Guess it's time for some avo- cardio!
I am sure that many menstruators are aware of some of the cravings we experience during our cycles, such as sweets, iron rich foods like red meat, etc. However, were you aware that certain foods can help in coping with menstrual symptoms, while others may exacerbate these symptoms? I did not know either until recently, but let’s taco-bout some of these foods that can either help or worsen the menstrual symptoms related to hormonal changes.
First off, why is it that we crave certain foods during our period? Generally, menstruators are supposed to have an equal balance in levels of sex hormones such as progesterone and estrogen. However, sometimes these hormones can become imbalanced, causing a variety of changes in the body. This explains why many women who experience heavy or hard to manage periods are often given birth control and sometimes progesterone only birth control pills. Scientists believe that a drop in progesterone levels with a rise in estrogen levels lowers the body’s blood sugar. Consequently, this leaves many of us craving sweets which is are our body’s fastest way of balancing blood sugar in the body. The unfortunate thing about ingesting simple sugars during our period such as chocolate and candy is that the initial spike in blood sugar is then followed by a rapid decline. This rapid decline in blood sugar can then cause irritability, anxiety and more sugar cravings. Needless to say, simple sugars/carbohydrates are only a quick fix, while complex carbohydrates are recommended instead. This is because complex carbohydrates take the body longer to break down, and are absorbed better, helping with rebalancing blood sugar while simultaneously curbing cravings. Sugar cravings can also be due to a drop in serotonin levels, which is responsible for mood regulation, as well as an increase in the stress hormone, cortisone
The body is truly amazing in its mechanisms of regulating certain levels in the body. This can also explain why some individuals crave red meat during their cycle. As blood is lost by the body, more iron is needed to help form new blood cells and replace lost blood. However, there are other amazing sources of non-heme iron, although it is not as easily digested as the heme iron acquired from liver meats or red meat. If you prefer iron that is derived from plants, you can take vitamin C to help your body in iron absorption (Brown, 2017). An example of this would be mixing mandarins or oranges in with your spinach salad. Moreover, when an imbalance occurs between estrogen and progesterone, we can experience an increase in sometimes unfavourable menstrual symptoms. More specifically, if one becomes estrogen dominant (fairly common) we can experience worsened symptoms of cramps, heavy bleeding, fibrocystic breasts, headaches, irritability, allergies, weight gain, depression, anxiety, etc. This imbalance can happen due to diet, body weight, stress, adrenal or endocrine issues, digestional issues, liver problems, etc. Needless to say, there are both external as well as internal factors that can affect our ability to manage our Aunt flo. With that being said, did you know that certain foods also naturally contain estrogen as well as other foods that can assist it clearing excess estrogen from the body? As the liver is directly related with estrogen, it is important to eat foods that help support the liver in detoxification such as cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, etc). When the liver becomes over active, it can have difficulty clearing excess estrogen from the body. Milk thistle is a great supplement that can be taken in order to support the liver in detoxification of excess estrogen.
As many of the meats we ingest have antibiotics and hormones in them, it is recommended that you ingest cleaner or organic meats during menstruation, or if this is not possible, reduce your meat consumption at this time. These meats contribute to chemicals in the body (causing the liver to work harder to detoxify the body) AND add extra estrogen to our bodies, which can promote estrogen dominance. Good to know right?
There are other foods that can increase estrogen levels in the body, leading to worsened menstrual symptoms such as soy and soy products, foods that are high in pesticides, and as mentioned before non-organic meats.
To simplify, if you are one of those individuals who are estrogen dominant and suffer from menstrual symptoms that can affect your quality of life, some foods that you should avoid are:
Fruits and veggies containing lots of pesticides
Simple sugars like chocolate bars and gummies
On the contrary, foods and supplements that can assist your body in expelling excess estrogen as well as help to manage sugar cravings are:
Other than that, try to participate in activities that help lower stress such as meditation and exercise!