Gang, can we talk fluctuating hormones? Of course we can, we’re Hormona! Not that you don’t already know this, but that month-long hormone rollercoaster can be an absolute B. One minute you’re jumping for joy, and the next you’ve rolled into a ball on the floor in floods of tears. But here’s the good news: You can eat for your cycle. Yup. Food. Hormones. Working together. Delicious!
Hormones and your cycle
As anyone who’s ever had a period will know, your hormones don’t just fluctuate during your period. They’re literally at it all the damn time. That’s why you get PMS the week before your period. But it’s why you also get reverse-PMS the week after, when you feel like a boss.
Your reproductive hormones, Estrogen, Progesterone, and Testosterone actually rise and fall twice during your Menstrual cycle. That starts during your Menstrual phase, or period, and goes through the Follicular, Ovulation, and Luteal phases, covering around a 28-day stretch.
And as we can often be heard to say, good nutrition goes hand-in-hand with great hormone health. So here’s how to eat for your cycle, and give your body a helping hand every day of the month.
Eat for your cycle: Menstrual phase
Ah, periods. Yes, despite the enormous amount of sugar and junk you’ve likely been craving during your Menstrual phase, there are ways to eat well and feel better anyway.
During your period, it’s essential that you keep your body well-fuelled with food that boosts your Iron and Magnesium levels. Your body is working hard during this phase and relies on food that will keep it nourished and energized. Regardless of how many cookies you want. And here’s how to do that:
Water is essential for combatting the dehydration headaches that often accompany your period. Drinking lots of water is always important, but during this phase, it can also prevent water retention, which leads to bloating. No, really. Hydration is super-useful.
And if drinking water is something you struggle with, may we suggest an anti-inflammatory tea? Chamomile, Peppermint, Ginger, and Green teas can work wonders for cramps and hydrate you at the same time. Genius!
Similarly, water-rich fruit and veggies are also great for staying hydrated during the Menstrual phase of your cycle. Watermelon, cucumber, and oranges are just a few of the conveniently delicious ways to stay hydrated. Also, the natural sugars in fruit can help alleviate your cravings in a way that doesn’t spike your blood pressure.
Leafy green vegetables
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that bleeding every few weeks can leave you with low Iron levels. And that’s particularly true if you’re a heavy-flow gal. That means dizzy spells, muscle and limb weakness, and fatigue all visit you once a month. The good news is, you can eat for your cycle, and replace that lost Iron.
Leafy, dark green veggies including kale, spinach, cabbage, and watercress can all help boost your Iron levels. Plus, they’re all great sources of Magnesium, Fiber, Vitamin C, and Vitamin K. In other words, those greens are your friends!
It turns out that ginger isn’t just useful in tea form. A 2018 study found that ginger was also effective at reducing nausea in pregnant women during their first trimester. If feeling sick is one of your PMS symptoms, why not give it a try? Can we say stir-fry?
If you’re pescetarian, or just like fish and chips, this one’s for you. And that’s because, as proteins go, fish is fab for the Menstrual phase of your cycle. It’s full of Iron, but it’s the omega-3 fatty acids that help you eat for your cycle here.
Not only are omega-3s great for your general health, they’re also fab for cramps. But wait, it gets better. They might even play a role in combatting the depression and low self-esteem that periods bring with them. Bring on the smoked salmon!
If fish isn’t your type of protein, you’re in luck. And that’s because chicken is also a fab source of Iron. But it can also help curb those carb cravings that take hold once a month — it’s a low GI food, which means you stay full for longer.
Oh yes. We were always going to put this on the list. Dark chocolate isn’t just a dreamy, gorgeous-tasting snack that makes everything better. It’s also packed with Magnesium. Why is that important? Because Magnesium can help reduce the severity of your PMS. We told you. Food. Hormones. Working together. We love it!
You can also get your Magnesium from lentils, soybeans, baked beans, and nuts, including almonds and cashews. And yes, we’ve had the dark chocolate-almonds-cashews combo… Amazing.
Don’t eat for your cycle: Avoid these foods
Annoyingly, much of the food that your body craves during your period is junk. It’s fantastic-tasting junk, but junk nonetheless. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give in every now and then, because most food is fine in moderation. But if you try and stick to a healthy diet all month, you’ll feel better in the long run!
While salt is – undeniably – delicious, eating a lot of it can result in water retention. And that leads to bloating and the general feeling that you’ll never fit into your jeans again. Try and avoid anything with a super-high salt content. Takeaways, we’re looking at you.
Gang, we’ve all been there. It’s day two of the period and you’ve already downed three cartons of Dulce de Leche. Those sugar cravings are crazy, aren’t they? But here’s why they’re also crazy bad. That energy spike followed by a huge crash just makes your PMS worse. And that’s before you start worrying about the sheer volume of ice cream you’ve ingested.
Avoiding sugary foods doesn’t just help your PMS though. It’ll also do your blood sugar an enormous favor. Eat for your cycle and swap in some fruit instead of that second carton, and your body will thank you.
While we normally advocate for coffee — how else are you supposed to get through the morning? — during your period, it’s not so great. Too much coffee can cause bloating, as well as exacerbating hydration or tension headaches. Try and keep it to a few cups a day to reduce the chances of bloating. Oh, and it can also cause diarrhea. So, you know.
Regardless of periods, we all know how good alcohol is at dehydrating you and causing headaches. But it can also make PMS-related bloating, nausea, and diarrhea much worse. Plus, PMS with a hangover is absolutely horrendous. Avoid wherever possible.
Eat for your cycle: Follicular Phase
Now, here’s where things get a tad bit complicated. The Follicular phase actually starts on the first day of your period, but for most hormone purposes, it starts once your period has ended. With us so far? It covers the first half of your cycle, and as such, lasts around two weeks or so.
During the follicular phase, your ovaries are busy growing potential eggs, in readiness for Ovulation. That growth is spurred on by Follicle Stimulating Hormone, or FSH, and Luteinizing hormone, or LH. Both of which are encouraged by the Estrogen produced by your ovaries, and so on, until an egg reaches maturity. At which point, you ovulate and the Follicular phase is over. Here’s how to eat for this stage:
If you thought the Follicular phase was complicated, wait til you hear this. Plants also have Estrogen — the Phytoestrogens of the title — and they can do one of two things when you eat them. Some increase your Estrogen level. But others can actually reduce it.
If you live with heavy periods, severe PMS, or fibroids, you could well have higher than typical Estrogen levels. So it might be worth adding flax seed, tofu, sesame seed, dried fruit, and garlic to your diet during this phase. They’re all packed with the Estrogen-reducing kind of Phytoestrogens, and could well help you manage your symptoms.
Yup, we’re back to the dark chocolate! Your Magnesium levels are at their lowest during the Follicular phase, which means your body could do with a boost. Adding Magnesium-rich grains, leafy vegetables, and nuts — as well as the candy — could help you better metabolize all that Estrogen.
Healthy fats, including our old friends omega-3s, are a great way to give your body a hand during this phase. Your body working really hard maturing those eggs on top of everything else, and these fatty acids are just what it’s after:
- Nuts, including almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, and walnuts.
- Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna.
- Pumpkin, flax, chia, hemp, sesame, or sunflower seeds.
- Avocados in any form.
- Plant-based oils including olive and avocado oil.
Veggies should be a part of everyone’s diet, but if you’re a period-having type, cruciferous vegetables are even more important. They’re great for supporting your Menstrual cycle, as they’re packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and Phytoestrogens. And your body would love the extra help during this phase. Cruciferous vegetables include:
- Brussels sprouts
- Bok Choy
Despite their bad rep, not all Carbs have a negative effect on your body. In fact, irregular periods are often associated with a low-carb diet. High-fiber carbs are the good guys and can help regulate your cycle and keep your gut healthy. High-fiber carbohydrates include:
- Root vegetables, including potatoes, carrots, and beetroot.
- Oranges and pears.
- Beans and lentils.
- Squash, sweet potato, and green beans.
- Whole grains including brown rice and quinoa.
Eat for your cycle: Ovulation phase
This is the shortest phase of your Menstrual cycle, lasting just a few days. Basically, Ovulation occurs once your egg has matured and is released into your Fallopian tube, where it waits for fertilization. Fair warning, where Ovulation lasts a few days, you’re actually fertile for up to seven — yes, seven — days. That’s information worth having.
Your Estrogen levels hit their peak during this phase, and you’ll probably feel like an absolute boss, right in the middle of your cycle. It’s amazing and we wish it lasted all month. Here’s how to eat like a boss:
If you’re after baking a new human, adding polyunsaturated fatty acids to your diet during Ovulation can benefit both the developing egg and embryo implantation.
Even if you’re not on the pregnancy spectrum, omega-3 fatty acids can lower your blood pressure and improve cognitive function. And that’s good for your entire being. Foods high in omega-3 include:
- Flax seeds
Zinc helps increase Progesterone production, which ramps up during Ovulation to prepare your body for baking a bun. But get this: It can also help with period cramps and PMS-related moodiness. Eat for your cycle with these Zinc-rich foods:
- Lean meat such as beef, lamb, and pork
- Sunflower seeds
Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12 and Folic Acid
The Vitamins that call themselves B are amazing. They’re so good for menstrual health that should literally be mandatory. As a group, they help promote regular ovulation. But they work just as hard separately. Vitamin B6 helps reduce the symptoms of PMS, Vitamin B12 helps produce the red blood cells that carry oxygen around your body, and Folic Acid helps move Iron around your bloodstream. Vitamin B6-rich foods include:
- Fortified cereal
- Dark leafy greens
Food high in vitamin B12 include:
Folic acid-rich foods:
- Whole grains
- Sunflower seed
Eat for your cycle: Luteal phase
This is the final part of your cycle, starting around day 17 and lasting until day 28. The Luteal phase is mostly concerned with prepping your body for a potential bun. And it does that by ramping up your Progesterone levels, which thickens your uterus lining.
It’s also the preamble to your period, which is why you experience PMS and the like in the final days of the phase. It’s also responsible for the cravings, cramps, and bloating. Progesterone knows how to party!
Which means it’s a really good idea to avoid inflammatory foods such as caffeine, alcohol, and saturated fat as much as possible during this phase. They increase water retention which can make the bloats worse bloating. Caffeine and alcohol can also act as laxatives that can trigger menstrual cramps. Here’s how to eat for your cycle and keep PMS to a minimum:
Yes, Magnesium again. It helps reduce water retention, promotes better sleep, and reduces PMS-related anxiety. And that’s because it’s involved in the regulation of stress hormones. It’s really good stuff. Foods that contain Magnesium include:
- Nuts, including peanuts, almonds, and cashews
- Dark chocolate
If you’re prone to monthly anxiety, depression, and bloating, calcium could be just the thing. There’s some evidence to suggest it can reduce water retention, and improve your mood. Get yourself some of the following calcium-rich deliciousness:
Vitamins B6, B12, C, and D
Now, as regular Hormonas will know, there’s a huge link between a healthy digestive system and fabulous hormones. In combination, the above vits can give your gut a welcome respite, helping ease digestive discomfort. Which in turn can put you in a better mood. Vitamins rule! Here’s what eating for your cycle and getting your vits looks like:
Vitamin B6 isn’t just fabulous at reducing depression, anxiety, and exhaustion. It also boosts your immune system and can be found in:
Vitamin B12 helps maintain iron levels which is crucial if you bleed regularly. It also improves brain health, and helps produce healthy red blood cells. You can find B12 in:
- Fortified cereal
Vitamin C is fabulous for maintaining a healthy immune system. But it’s also great for your skin and PMS symptoms. Grab some of these:
- Oranges, lemons, limes – fruit or juice
- Brussels sprouts
- Bell peppers
Vitamin D is vital to everyone’s all-around health. But if you’re the period-having type, it’s also heavily involved with Estrogen production. We all need plenty of Vitamin D. So get yourself some:
- Cod liver oil
- Egg yolks
- A good quality supplement
Eat for your cycle: Final thoughts…
As you probably noticed, much of the food recommended essentially adds up to a balanced diet. But lots of it could give you an extra lift at certain points in your cycle. What we’re saying is, find the bits that work for you and stick to them whenever you can. At worst, you’ll be healthier. At best, your PMS could be reduced and the bloats might be a thing of the past.
And the best way to track your eat for your cycle progress is, and yes, it’s time for a shameless plug: The Hormona app! You can record and track your symptoms, cravings, nutrition, periods and so much more. Over time, you can build a complete picture of your hormone health, and put a stop to your hormones ruling your life. Eat well gang!
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