For many people, periods are not a walk in the park. From irrational mood swings, to feelings of anxiety and depression, insomnia, and appetite changes, women go through a lot during that time of the month. One of the things that makes things a little bearable is having the best period comfort food at hand to make you feel better.
However, most period cravings are not very healthy. In this article, we are going to be listing down good things to eat on your period. These food options will not only be healthy but can also help you with the severity of your cramps, making your next period week a little easier to handle.
Are Food Period Cravings Normal?
Yes, they are.
Before telling you what to eat on your period, we must remind you that cravings before or during your menstruating week is completely normal and you should not be ashamed of it. According to medicalnewstoday.com, some women who experience an increased appetite or the need to compulsively eat during this time tend to feel guilt or shame, and some even assume that they could be suffering from a compulsive eating disorder.
This is incorrect. Food cravings and slight increases in hunger levels are a regular part of the menstrual cycle – a fact that was proven in a 1995 study that showed that during this time, women can increase their daily food energy intake by up to 500 extra calories a day (13).
Another study of 300 female nurses by the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine, showed a direct relation of food and sweets cravings with periods as well as common PMS signs like tension and depression (12).
What Are Good Foods To Eat While On Your Period?
According to sciencealert.com, many women often crave and reach for sweets, carbs and fats while menstruating – this means that they usually consume things like candy, chocolate, pizza, deep fried foods, etc. during this time. While many may think that this is the best comfort food during period, it is actually not.
While they may taste good at the moment, they are quite unhealthy, may increase cramps, and more often than not the person consuming them often feels guilty for eating them. Here are some healthier food alternatives that you should consider adding to your diet the next time you are wondering as to what to eat on your period
For many people, especially in Western countries, chocolate is top of the list of their best comfort food on period days (7). While this delicious snack will satisfy your sugar cravings, not all chocolate is good chocolate.
Researchers recommend dark chocolate over milk chocolate not only because the former is healthier, but also because it has higher levels of magnesium. When you are on your period, your magnesium levels drop due to your hormones and this can lead to severe PMS symptoms including cramps.
This root is often added to food for the great flavour that it adds to meals. This, however, is not all that it’s good for. Research has shown that ginger can help with symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
In 2009, one study found that consuming about 1 g of ginger powder a day, had the same pain relieving effects on primary dysmenorrhea – the cramping pain in the lower abdomen that occurs just before or during menstruation, in the absence of other diseases such as endometriosis – as common painkillers such as mefenamic acid and ibuprofen (3).
Ginger can be the best comfort food on your period when you add it to tea or even use it to make healthy cookies to snack on.
You might not think of a banana as the best period comfort food but if you suffer from cramping, this simple and common fruit could be the savior that you are looking for. According to webmd.com, bananas are high in potassium, magnesium and calcium, three nutrients that help ease muscle cramps.
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If cramps and depressive mood swings are the bane of your existence when menstruating, then making fish one of your best period comfort food could be just the thing you need. Fatty fish is high in omega 3 fatty acids which are not only good for weight loss, but for PMS too.
A 2012 study done by the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, found that women who increased their daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids had a noticeable pain reduction of primary dysmenorrhea. The pain reduced so much that they were even able to reduce the amount of ibuprofen that they took to control their menstrual pain (8).
Pineapples are not just good for adding to cocktails. According to today.com, pineapples are rich in manganese, which can help reduce the uncomfortable symptoms associated with PMS. The fruit also has antioxidant properties which reduce acute inflammation, which also helps reduce cramps. If this was not enough, the fruit is rich in bromelain, an enzyme that has been shown to reduce pain, aid in muscle relaxation and has many other benefits including possessing some anti-cancerous activities (14).
A hearty bowl of pumpkin soup can provide comfort when you are in bed dealing with painful menses-induced cramps. While this is good, saving the pumpkin seeds and consuming them too could go a long way in helping you deal with horrible cramps.
A meal with pumpkin seeds could be the best period comfort food thanks to the nutrients found in these seeds. They are high in magnesium and zinc which have been shown to help prevent and reduce painful cramping (9, 16).
Green leafy vegetables are rich in different vitamins and minerals and also have a myriad of benefits that make them great for your health. However, they make our list of the best period comfort food due to their high levels of calcium.
A 1993 study showed that an increased calcium intake reduced mood, concentration, reduced pain during the menstrual phase of the cycle, and reduced water retention during the premenstrual phase (6). Some calcium rich leafy greens include collard greens, spinach, and kale.
Turmeric is well known for giving food (and everything else) a rich orange-yellow colour, and also contains minerals such as manganese, phosphorus and potassium. A lesser known fact is also that this root is rich in curcumin, a natural anti-inflammatory compound that is being researched for cancer prevention and treatment.
One study published in 2015 showed that curcumin can reduce the severity of premenstrual syndrome symptoms including mood swings and more (4).
Yogurt and other milk products are high in calcium, a mineral known to help reduce cramp pains, bloating and the water retention caused by menstruation.
A 2016 study looking at the effect of peppermint in the treatment of primary dysmenorrhea revealed that peppermint can significantly lower average pain intensity and duration of pain (11).
While oranges are well known for their high amounts of vitamin C which boosts immunity, they are also high in calcium and vitamin D. A 2019 review on the role of vitamin D and calcium in premenstrual syndrome showed that these two substances can restore serum levels and eliminate or reduce the symptoms of PMS (2).
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One 2016 study showed that women who supplemented their diets with vitamins D and E reported significantly reduced premenstrual syndrome. Broccoli not only contains vitamins E, A, C, and B6 but also nutrients like magnesium, potassium, and calcium which all play a role in easing PMS symptoms (10).
While water does not qualify as a best period comfort food, drinking it helps stop you from retaining water and bloating, as well as dehydration headaches.
Does Caffeine Make Cramps Worse?
No, it does not.
Caffeine has long been thought to contribute to painful cramps because it can act as a vasoconstrictor. Vasoconstriction is the narrowing ( or constriction) of blood vessels by small muscles in their walls, which slows down or completely blocks the flow of blood. This constriction was thought to lead to pain and thus women were often warned to stay away from caffeinated products during their period.
However, despite the theory being believed by many, there is very little scientific research that proves it to be true. In fact many studies show no relation to caffeine and cramps
- A 2007 study by the Journal of Women’s Health, linked caffeine consumption to premenstrual anxiety and mood changes, but not to menstrual cramps (5).
- Another study by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, sought to study how caffeine and coffee affect premenstrual syndrome in women. At the end of the study, researchers found that not only did caffeine have no relation to PMS symptoms like cramps, breast pain, irritability and fatigue, but they also stated that the current recommendations for women to reduce caffeine intake may not help prevent the development of PMS.
You can drink as much as four or more cups of coffee a day and it will have nothing to do with the intensity of your cramps (1).
What Foods Should You Avoid During Your Period?
In the same ways that some foods can help you during your period, some of them make the symptoms worse for you. These foods include
While legumes and lentils are good for you during all other times of the month, during your period, they may not be the best period comfort foods. Legumes can worsen bloating which will make you extremely uncomfortable.
Sugar cravings are very common during and before menstruation but you should avoid indulging in candy and sweets during this time. Not only does sugar increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease and obesity, but consuming it will lead to a spike in your energy followed by a crash. Periods already cause irrational mood swings which can be made worse by the crash from the spike.
Craving foods like pizza, donuts, and French fries is common during your period, however, giving in to these cravings is not the best idea. According to a 2009 study, fried foods can actually cause inflammation, which can increase cramps during menstruation.
Soda And Other Carbonated Drinks
These drinks can worsen bloating, which is already an uncomfortable symptom of premenstrual syndrome.
While red meat contains iron, a nutrient which can help ease cramps, red meat itself can make your cramps more intense. Fatty red meat can also cause inflammation which will also worsen period cramps.
Drinking alcohol is a favorite pastime for many people. While alcohol can be good on some occasions you should avoid drinking it during your period. Not only can alcohol dehydrate you, worsening headaches and causing bloating, but it can also lead to digestive issues, such as diarrhea and nausea.
An article from The New York Times, also states that alcohol can make PMS symptoms worse and may even lead to prolonged cramping.
If you do not eat spicy food often, having them during this time can upset your stomachs, which can further lead to diarrhea, stomach pain, and even nausea.
The Bottom Line
Trying to find the best period comfort food is not as hard as you may imagine it to be. While it may mean giving up the high carb, high fat, and high sugar meals that you often gravitate to while menstruating, the final result is much better than having to battle cravings for a couple of days to a week.
Please remember that while these foods may taste delicious, they do not only risk your chances for obesity and chronic illnesses, but they may also worsen premenstrual symptoms such as depressive moods, cramps, bloating and nausea, making you feel even worse than you did before you ingested them.
To keep yourself from reaching for such food options, always take measures to ensure that you are in no position to have these meals and instead have healthier options at hand. Simple changes such as clearing out your pantry, making healthy substitutes of your best period comfort food, keeping healthy snacks and vegetables at hand, etc. will ensure that you will have the healthiest and best period comfort food.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- A prospective study of caffeine and coffee intake and premenstrual syndrome (2016, academic.oup.com)
- A systematic review of the role of vitamin D and calcium in premenstrual syndrome (2019, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Comparison of effects of ginger, mefenamic acid, and ibuprofen on pain in women with primary dysmenorrhea (2009, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Curcumin attenuates severity of premenstrual syndrome symptoms: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial (2015, sciencedirect.com)
- Diet and lifestyle factors associated with premenstrual symptoms in a racially diverse community sample: Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) (2007, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Dietary calcium and manganese effects on menstrual cycle symptoms (1993, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Does culture create craving? Evidence from the case of menstrual chocolate craving (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effect of omega-3 fatty acids on intensity of primary dysmenorrhea (2012, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Evaluating the effect of magnesium and magnesium plus vitamin B6 supplement on the severity of premenstrual syndrome (2010, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Evaluating the effects of vitamin D and vitamin E supplement on premenstrual syndrome: A randomized, double-blind, controlled trial (2016, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Evaluation of mint efficacy regarding dysmenorrhea in comparison with mefenamic acid: A double blinded randomized crossover study (2016, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Food Cravings, Depression, and Premenstrual Problems (1969, journals.lww.com)
- Food intake and the menstrual cycle: A retrospective analysis, with implications for appetite research (1995, sciencedirect.com)
- Properties and Therapeutic Application of Bromelain: A Review (2012, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Association between the Risk of Premenstrual Syndrome and Vitamin D, Calcium, and Magnesium Status among University Students: A Case Control Study (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Zinc treatment prevents dysmenorrhea (2007, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)