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. Most of us are told to eat a banana when we have menstrual cramps because potassium is supposed to lessen muscle cramping and water retention. To be honest, this was really all I was aware of when it came to eating right for my monthly visitor. But 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 re-stabilizing 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 remarkable in its abilities to regulate mechanisms certain levels in the body and re-achieving homeostasis. 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 assist 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 periods. 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). Not only do cruciferous vegetables support the liver but they are also known to reduce your chance of developing certain forms of cancer and are rich in vitamins A, C and E as well as iron and folic acid.
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.
Equally as beneficial, the omega-3 fatty acids that are found in fish such as Salmon are also helpful during your cycle as they have anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, salmon, tuna and trout all have high levels of b12 which helps with blood cell formation, preventing anemia (which is especially tough for menstruators), boosting energy, and improving symptoms of depression. I know that I get extra moody and glum during my period.
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?
According to research, 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! If you are someone who struggles with strong PMS symptoms why not begin changing your diet, especially during this time to see if your body feels different? If you have the ability, do this for yourself and make your periods more manageable!