How do periods impact Nutrition?

How do periods impact Nutrition?

Wondering how to change eating habits through your period cycle?


Hormone changes through the menstrual cycles can cause huge changes in how we feel – from energized one week to bloated and tired the next. Nutritional changes throughout the cycle can help women feel and perform better. Here are researchers’ recommendations:

Menstrual phase- when the uterine lining is shedding; this phase usually lasts 3-6 days and is when hormones estrogen and progesterone are lowest. Usually women have low energy levels.

  1. Iron: During your period, you may lose a lot of iron because of blood loss, so it is important to replenish lost iron to avoid feeling fatigued.
    Sources: red meat, seafood, legumes, and dark leafy greens
  2. Vitamin C: Helps the body absorb iron.
    Sources: citrus fruits, bell peppers, and tomatoes 
  3. Omega-3 fatty acids: Reduces inflammation and can help decrease symptoms such as pain, fatigue, and headache.
    Sources: salmon and flax seeds
  4. Limit tea and coffee: These drinks are high in polyphenols, which can inhibit iron absorption. It’s recommended that women wait a few hours in between an iron rich meal and a cup of coffee. In addition, caffeine makes blood vessels constrict which may make period cramps worse, but this isn’t strongly supported in research so do what makes you feel best.

Follicular phase- This phase follows menstruation and lasts until ovulation, which is usually about 14 days after the start of the cycle. Hormone levels are rising along with energy levels.

  1. Complex carbs: Help fuel workouts and support higher energy levels.
    Sources: whole grains and rice

Ovulation- This is a 24 hour period that usually occurs 14 days after the start of the period when an egg is being released. Increases in hormones, especially estrogen, can leave you feeling energetic. 

  1. Normal, healthy diet

Luteal phase- This 14 day phase occurs after ovulation. The uterus is preparing for pregnancy, but if the egg is not fertilized, hormone levels decline in preparation for the period. Nutrition during this phase is all about supporting your body to minimize PMS symptoms.

  1. Fiber: The hormone progesterone is the highest during this phase, which is a cause of constipation. Eating fiber can keep your digestive system moving. Avoid foods that cause you digestive distress, including carbonated beverages.
    Sources: whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables
  2. Magnesium: Shown to reduce PMS symptoms
    Sources: pumpkin seeds, nuts, and leafy greens
  3. More Food! As your hormone levels change, so do energy needs and hunger levels, so listen to your body and give it the fuel it needs. 

When trying to eat in accordance with your cycle, listen to your body. Be mindful of food cravings; your body knows what it needs! Studies show that women tend to follow these guidelines intuitively. For example, many women crave dark chocolate during their period, which is high in iron which your body needs at this time. 


These are recommendations based on the sources cited below. If you have any concerns about nutrition, consult a physician or certified dietician. 


By Carlyn Johnson

Sources:

Fathizadeh, N., Ebrahimi, E., Valiani, M., Tavakoli, N., & Yar, M. H. (2010). Evaluating the effect of magnesium and magnesium plus vitamin B6 supplement on the severity of premenstrual syndrome. Iranian journal of nursing and midwifery research, 15(Suppl 1), 401–405. 

Gorczyca, A. M., Sjaarda, L. A., Mitchell, E. M., Perkins, N. J., Schliep, K. C., Wactawski-Wende, J., & Mumford, S. L. (2016). Changes in macronutrient, micronutrient, and food group intakes throughout the menstrual cycle in healthy, premenopausal women. European journal of nutrition, 55(3), 1181–1188. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-015-0931-0

Hirschberg A. L. (2012). Sex hormones, appetite and eating behaviour in women. Maturitas, 71(3), 248–256. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.maturitas.2011.12.016 

Martini, M. C., Lampe, J. W., Slavin, J. L., & Kurzer, M. S. (1994). Effect of the menstrual cycle on energy and nutrient intake. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 60(6), 895–899. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/60.6.895 

Mohammadi, M. M., Dehghan Nayeri, N., Mashhadi, M., & Varaei, S. (2022). Effect of omega-3 fatty acids on premenstrual syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. The journal of obstetrics and gynaecology research, 48(6), 1293–1305. https://doi.org/10.1111/jog.15217 

Purdue-Smithe, A. C., Manson, J. E., Hankinson, S. E., & Bertone-Johnson, E. R. (2016). A prospective study of caffeine and coffee intake and premenstrual syndrome. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 104(2), 499–507. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.115.127027 

Tarasuk, V., & Beaton, G. H. (1991). Menstrual-cycle patterns in energy and macronutrient intake. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 53(2), 442–447. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/53.2.442 

West, L., Warren, J., & Cutts, T. (1992). Diagnosis and management of irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, and diarrhea in pregnancy. Gastroenterology clinics of North America, 21(4), 793–802. 



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