It’s that time of the month again. You’re bloated. You’re hangry. And you’re craving chocolate, ice cream, and salt and vinegar potato chips. But part of you wonders: Is indulging going to make me feel better . . . or worse?
What should I stay away from?
According to Dr. A. Nicky Hjort, M.D., OB-GYN, there are no hard and fast rules about what not to eat when you’re on your period. Common sense is the name of the game, she says. “Most women, when they’re on their cycle, retain fluid and feel crampy, [so] anything that makes you feel more bloated, swollen, and miserable” is just going to make you even more so.
Our bodies need certain types of fuel to thrive, and replacing these with less nourishing foods isn’t going to do you any favors any time of the month. Dr. John Fejes, MD, FACOG, and an OB-GYN at the Community Hospital of Monterey Peninsula, recommends avoiding anything that makes you feel gassy, such as FODMAPs—short-chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols such as fructose, lactose, and sorbitol—which are “poorly absorbed in the small intestine and pass through to the large intestine,” where they may cause bowel issues.
Consider your typical diet and how it affects the way you feel throughout the day. Dr. Hjort says, “The things that make you feel bad even when you’re not on your period are going to make you feel even worse, so what does that look like for you?” For most of us, these three items likely aren’t doing us much good.
01. Saturated fats
“High-quality fats are very different than low-quality fats,” says Dr. Hjort. Avoid saturated fats, like those in fried foods, i.e. doughnuts, fried chicken, or French fries. Instead, opt for avocadoes, full-fat Greek yogurt, nuts and nut butters, fish oils (for omega-3 fatty acids), or chia seeds. If you must have fries, baked sweet potatoes are a worthy alternative.
Potato chips and a lot of sodas (many contain sodium) will “probably cause you to retain more fluid,” says Dr. Hjort, which is something most of us don’t need any help with when Aunt Flo makes her visit. As a general rule, avoid “anything low in water versus high in water.” That means fresh fruits and vegetables are a good choice that you’ll be thanking yourself for later. And need we say it? Hydrate! You'll feel less tired, more energized, and in a better mood.
03. Excessive alcohol or caffeine
The key word here is “excessive.” A glass of wine or a cup of coffee won’t do harm if that's what you typically enjoy, Dr. Hjort says, but too much of anything is never a good thing. Try adding one of these energy-boosting foods—like ginger tea—to your diet, and you may not want that second (or third) cup of coffee anyway.
So, what should I be eating?
If you’re already eating a healthy, balanced diet, stick with it during your period. Try to add in more vitamin- and mineral-rich foods, since your body could use “just a little bit extra” these days, says Dr. Hjort. Pineapple, watermelon, and strawberries—which some people use as a natural diuretic—are just a few examples of good-for-your-period foods.
For a healthy, period-friendly diet, Dr. Hjort also recommends “leaner, whiter meats rather than red meats,” “fats like omega-3s and avocados,” and “anything that is alkalinizing,” like spinach and kale. Try swapping the Romaine in your salad for spinach or whip up a smoothie that combines it with a nut butter—a healthy (and delicious) fat.
What about the chocolate rumors?
In the days leading up to your period, serotonin levels tend to drop, due to what Dr. Hjort calls “a hormonal cascade.” Many women—Dr. Hjort included!—crave chocolate during this phase of their cycle. Dark chocolate not only contains a good deal of serotonin, but it can also cause the body to produce even more serotonin, which is good for your brain and your gut. Look for varieties with 70 to 85 percent cacao, but don’t overdo it: an ounce a day should do the trick.
In addition to eating well, Dr. Fejes says that certain doses of vitamin E, vitamin B1, fish oil, vitamin D, and ginger can help alleviate PMS, including painful cramping. Heating pads and exercise may help, too, without causing side effects.
As inconvenient as Aunt Flo’s visits can seem, a regular period is a sign that a lot of other things are going right in your body. Nourishing your hard-working self means you can feel your best and give your best every day. Period.
Photo Credit: Ali Inay