The secret weapon to hormone balance? What you eat. Study after study shows that nutrition directly impacts hormone health. But between the busyness of work and other responsibilities, proper nourishment becomes an afterthought. In turn, we reach for what’s convenient. And often, what’s convenient is packed with not-so-great ingredients. But nourishing foods are integral to achieving a normal period. Nutrition also significantly improves fertility. With the follicular phase under your belt, let’s focus on the other half of the menstrual cycle. Enter: the luteal phase. Read on to learn about foods to eat during the luteal phase.
See here for foods to eat during the first half of your cycle—the follicular phase.
What is the menstrual cycle?
Your menstrual cycle begins on the first day of your period (when you bleed). It ends the day before your period starts again. A healthy cycle is roughly 28 days. Some women have a 25-day cycle and some women have upwards of a 35-day cycle. Keep in mind that anything outside these ranges is potentially abnormal. Let’s work together if your cycle is short, long, or quite painful!
4 Phases of the Menstrual cycle
• menstrual: the start of your period (days 1-6)
• follicular: 7-10 days leading up to ovulation
• ovulatory: 3-5 days of ovulation
• luteal: 10-14 days before your period
Disclaimer: these are ranges. Every woman’s cycle varies in length, so each of the four phases may be shorter or longer than what’s listed above. If your luteal phase is short (leading to a short cycle, overall), consider natural ways to lengthen it.
What to Know about the Luteal phase
Following ovulation, your body enters the luteal phase. It typically lasts 11-17 days. During the second half of your menstrual cycle—the luteal phase—estrogen and progesterone decrease. Because of this, your cervical fluid is either sticky and white or barely there. If you’re new to monitoring your cervical fluid, it’s a natural way either to track your fertility or prevent pregnancy. Speaking of pregnancy, while you can pregnant in the luteal phase, the window is narrow. Once you’ve ovulated, the egg can only survive for 12-24 hours. Meaning, you can only get pregnant in the first 24 hours of the luteal phase.
Do You NEed more Calories During the Luteal Phase?
Yes! While I’m an advocate of always honoring your hunger, it’s especially important to pay attention to your appetite during the luteal phase. Reason being, we require 100-300 more calories, every day, during this phase. Why? Because our basal metabolic rate (the number of daily calories required to stay alive) increases by 10-20%. Additionally, this increase in calories has to do with progesterone. As progesterone rises during the luteal phase, it signals the body to consume more energy. Said differently: progesterone is correlated to an increase in hunger. Many women notice an increase in appetite before their period starts. This is no coincidence. We need more fuel before bleeding begins—an energy-intensive phase.
5 Nutrients to eat during the luteal phase
As a whole, it’s always beneficial to aim for a wide variety of nutrients. They help boost mood, support stable blood sugar, minimize nutrient deficiencies, balance hormones, and support sleep. During the luteal phase, specifically, you want to focus on nutrients like magnesium, calcium, folate, vitamin C, and protein. Foods to eat during the luteal phase include nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, whole grains, avocado, yogurt, and high-quality animal protein.
Foods with magnesium can help lower anxiety, water retention, as well as promote sleep. Research also shows that magnesium can alleviate PMS symptoms. In part, due to its ability to regulate certain stress hormones. Magnesium-rich foods include nuts—especially almonds, cashews, and walnuts—dark leafy greens, spinach, black beans, whole grains, avocados, pumpkin seeds, and dark chocolate.
One study shows that among 66 female students who suffered from PMS symptoms, those who took 500 milligrams of calcium experienced lowered symptoms of anxiety, depression, and water retention (compared to the placebo group). Rather than reaching for a supplement, though, consider implementing more calcium-rich foods into your diet. Some options include sunflower seeds, beans, lentils, chia seeds, edamame, and yogurt.
Vitamin B9—also known as folate—is one of the eight B vitamins. Scientists have repeatedly shown that folate plays a role in setting the length of the menstrual cycle (it stabilizes it). In essence, low levels of folate are significantly associated with decreased levels of progesterone during the luteal phase. This leads to a slew of consequences, including a shorter menstrual cycle. We also need adequate progesterone in order to create a healthy environment for egg implantation and fetal growth. Even if you aren’t trying to get pregnant, have enough folate keeps your menstrual cycle regular. You’ll find folate in Romaine lettuce, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, beans, peanuts, sunflower seeds, whole grains, and seafood.
Ascorbic acid (also known as vitamin C) is not only important for immune health, but it also plays a role in a healthy luteal phase. For women with a short luteal phase, make sure you’re eating enough vitamin C! Along with folate’s ability to increase progesterone, naturally, vitamin C can also do the same. In one study, women taking vitamin C supplements (750 mg/day) for just 3 weeks, had significantly improved progesterone levels in 53% (40/76) of women. Foods rich in vitamin C include guavas, bell peppers, kiwi, strawberries, oranges, papaya, broccoli, tomatoes, and Brussel sprouts.
Last but not least, protein. You’ll need plenty of protein during the luteal stage to assist with maintaining muscle and strength as your body prepares to bleed during your period. Protein is also necessary for balancing blood sugar. Foods to eat during the luteal phase include poultry, fish, non-GMO tofu, eggs, beans, lentils, and chickpeas. These foods are filling, satiating, and versatile!
Meal Ideas for your Luteal Phase
BREAKFAST: scramble 1-2 eggs (or tofu) with spinach and ghee, along with a small roasted sweet potato, topped with sea salt, a few teaspoons of tahini, and a sprinkle of chia seeds.
LUNCH: leafy green Greek-inspired salad with spinach, arugula, shredded chicken (or swap for lentils, if plant-based), kalamata olives, feta cheese, tomatoes, chickpeas, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and extra-virgin olive oil; serve with a side of seedy crackers.
DINNER: sheet pan dinner—salmon, cauliflower, and delicata squash (roast in avocado oil with seasonings of choice), served with a side of avocado. Sub salmon for pinto beans, if plant-based.
With meat, eggs, and dairy, try to opt for pasture-raised / organic, whenever possible. For veggies, aim to buy the Dirty Dozen organic.
The power of seeds
Tiny but mighty, seeds can balance hormones, boost fertility, and ease symptoms of menopause. Enter: seed cycling. This growing health trend involves eating flax + pumpkin seeds, then sesame + sunflower seeds—at different times of the month. Theoretically, seed cycling either enhances or inhibits the production of estrogen and progesterone, optimizing your hormones. It also relieves symptoms due to hormonal imbalance. The easiest way to seed cycle is via Funk It Wellness. They do all the hard work for you! No need to buy seeds and grind them at home. I have a discount for you: use ‘EDIE15’ at checkout to save money on your seeds. Specifically during the luteal phase, you consume sesame and sunflower seeds.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider.