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Watch your plate as your food choices will determine the health of your periods

Published on:10 August 2021, 08:00am IST
Periods come with a range of physical and emotional symptoms, and we generally reach out for the most unhealthy foods to feel better. But your diet really affects the way you feel. Read on to know more.
Dr Aalika Banerji Shah
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menstruation
Eat well to feel better during periods. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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Is it that time of the month again when cramps leave you screaming in pain, your mood seems to have a will of its own and your cravings have cravings, leaving you binge eating the unhealthiest of foods you can lay your hands on? Worry not because you are not alone. For millions of women across the globe, these are common precursors that signal the inevitable – aunt Flo is around the corner for her monthly visit. While regular periods are a sign of good health, they are often regarded as a bane by most women, because of the range of discomfort that accompanies their arrival.

As per reports, approximately 75 percent of women suffer from premenstrual symptoms (PMS) in their child-bearing years, ranging from mild discomfort to severe pain. Caused by the changing hormone levels that a woman undergoes throughout the course of her month cycle, it is believed that PMS is caused due to an individual’s sensitivity levels to these hormonal changes. There are over 150 symptoms that can be associated with PMS, the most common ones include irritability, bloating, mood swings, anxiety, fatigue, appetite changes, water retention and breast tenderness, which may occur from several days to two weeks before one’s period. While some of these symptoms might alter in intensity with age, they are usually recurrent. Apart from alerting women about their impending periods, they can also often disrupt regular life.

Lifestyle habits are equally important

 Besides uncontrollable factors that cause PMS, certain lifestyle habits too can influence the frequency of one’s premenstrual discomfort. Recognising these habits and addressing them through conscious changes can go a long way in making one’s cycle more comfortable. From getting a minimum of 6-8 hours of sound sleep regularly to alternating long workout schedules for 30 minutes to avoiding smoking, multiple small steps can help alleviate the intensity of PMS.

Also, read: Manage period pain with the right diet and these tips from a nutritionist

Apart from these, one factor that plays a key role is one’s diet. Yes – you heard it right. What you consume before and during your periods can greatly assist in managing the monthly symptoms. And while it might sound tough, especially given that your body craves to indulge in what seems to be the unhealthiest of foods during this time, making a conscious effort to follow a solid diet plan will help one feel their best.

menstrual hygiene day
Perhaps, the reason why your menstrual cramps are so excruciating is because of the absence of this nutrient in your diet. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Even as your body goes through numerous hormonal changes prior to the onset of your periods, one of the most common side effects is extreme fatigue and lethargy. It is, therefore, important to keep one’s energy levels up and consume a balanced amount of macronutrients. Choose from a host of healthy carbs that keep you feeling full for longer and provide long-lasting energy. Opt for whole grains such as oats, brown rice, barley, sorghum or popcorn, which are high in fibre and hence easy to digest. Starchy root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots and beets too are healthy options for carbs, in addition to being good sources of Vitamin A, which aids liver function in processing increasing estrogen levels.

Also, read: Is your daughter about to hit puberty? Here’s how you can prep her for her first period

Incorporating healthy fats in one’s diet is another important factor as it can help stabilize the mood swings caused by hormone levels that are out of whack a week before one’s periods. Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation and may help tackle cramps and period pain. Opt for ingredients such as olive oil, flaxseed and soybean oil, avocado and nuts in your diet. Not only are these good fats but they also boast a high protein content. Protein not only helps repair the daily wear and tear of the body and build muscles, but it also helps to boost immunity, while raising overall energy levels.

Protein is a must

 Inclusion of protein-rich foods such as chicken, fish, tofu and green leafy vegetables, which are also high in iron, can help one feel satiated and reduce untimely cravings. Their iron content helps battle the natural loss of iron that one’s body undergoes during bleeding, thereby tackling the extreme fatigue that one experiences before and during their periods.

Also, read: Wondering if you can exercise during periods? Mirabai Chanu is the inspiration you need

Should you not give in to cravings?

While one should avoid consuming high sugar or salty foods before or during one’s periods as they might aggravate water retention and cause bloating, it does not mean that one refrains from indulging in cravings completely. More often than not, cravings are an indication of the nutrient’s one’s body requires and opting for healthy alternatives to suit these cravings can prove helpful. Be it replacing a cheesy burger with a protein-rich soy or lentil patty or indulging in fries made of sweet potatoes or kale chips – don’t leave your taste buds hanging! Consuming magnesium rich food such as a bar of dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, nuts like almonds, cashews or even a creamy avocado taco can largely contribute to beat your cravings.

menstrual hygiene day
Manage period pain with these diet tips. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

 With cravings for chocolate mounting-fold during PMS, it has many of us reaching for an entire bar of chocolate to soothe our senses momentarily, which can prove to be quite unhealthy. Instead, sip on a healthy but flavoursome smoothie made of yogurt, soy or almond milk with peanut butter, berries or dark chocolate chunks, snack on a protein-rich granola bar or simply grab a piece or two of dark chocolate to satiate your sweet tooth. High not just in iron, dark chocolate also contains magnesium, which is found to reduce the severity of PMS symptoms.

Anything else?

Not just food, it is important to make note of the fluids consumed too. Drink lots of water to stay hydrated and help flush out toxins. Avoid too much caffeine and alcohol, as it can constrict your blood vessels and might increase the intensity of cramps. Instead, rejig your variety of fluid intake with kombucha, which is high in probiotics or even peppermint tea that can soothe menstrual cramps, nausea and diarrhoea.

The last word

So, don’t let aunty Flo get you low! A mindful diet, balanced exercise regime, activities that boost your mood, lots of rest and small indulgences – follow all this and more to enjoy physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing to reduce the monthly discomfort and enjoy your daily routine without any interruptions. 

Dr Aalika Banerji Shah Dr Aalika Banerji Shah

Dr Aalika Banerji Shah, medical nutritionist and aesthetic physician and a supporter of the Right To Protein initiative