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Manage period pain with the right diet and these tips from a nutritionist

Published on:30 May 2021, 01:00am IST
Eating a balanced diet can go a long way in helping you manage menstrual discomfort. Dr. Aalika Banerji Shah shares her expert take on the value of making lifestyle changes and consuming nutritious foods to alleviate period pain.
Dr Aalika Banerji Shah
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Manage period pain with these diet tips. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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Is it that time of the month again when cramps leave you 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? Well, worry not as you are not alone. For millions of women across the globe, these are common precursors that signal the inevitable – Aunty Flo’s 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% 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. 

Understanding and managing PMS

There over 150 symptoms can be associated with PMS, the most common ones include irritability, bloating, mood swings, anxiety, fatigue, appetite changes, water retention and breast tenderness. These symptoms 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 and apart from alerting women about their impending periods, they could also often disrupt regular life.

Besides uncontrollable factors that cause PMS, certain lifestyle habits can also influence the frequency and intensity of one’s premenstrual discomfort. Recognizing 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, switching to low impact exercises, to avoiding smoking, these significant changes can help alleviate the intensity of PMS.

Don’t let PMSing make you go crazy. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Eating right can help you manage period pain

Apart from these, one factor that plays a key role is one’s diet. What you consume before and during your periods can greatly assist in managing the monthly symptoms. While it might sound tough, especially given the cravings to indulge in unhealthiest of junk foods during this time, making a conscious effort to follow a balanced diet plan will help one feel their best.

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. Therefore, it is important to keep one’s energy levels up and consume a balanced amount of macronutrients. You may choose from a host of healthy carbs that keep you feeling full for longer and provide long-lasting energy. 

Also consider opting 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.

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, it also helps boost immunity while raising overall energy levels. 

Inclusion of protein-rich foods such as chicken, fish, tofu and green leafy vegetables, which are also high in iron, can help one feeling sated 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.

Say bye-bye to period pain with a healthy diet. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Beat those period 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 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. With cravings for chocolate mounting manyfold 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.

Keep yourself hydrated while you’re menstruating

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.

So ladies, 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 will go a long way in alleviating menstrual discomfort. 

Dr Aalika Banerji Shah Dr Aalika Banerji Shah

Dr Aalika Banerji Shah is a medical nutritionist and an aesthetic physician. She is also a supporter of the Right To Protein initiative