Different nutrients can help at different times of the month – here are the key foods to eat, and why
It’s a familiar pattern to many women – one week you’re craving chocolate or a huge bowl of pasta; the next you’re obsessed with salads and smoothies. But it’s not a figment of your imagination; a study published in the Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics found that thanks to hormonal changes over the month, your appetite does shift in different directions.1
Eating the right nutrients when you need them can help rebalance your hormones and – hopefully – make your period less hassle too.
Two weeks before your period
This is known as the ovulatory phase, when oestrogen hits its peak and levels of testosterone also start to rise.2Your energy levels will be at their highest – hello HIIT workouts and a revved-up sex drive – so you may find yourself craving proteins and high-fibre foods to fuel that energy increase.3
Your liver plays an important role in regulating hormones,4 so up your increase of liver-supporting foods to help keep things in balance. Aim to eat more artichokes, turmeric, chilli peppers and friendly bacteria to give your liver a boost.
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The week before your period
During the luteal phase, your progesterone levels rise to match high oestrogen levels.5 This is when you’ll experience the classic symptoms of PMS such as bloating, irritability, and cravings for carbs and stodgy foods.
Go for brown rice and wholegrain or granary bread, rather than the white varieties. These can help keep your blood sugar levels steady – preventing chocolate cravings – and contain B vitamins, which help your brain produce serotonin to stabilise mood swings.6
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The week of your period
The menstrual stage of your cycle needs no introduction, but you may not know the best foods to eat during your period. Start with oily fish, like salmon. A study published in the Caspian Journal of Internal Medicine in 2011 found young women taking 1000mg of fish oils a day experienced less severe period pain and menstrual cramps.7 This may be because fish oils have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.8
For heavy bleeding, try kale. It’s a good source of iron; if your periods are heavy, you’re at higher risk of iron-deficiency anaemia.8 Low iron levels have also been found to make PMS worse generally,9 so it’s a good idea to include plenty of iron-rich foods in your diet. Beans will give you a double-whammy of menstrual benefits, as they’re rich in iron and B vitamins.11
Do you get migraines every month? Up your intake of wheatgerm, which contains vitamin E. Menstrual migraines are caused by a rise in substances called pro-inflammatory prostaglandins during your period, and vitamin E has been shown to reduce levels of these compounds.
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The week after your period
Oestrogen and progesterone levels drop off during your period, so you can experience low energy levels during this, the follicular, phase.13 Focus on foods that are rich in iron – to help replace the iron you’ve just lost – and vitamin B2, known as the ‘energy vitamin’. Spinach, wholegrains, and nuts and seeds are good sources of both nutrients.
Your oestrogen levels begin to rise towards the end of the follicular phase, so it’s important to eat foods to help rebalance your hormones. Go for those high in fibre, such as dried fruit, and cruciferous veggies – broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage – that can have an anti-oestrogenic effect on your body.14
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Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
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1. Farage MA, Osborn TW, MacLean AB. Cognitive, sensory, and emotional changes associated with the menstrual cycle: a review. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18592262
2. Healthline. Cycle Syncing: Matching Your Health Style to Your Menstrual Cycle. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/guide-to-cycle-syncing-how-to-start
3. Blood + Milk. What to eat during each phase of your menstrual cycle. Available from: http://www.bloodandmilk.com/what-to-eat-during-each-phase-of-your-menstrual-cycle/
4. The Hepatitis C Trust. Hormone regulation. Available from: http://www.hepctrust.org.uk/information/liver/hormone-regulation
5. MSD Manual. Menstrual cycle. Available from: https://www.msdmanuals.com/en-gb/home/women-s-health-issues/biology-of-the-female-reproductive-system/menstrual-cycle
6. British Dietetic Association. Food fact sheet: Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). Available from: https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/pms.pdf
7. Zafari M, Behmanesh F, and Agha Mohammadi A. Comparison of the effect of fish oil and ibuprofen on treatment of severe pain in primary dysmenorrhea. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3770499/
8. As Source 5
9. NHS Choices. Iron: Vitamins and Minerals. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/iron/
10. Chocano-Bedoya PO, Manson JE, Hankinson SE et al. Intake of Selected Minerals and Risk of Premenstrual Syndrome. Found at: https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/177/10/1118/100730
11. As Source 5
12. Shaik MM, Gan SH. Vitamin Supplementation as Possible Prophylactic Treatment against Migraine with Aura and Menstrual Migraine. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4359851/
13. As Source 2
14. Healthbox. The best & worst foods for hormonal health. Available from: https://www.hollandandbarrett.com/the-health-hub/the-best-worst-foods-for-hormone-health/