Sep 30th, 2023, 09:00 AM

Eating with Your Menstrual Cycle

By Grace Amjad
Image credit: Rawpixel/Monika
The newest trend that can make your life a little bit better

About 25% of the population will have their period this year and those who do will, on average, spend 7 years of their life actively on their period. If so many of us experience this why are we not properly educated on how to stop fighting against our periods and, instead, work with it to feel better all the time, not just when we are staining underwear and eating copious amounts of chocolate? 

Let's start with the basics, people without uteruses function on a 24-hour cycle whereas people with uteruses function on a 28-day cycle and that cycle has four distinct phases, the menstrual, follicular, ovulatory and luteal phases. 

Everyone’s cycle is a bit different but, in general, the menstrual phase lasts from day one to day five and this is when you are actively bleeding. 

The follicular phase begins on the last day you bleed and continues from then (day six) until day 15 when a mature egg is released and ovulation begins.

The ovulatory phase, days 16 to 21, is when the uterine lining is formed (this is what comes out during your actual period). 

And finally, the luteal phase, or as those of us with a uterus know it, Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). 

But it's not just our physical bodies that change during each phase, our hormones fluctuate as well, specifically estrogen and progesterone. When we are bleeding, both are low but as we enter into the follicular phase they begin to rise. Estrogen peaks during ovulation but progesterone and testosterone will not peak until the luteal phase. 

Now we know how menstrual cycles actually function, let's talk about food because what we eat during our cycle can drastically change how we feel. 

Menstrual Phase

During the menstrual phase, you want to get a lot of iron to make up for the blood you will be losing, and eat lots of anti-inflammatories to help reduce cramps and relax the uterus. Below is a list of foods to try and incorporate during your period.

  • Adrenal cocktails recipe here 
  • Beets (beet juice is a great option)
  • Broccoli
  • Brown Rice
  • Chia Seeds
  • Dark Chocolate (in moderation)
  • Fatty Fish (like salmon and mackerel)
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Ginger 
  • Lentils
  • Peas 
  • Tofu
  • Dates
  • Figs
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Kelp and Seaweeds
  • Quinoa
  • Turmeric
  • Water-rich fruits (watermelon, cucumber) 

Some things you may want to stay away from are sugar (causes further inflammation), dairy (can cause bloating and discomfort), and alcohol (dehydrates you). 

You should also note that although beef is high in iron, it is also high in a compound called prostaglandins which helps the uterus contract to get all the bad stuff out, but too much can cause cramping and make things even more uncomfortable. 

Follicular Phase

Your body doesn’t need much extra during the follicular phase unless you are trying to conceive in which case focus on eating foods to balance your hormones (enough protein, healthy fats, not too much sugar, and lots of fiber). But that being said below is a list of nourishing foods that are always good for your body. 

  • Avocados
  • Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries)
  • Eggs
  • Fermented Foods 
  • Leafy Greens
  • Green juice
  • Legumes 
  • Lean Proteins
  • Nuts and Seeds 
  • Whole Grains 

You should try to avoid too much caffeine and soy as they can affect your estrogen levels, and alcohol and highly processed foods which can mess with all your hormones. 

Ovulatory Phase

During the ovulatory phase you want to start helping your body detoxify to eliminate all the excess hormones in your body, liver loving foods, cruciferous vegetables, antioxidant-rich berries, protein, and fiber are the best things to be eating at this point. But also keep in mind that during ovulation you can run into digestive issues so try not to eat raw vegetables and include more natural probiotics. 

  • Asparagus
  • Berries
  • Brazil nuts
  • Chia seeds
  • Eggs
  • Flaxseeds
  • Green leafy vegetables 
  • Lean meats 
  • Quinoa
  • Salmon
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Tuna
  • Walnuts
  • Zinc-rich foods (oysters, pumpkin seeds, beef, cashews)

At the risk of sounding repetitive, you should try not to eat too much sugar or trans fats which can impact your hormones and mood.

Luteal Phase

The final phase of your cycle, the luteal phase requires many of the same things as your ovulatory phase. We want to continue supporting detoxification to set ourselves up for a less painful period. This means magnesium and progesterone-rich foods and more anti-inflammatories. 

  • Almonds 
  • Avocado
  • Bananas
  • Brown rice
  • Chickpeas
  • Chocolate (in moderation)
  • Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale)
  • Eggs
  • Lentils
  • Peanuts
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Quinoa
  • Salmon
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Turkey
  • Whole grains (like barley and oats)
  • Zucchini

Since the luteal phase is before your period, you’ll want to focus on eating healthy and avoiding foods that may trigger discomfort or cramps, like caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and high-sodium foods. 

Completely altering your diet may feel daunting, so start with something small. Try adding turmeric to some meals during your period, and eat a few more berries while you are PMSing. Progress gradually and see how you feel but also know that it may take some time to really see a change. A lot of these foods are good for your body all the time so instead of trying to time things out, just add one or two new foods a week. Lastly, You probably noticed that phase of your cycle can be negatively impacted by sugar, caffeine, and alcohol---three of a college student’s favorite things. By no means do you need to stop eating those things, a sane person sure as hell is not going to, but if you want to try changing your eating to help your body, try being more aware of how much of these things you are consuming. You can try to cut down, or not but often, even just making yourself aware of these things, and thinking more about them makes you more inclined to change your habits, even just a little bit, to help your body out.