Your menstrual cycle – did you know that what you eat during each phase can have a powerful effect on how you feel, physically, mentally, and emotionally?
I know it’s become a bit of a cliché to say that food is medicinal to the body, but it really can be! When it comes to menstrual health, food can also help reduce and manage some of the symptoms that you might be feeling during each phase.
I’ll break down the best foods for each phase in this article, but it’s also worth stating that adding that these foods are helpful throughout the menstrual cycle, because everything we eat and do in the 60-90 days before the current menstrual cycle will have an impact.
Phase 1: Menstruation
Most of us associate our periods with a time of misery, exhaustion, and moodiness, but it doesn’t have to be that way (really!). It’s natural to have a bit less energy and to feel a few aches and twinges at this time. We can use food as a way of boosting our energy levels, improving our moods, and reducing pain and cramps.
Iron plays an important role in energy production, oxygen transport, and blood rebuilding, which is important during menstruation as we can lose anywhere between 50-150mL of blood. Eating iron-rich foods helps the body generate new blood and replace what has been lost during menstruation.
There are two types of iron that comes from food: heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron, which typically comes from animal products such as grass-fed beef, ox, and lamb, is easier for the body to absorb and then re-use. Non-heme iron, which comes from plant-based sources, can be used by the body, but here’s the thing: you need to eat a lot more of it and pair it with vitamins C to increase absorption. Chickpeas, lentils, quinoa, kidney beans, and kale are lovely plant-based sources of iron, so squeeze lemon over your quinoa salad or add berries into your kale smoothie!
Phase 2: Follicular
During the follicular phase, we might feel as though we’re emerging back into the world, with lots of energy and a more positive frame of mind. Our oestrogen levels begin to increase again and our pituitary gland releases follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) to prepare one of the ovaries to start maturing the follicles that will eventually turn into a mature egg. Rising oestrogen thickens the lining of our uterus and in the last few days of the follicular phase, rising testosterone gives you a glowy look, a higher libido, more energy, strength, and motivation.
Fibre is always an important part of a healthy diet, but it becomes even more important during the follicular phase because it helps us poop regularly! Yep, we’re talking about poop! Pooping every day is important because this is how our body gets rid of the hormones that our body has used and our liver has broken down. Constipation means that these hormones can get recycled back into the body and this can contribute to PMS and other period problems. Get your fibre through eating at least 7 portions of vegetables and a few pieces of fruit each day.
Phase 3: Ovulation
During ovulation, we’re at the peak of our menstrual cycle. We are at our brightest, most energetic, feeling sexy and beautiful, with lots of motivation to get things done!
In this phase, our oestrogen peaks, with luteinising hormone (LH) triggering ovulation. This means that one of your ovaries releases a mature egg and your progesterone levels start to rise too as your body hopes to fertilise an egg this cycle. Ovulation tends to happen roughly 2 weeks before we menstruate. If we don’t fertilise an egg this cycle, we move into autumn, otherwise known as the luteal phase.
Zinc is important for supporting healthy ovulation and progesterone production. Grass-fed, organic red meat is a great source of zinc but if eating meat isn’t your thing, you can get zinc from pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds, egg yolks, ginger, seafood (oysters!), and organic dairy.
Phase 4: Luteal
This part of the menstrual cycle can be split into two parts. During the early luteal phase, we’re still feeling good. Progesterone is at its peak and oestrogen is also still high, so we’re calm and loving life.
In the second half of the luteal phase, if we haven’t fertilised an egg, oestrogen and progesterone levels begin to drop. This is when many of us start to experience PMS symptoms like mood swings, sore breasts, acne, headaches, bloating, anxiety, and weariness.
Vitamin B6 supports healthy progesterone levels, which can help if you suffer from mood swings right before your period. You can get vitamin B6 from a wide variety of foods including organic red meat, carrots, sweet potato, lentils, oats, wild salmon, and walnuts.
You can find out more about Le’Nise Brothers, registered nutritionist, mBANT and mCHNC who specialises in women’s health, hormones and the menstrual cycle online. Take a look at her Instagram, website and check out her Podcast: Period Story.
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Le’Nise Brothers is a registered nutritionist, mBANT, mCHNC, yoga teacher, women’s health, hormone and menstruation coach and host of the Period Story podcast. She works with women who want to get control of sugar cravings, mood swings and hormonal acne, bloating and headaches, as well as increase their energy levels.