When it comes to mastering your menstrual cycle, it’s two-pronged: part diet, part lifestyle. But my number one tip for hormone balance, minimizing PMS, and supporting ovulation? Nutrition. In order to regulate your cycle, make it less painful, and improve your fertility, we want to look at food as medicine. It’s no secret that periods—while a beautiful physiological process—bring mood swings, bloating, cramps, breakouts, and hanger. Managing these physical the emotional symptoms is a month-round job. However, nourishing foods (and the right balance of them!) are integral to achieving a normal period. So, what are the best foods to eat during your cycle? We’ve already covered the follicular phase and the luteal phase. Up next: foods to eat during the menstrual phase.
What is the menstrual cycle?
If you’re new to understanding your period, welcome! Knowledge is power. 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 bleed is typically 4-7 days and a healthy cycle is typically about 28-30 days long. Some women have a 21-day cycles 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 1-7)
• follicular: overlaps with menstrual, leading up to ovulation
• ovulatory: 2-3 days of ovulation
• luteal: 10-14 days before your period begins again
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 Menstrual phase
Once the luteal phase ends, your body enters the menstrual phase. If you didn’t conceive, the lining of the uterus sheds and leaves the body. You begin bleeding. This lining is made up of blood, tissue, and nutrients—necessary components to nourish a viable pregnancy. A typical period (also known as menstruation) lasts 4-7 days. At this time, estrogen and progesterone are low. As you complete your period and enter the follicular phase, estrogen rises. As estrogen rises, you may notice an uptick in your mood. Reason being, estrogen is linked to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood. As estrogen levels increase, so does serotonin production—and this can lead to feelings of happiness.
Do You NEed more Calories During the menstrual Phase?
Possibly! While I’m an advocate of always honoring your hunger, most women actually notice an increase in appetite right before their period starts. Said differently: we require more calories (energy) during the luteal phase. Why? Because our basal metabolic rate (the number of daily calories required to stay alive) increases by 10-20% at the very end of our cycle. 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. If you notice an increase in your appetite before your period starts, this is no coincidence! We need more fuel before bleeding begins—an energy-intensive phase.
5 Nutrients to eat during the menstrual phase
As a whole, we always want to aim for a wide variety of nutrients. These help boost mood, support stable blood sugar, minimize nutrient deficiencies, balance hormones, and support sleep. That said, adjusting your diet to support fluctuating hormones can be a game changer (particularly if you struggle with PMS, painful periods, or other symptoms of hormonal imbalance). Eating to support the menstrual phase—specifically—looks like emphasizing the nutrients below.
Iron is an essential nutrient. It’s key for red blood cell development and many other factors involved in health and well-being. In fact, being deficient in iron (a common deficiency in women) can manifest in fatigue, weakness, brittle nails, and more. It’s particularly important to eat iron-rich foods during menstruation as your body loses iron from blood loss. There are two types of iron—heme and non-heme—that come from both plant and animal sources. Aim to focus on sea vegetables (seaweed), legumes, red meat, and dark leafy greens.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
Healthy fats are an important part of any balanced diet, but they’re especially important in relation to women’s health. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). High FSH levels can have complications relating to your menstrual cycle, including polycystic ovarian syndrome. Omega-3s also act as the starting point for making hormones that regulate blood clotting, inflammation, and more. This is my favorite omega-3 fatty acid supplement. Food sources of omega-3s include mackerel, wild-caught salmon, cod liver oil, sardines, flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
Good gut bacteria is a necessity for the digestive system to break down food and absorb its nutrients. Healthy gut bacteria also plays a vital role in regulating your hormones (especially estrogen). Foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, probiotic-rich yogurt, non-GMO miso, non-GMO tempeh, and sourdough bread are great examples.
There is a fluctuation of certain minerals during the menstrual cycle, and magnesium levels are lowest during the menstrual phase. Consuming magnesium-rich foods during this time can help magnesium and its role in metabolizing estrogen. Foods to include: nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, and dark leafy greens. Going the supplement route, this is my favorite magnesium supplement.
Most Americans don’t consume nearly enough fiber, but this nutrient is especially important for women’s health. It is associated with healthy digestion, but high fiber intake can also reduce the levels of estrogen in the body. All produce is rich in fiber, as are legumes, nuts, and seeds. See here for a full list of high-fiber foods!
FOODS TO EAT DURING THE Menstrual PHASE
When it comes to eating to support the menstrual phase, the aim is to consume foods that provide a win-win: replenish nutrients lost during bleeding and support follicle development. Examples include: green vegetables, raw carrots, nuts, seeds, eggs, fish, and legumes. Cruciferous vegetables—like kale, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower—are packed with a phytonutrient called DIM, which helps normalize estrogen levels. Seed cycling is particularly helpful during this phase, too!
Meal plan for your menstrual Phase
LUNCH: Greek-inspired salad with spinach, arugula, smoked salmon, kalamata olives, feta cheese, roasted chickpeas, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and extra-virgin olive oil; serve with a side of seedy crackers.
DINNER: Sheet pan dinner—baked tempeh, cauliflower florets, and delicata squash (roast in avocado oil with seasonings of choice), served with a wild rice topped with pumpkin seeds and olive oil.
With meat, eggs, and dairy, try to opt for pasture-raised / organic, whenever possible. For veggies, aim to buy the Dirty Dozen organic.
Seed cycling on your period
Tiny but mighty, seeds can help 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. Research shows that seed cycling either enhances or inhibits the production of estrogen and progesterone, optimizing your hormones. It also relieves PMS symptoms. The easiest way to seed cycle? 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 menstrual phase, you consume ground flax and pumpkin 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.