc. Therefore, having too many of these during periods can worsen cellular inflammation during periods. Therefore, eating them not more than three times a week is advisable.
● Salty Foods:
These are lip-smacking and irresistible to the tongue, but too much salt can retain water inside the body. This aggravates bloating and affects blood pressure regulation in the body.
● Processed Foods:
Refined/processed foods are low in fibre content, thus interfering with digestion.
Tips to Create a Healthy Meal Plan
Now that you know how to choose period-friendly foods, eating them at the right time is essential.
Here are a few pointers you can use to commit to a healthy meal plan:
- Instead of having three main meals, try bite-sizing them. You can split them into 4-5 small meals spread across the day. Keep it light on the tummy.
- Stick to your meal timings. Schedule an early dinner, so the stomach has ample time to digest it. Observe the difference when you sleep.
- Hydration matters. Target to drink up to 3 litres of water daily. But since everybody has different fluid requirements, this may vary. The point is to stay away from dehydration-related problems.
- Never underestimate the power of a heavy breakfast! Periods can be exhausting, and a good breakfast is just the thing that can help you power through the day.
- If breakfast powers you through the day, then mid-meal snacks help you keep the food cravings at bay! Always keep fruits, dry fruits, juice, nuts, etc., handy.
- Experiment with your food. Make your rotis with multigrain wheat. Try out ragi idlis, moong dal chilas, healthy smoothies, anything! The internet is full of some yummy experiments waiting to be dished out. Just keep them healthy, and you’re good to go!
The right food can make all the difference.
Dealing with periods can be quite a challenge for many. But with the proper diet, exercise, and ample rest can easily manage the symptoms.
This guide is there to help you make choices that suit your body type and physiology the best. If you are experiencing painful menses at a stretch, visit your gynaecologist at the earliest. Dysmenorrhoea and similar conditions need urgent attention.
1. Is it OK to have pickles during my period?
Yes! No study has proven any association between menses and the consumption of pickles, or sour food for that matter. So enjoy them as you wish.
2. I feel bloated all the time. Is it OK to skip meals?
On the contrary, skipping meals is not such a good idea. On the contrary, it is essential that you stay well nourished and hydrated at all times. This will help you cope with the weakness that can come with periods.
3. How can I control my salt cravings?
While direct salt consumption might not work, here are a few ways to help you manage salt cravings:
- Say no to salted nuts.
- Eat more green leafy vegetables, cheese, tofu, nuts, etc.
- Meditate and practice mindful eating techniques.
4. What if the cravings last longer than the periods?
If you feel your cravings are getting more severe by the day and are overstaying their limit, you should check for other signs. For example, are these cravings associated with anxiety or depression? Is there any unexpected weight gain?
Seek the opinion of a certified medical specialist to help you out.
5. Are supplements helpful in treating period pains?
Studies prove that nutritional supplements are effective in treating period pains5. For example, vitamin-A, magnesium, Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids, gelatin, and fermented cod-liver oil effectively manage tiredness, lethargy and fatigue. While a healthy diet can quickly provide these nutrients, you can always contact your doctor if additional supplementation is needed.
Written by Dr. Gauri Ghatnekar
Dr Gauri is an alumnus of Baba Farid University of Health Sciences, Faridkot. After completing her BDS, she pursued a PG Diploma in Emergency Medical Services from SIHS, Pune. She discovered her love for writing while learning to simplify complex medical information for her friends. She loves being creative with her words and experimenting with different forms of content. Beyond the screen, she is an avid reader and an adventure junkie.
Reviewed by Dr. Rashika Tripathi
Graduated from Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences, Bangalore, Rashika has six years of experience as a medical writer and reviewer. She has an eye for detail and aims to serve the best content for her readers. When at ease she enjoys reading books while working on her ginger tea.