A woman's diet directly affects her hormones and menstrual cycle. Paying attention to what you eat can produce a more regular, less painful period, and a healthier state of mind.
Consistency is a key component of a healthy lifestyle. A single muffin isn’t going to sabotage your waistline, and neither will a lone salad clear your complexion. It can, however, be difficult to stick to your goals when your body is seemingly working against itself.
The range of symptoms associated with PMS are caused by changing hormone levels that happen throughout the menstrual cycle, particularly that of estrogen. These changes can cause cravings as our basic metabolism speeds up and the body demands more calories.
These cravings gradually diminish a day or two into menstruation, but by then, many of us have already given into the siren call of energy-dense, fatty and sugary foods that activate the brain’s reward system, a.k.a. comfort foods. Chocolate, a known favourite, has a strong effect on one’s mood, immediately increasing pleasant feelings and reducing tension.
Studies have shown that although typical comfort foods can provide temporary emotional relief, so do other, healthier foods (and healthy foods won’t make you crash later).
There exists a nutrient profiling system through which scientists have derived 12 antidepressant nutrients out of the 34 nutrients necessary for human survival. These are folate, iron, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, potassium, selenium, thiamine, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, and zinc.
The highest ranking animal foods on the Antidepressant Food Score, or AFS, are oysters, mussels, clams, octopus, poultry giblets, and organ meats. The highest scoring plant foods are leafy greens, lettuce, peppers, and cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and green cabbage.
Here are some tips for a mood-lifting (and generally healthy) diet:
The amount of food you eat will have an effect on your well-being. Go for smaller, more frequent meals rather than a few hearty ones. This will help keep your blood sugar steady. Also, remember to be consistent—maintaining a healthy diet throughout the entire month will be much more effective than switching things up right before your period.
Most women are no strangers to the unpleasant physical manifestations of menstruation—bloating, fluid retention, muscle aches, joint pain, headaches, acne, abdominal cramps, nausea, diarrhea, constipation. A healthy diet is a formidable weapon in tackling these symptoms.
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon, tuna, mackerel, linseed, walnuts, and chia seeds, can significantly reduce the intensity of menstrual cramps. Daily consumption of omega-3 supplements for two months can decrease both menstrual pain and inflammation. Although omega-3 supplements are usually safe, side effects can occur. These include gas, bloating, diarrhea. They can increase bleeding if you are taking blood thinning medications or if you have bleeding disorders.
Almonds, cashews, bananas, avocados and black beans are natural sources of magnesium, one of the seven essential macrominerals. Combined with vitamin B6, it is said to relieve bloating, insomnia, breast tenderness, as well as anxiety. However, people with kidney problems are advised not to take magnesium supplements, as the kidneys are responsible for flushing excess magnesium from the body, and more than 100mg of B6 daily can cause peripheral neuropathy.
Vitamins B1 and B2 are associated with a significantly lower risk of PMS. These can be found in whole grains, lean protein, and a whole range of fruits, berries, and vegetables.
Iron is essential in energy production, growth, development, and the synthesis of hormones. It also helps to keep the immune system healthy. Lentils, spinach, white rice, beef, kidney beans, chickpeas, oysters, potatoes, tofu, sardines, kale, seaweed are all rich in iron. To facilitate iron absorption, eat them with foods that are high in vitamin C.
Calcium improves mood and concentration, reduces water retention and pain. A lack of vitamin D is associated with menstrual disorders. Women with higher intakes of both are less likely to suffer from PMS. Cheese, yoghurt, soy milk, fortified orange juice are all good sources of calcium, but vitamin D is difficult to get enough of through food—visit your local pharmacy for supplements and spent some time in the sun.
Ginkgo biloba has been found to be an effective remedy against breast tenderness and fluid retention, and it has a range of other benefits—studies show it may enhance memory, improve social behavior and reduce anxiety. Some types of medication may not be compatible with ginkgo. Children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, epileptics, and people who take blood thinners should avoid it.
Sweets and junk food are a satisfying way to make blood sugar rise, providing momentary relief from irritability and fatigue. After spiking, however, blood sugar will crash, leaving you back where you started (or worse off). Sugar also causes inflammation, something that women already suffer from during while menstruating.
Alcohol is a known diuretic—it increases urine production and promotes dehydration, which may worsen cramps, cause headaches and drowsiness. Heavy drinking is confirmed to exacerbate PMS symptoms. Alcohol also tends to disrupt your sleep cycle, which is something you don’t want to do when your body needs rest. That said, a glass of wine probably won’t hurt—just be mindful, and listen to what your body tells you.
Caffeine is a mild diuretic. It contains oils that may inflame your intestines and cause cramping, and it heightens the levels of cortisol, norepinephrine and epinephrine, which are stress hormones that are responsible for elevating blood pressure and heart rate. Stress can delay, even temporarily shut down the process of menstruation. Women who consume caffeine are more likely to have shortened or irregular cycles, since caffeine restricts blood vessels, which reduces blood flow.
Although sodium is an essential nutrient, it may be worth reducing your salt intake. Many consume salt in excess, which heightens blood pressure and increases fluid retention.
Some women drink less water during menstruation in order to feel less bloated or avoid the need to urinate more often (which can get especially annoying for those of us that wear menstrual cups), but this is doing them a disservice. Being dehydrated is likely to worsen your symptoms.
Contrary to popular belief, drinking more water actually helps reduce bloating. It also helps with managing cramps, fatigue, and mood swings. Some women experience diarrhea or vomiting in combination with menstrual cramps—in these cases, it’s absolutely vital to replace lost fluids.
Get in the habit of drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water per day. It may seem like a chore at first if you don’t usually drink all that much of it, but your body will soon adapt and start demanding water when you need it. If you’re not a fan of plain water, you can add some lemon or lime, a slice of cucumber, or a few fresh mint leaves for a bit of flavour. Tea is also a good option, especially herbal tea that doesn’t contain any caffeine (although even caffeinated beverages are better than nothing). You can also increase your fluid intake with juicy fruit, like watermelon, or liquid food, like soup.
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