The monthly period can be a trying time for many women, bringing along pain, cramps, bloating, and mood swings. An estimated 85 percent of all menstruating women say they experience one or more premenstrual symptoms.1 If those 3 to 4 days are replete with aches and pains, exhaustion, and a generally low mood, it’s time you watch what you’re eating. Certain foods can actually heighten your anxiety or worsen your cramps. Zero in on these problem foods and you may experience a less difficult period the next time around!
Why Diet Matters
Diet, alongside sleep and exercise, can play a key role in your menstrual cycle and help with symptoms if you do things right. On the one hand, that means eating foods that are rich in iron like dark leafy greens; in vitamin B like eggs, whole grains, poultry, almonds; and in vitamin C like citrus fruit, red peppers, strawberries to ease symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.2 And on the other, it means avoiding certain foods that could set off cramps or worsen bloating, mood swings, and irritability.3
Foods To Avoid During Your Periods
1. Refined Foods
To help prevent or alleviate symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), have complex carbs through fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.4 Unfortunately, refined foods are often made from simple carbohydrates that your body burns through quickly, leaving you feeling hungry and tired after the initial “rush” of energy wears off. Many processed and refined foods also contain hidden sugars that compound your problem of fatigue or mood swings. Plus, there’s added salt, chemicals, and artificial flavoring to enhance the look and taste of the food. Which is why you should steer clear of foods like these:
- White bread
- Packaged foods like potato chips, nachos, pretzels, or other snacks
- Instant rice
- Low fiber cereal
- Commercially manufactured/mass produced cookies, pastries, and cakes
Buy whole grain and minimally processed foods. Try and eat organic when you can.
2. Fatty And Fried Foods
Your period pain and symptoms may be linked to acute inflammation in the body, which can be measured by checking levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in your liver. As one study found, middle-aged women who had higher CRP levels also had a 26 to 41 percent higher risk of PMS symptoms like abdominal cramps, back pain, breast pain, bloating, cravings, and weight gain.5 And while this study was limited to a certain age group and further research on a wider demographic is needed, inflammation otherwise too can have adverse implications for your health.
Consuming too much fatty foods, especially saturated fats and trans fats, can cause inflammation in the body.6 Steer clear of the following during your period – however tempted you are!
- Deep fried food like onions rings, french fries, and doughnuts
- Commercially baked goods
- Fast food
- Fatty red meat
- Cheese and fatty dairy products
- Any foods that contain hydrogenated vegetable oil or hard margarine
Use healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil for cooking and opt for lower fat or skimmed versions of dairy products.
3. Salty Foods
If water retention and bloating are problems you face every month, staying off salty foods could help. Too much of salt in your body can throw off the fluid balance, leading to swelling, higher blood pressure, and that dreaded bloat. This means avoiding7:
- Salty snacks and packaged snacks like salted nuts
- Pickles and pickle relish
- Readymade sauces like soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and even condiments like mayonnaise
- Smoked/canned/cured meats
- Canned foods (including canned vegetables and soups)
Settle only for healthy fresh foods instead. Use a twist of lime or gentle spices, apple cider vinegar, and olive oil dressings or sauces to amp up the flavor.
4. Sugary Foods
Mood swings and even anxiety are common PMS symptoms. Giving in to cravings for sweet, sugary foods can make you feel more anxious and stressed.8 Also, while sugary foods can give you a quick rush of energy, once your body burns through it, your blood sugar levels plummet. This leaves you feeling even worse than before. Besides affecting your mood, it can also increase water retention.9 Here’s what you should avoid:
- Sugary sodas and drinks
- Any foods that contain refined sugar
Instead of refined sugar, use honey as a sweetener or eat fresh fruit to satisfy the sugar cravings.
Alcohol may seem to take the edge off period pain and anxiety, but you’ll eventually end up feeling worse. It could cause your menstrual cramps to last longer, a condition known as dysmenorrhea.10 Alcohol may even deprive you of a good night’s rest by disrupting sleep in the second half of the night, as one study found.11 For a few days, staying off the tipple and having fresh homemade vegetable or fruit juices is a smarter choice.
6. Fatty Red Meat
Fatty red meat is high in saturated fat which can cause inflammation in the body. It also contains arachidonic acids. These fats are linked to the production of prostaglandins, which raise inflammation in the body and cause cramping and pain.12 Switch to inflammation-fighting, omega-3-rich fatty fish like salmon or tuna and feel better.
7. Caffeine: Mixed Reviews
The jury is out when it comes to caffeine, so it may be best to listen to your body and decide what’s best for you. On the one hand, a cup of coffee or tea may get you get through the exhaustion and lethargy of a long day during your period. Unfortunately, on the other, caffeine can also elevate tension and anxiety and cause mood swings by raising levels of the stress hormone cortisol.13 It can also interfere with sleep.14 Here are foods that contain caffeine you should go easy on:
- Caffeinated drinks/energy drinks/sodas
- Candy that contains caffeine like coffee-flavored sweets
The best way to deal with caffeine is probably to just limit your intake and have it only during the first half of the day. Avoid chugging down too much within a few hours of bedtime.
|↑1||2011 Women’s Health stats & facts. The American Congress Of Obstetricians And Gynecologists.|
|↑2, ↑4||Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) – Treatment. National Health Service.|
|↑3||Premenstrual syndrome. National Health Service.|
|↑5||Gold, Ellen B., Craig Wells, and Marianne O’Neill Rasor. “The association of inflammation with premenstrual symptoms.” Journal of Women’s Health 25, no. 9 (2016): 865-874.|
|↑6||Kennedy, Arion, Kristina Martinez, Chia-Chi Chuang, Kathy LaPoint, and Michael McIntosh. “Saturated fatty acid-mediated inflammation and insulin resistance in adipose tissue: mechanisms of action and implications.” The Journal of nutrition 139, no. 1 (2009): 1-4.|
|↑7||Guidelines for a Low Sodium Diet.University of California San Francisco Medical Center.|
|↑8||Chepulis, Lynne M., Nicola J. Starkey, Joseph R. Waas, and Peter C. Molan. “The effects of long-term honey, sucrose or sugar-free diets on memory and anxiety in rats.” Physiology & behavior 97, no. 3 (2009): 359-368.|
|↑9, ↑10||Premenstrual syndrome. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑11||Ebrahim, Irshaad O., Colin M. Shapiro, Adrian J. Williams, and Peter B. Fenwick. “Alcohol and sleep I: effects on normal sleep.” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 37, no. 4 (2013): 539-549.|
|↑12||Bieglmayer, C., G. Hofer, C. Kainz, A. Reinthaller, B. Kopp, and H. Janisch. “Concentrations of various arachidonic acid metabolites in menstrual fluid are associated with menstrual pain and are influenced by hormonal contraceptives.” Gynecological endocrinology 9, no. 4 (1995): 307-312.|
|↑13||Lovallo, William R., Thomas L. Whitsett, Mustafa al’Absi, Bong Hee Sung, Andrea S. Vincent, and Michael F. Wilson. “Caffeine stimulation of cortisol secretion across the waking hours in relation to caffeine intake levels.” Psychosomatic medicine 67, no. 5 (2005): 734.|
|↑14||Drake, Christopher, Timothy Roehrs, John Shambroom, and Thomas Roth. “Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed.” J Clin Sleep Med 9, no. 11 (2013): 1195-1200.|