Foods to eat for each stage of your menstrual cycle

Nutritional guidelines for optimising your hormones at each stage of your menstrual cycle.

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Posted

June 23, 2022

Do you struggle with mood swings, painful cramps or fatigue at certain points of your menstrual cycle? You may be thinking these are inevitable elements of menstruation, but the good news is they can be reduced by optimising your nutrition. By tailoring your diet to the different stages of your cycle you may see positive changes in your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. 

 

What is the link between nutrition and your menstrual cycle?

 

We are not static beings, within a month our nutritional needs change due to a fluctuation in hormones. Each phase of your cycle will have corresponding changes in hormones, particularly with oestrogen and progesterone. 

Cortisol also changes throughout your cycle and is highest in the second half of the cycle (after ovulation until the beginning of your next period).

Your chemistry is changing on a day to day basis (more generally, week-to-week) with your cycle, so it makes sense that the foods you are consuming will interact in different ways depending on what your body is experiencing that day. 

What may give you energy in the first stage of your cycle may fatigue you in the later stages, the important thing is getting to know your body, working with your cycle and optimising your nutrition through empowered knowledge. 

Below we give some general guidelines to follow for optimising your hormones at each stage of your menstrual cycle. 

 

 

Menstrual phase: Day 1 to 3-7

period

 

This is the ‘period’ stage of your cycle, when the uterine lining sheds causing you to bleed. Levels of oestrogen and progesterone are typically low during this stage. 

During this stage of your cycle it’s good to eat a Paleo style diet including foods high in protein, fibre, mineral rich and healthy fats. Optimising your nutrition during your period can help minimise cramping, increase your energy levels and stabilise mood.

 

Foods to eat:

  • Shellfish
  • Pork
  • Pumpkin + flax seeds
  • Black + kidney bean
  • Red: Beets, berries, grapes, peppers
  • Seaweeds

 

It’s also a good idea to avoid heavily processed foods, alcohol, spicy foods and sugar as these can contribute to inflammation which may cause painful period cramps to be more severe.

However, this stage is most associated with high levels of cravings and you may feel urges to eat your favorite comfort foods. Don’t be too hard on yourself and listen to what feels good for your body and emotional needs.  

 

 

Follicular phase: Day 3-7 to 12

 

period health

Begins on the first day of your period (overlapping with the menstrual phase) and finishes when you start to ovulate.

Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) are released by the pituitary gland in order to stimulate the growth of eggs in the follicles. Oestrogen levels also rise to prepare for the release of an egg.

Magnesium levels are often lowest in the follicular phase so eating foods high in this vitamin can help warn off period pain further down your cycle. Also, as estrogen levels are so high, foods that can reduce the effects of oestrogen may be benficial for reducing heavy periods and symptoms of PMS. Some foods to include could be flax seeds, garlic, dried fruits and sesame seeds. 

Foods to eat:

  • Trout
  • Chicken, eggs
  • Pumpkin + flax seeds
  • Lentils, mung beans
  • Berries, grapes
  • Green: Broccoli, lettuce, zucchini, avocado
  • Citrus, pomegranate
  • Fermented foods
  • Barley, oat, wheat

 

Note: During this stage, energy levels may increase and it is often a good time to focus on working out and incorporating dynamic exercise into your daily routine. 

 

Ovulatory: Day 12 to 16

pregnancy

This phase involves the release of the egg from the ovary into the fallopian tube. This is the only time in the menstrual cycle that pregnancy can occur. Oestrogen levels reach their peak in this phase.

Eating foods high in fibre can help to reduce the levels of oestrogen, which can be important to avoid oestergen dominance in the body – a common hormonal imbalance. 

If you are trying for a baby, nutrition can help boost fertility and increase your chances of pregnancy in this phase. Increasing consumption of glutathione, folic acid and omega-3 fatty acids can all help.

Foods to eat:

  • Salmon, tuna
  • Lamb
  • Sesame and sunflower
  • Red lentils
  • Berries, grapes
  • Spinach, tomato, eggplant, dandelion, brussel sprouts 
  • Apricot, cantaloupe, fig
  • Chocolate, coffee, alcohol (in moderation)
  • Corn, quinoa

 

Luteal Phase: Day 16 to 28

period

In this phase the egg transforms into a corpus luteum which begins to produce progesterone as well as estrogen. 

If you do not become pregnant, the phase is commonly associated with premenstrual symptoms as your body prepares for your next period. Symptoms can include mood changes, skin inflammation, headaches, breast tenderness and bloating.

To mitigate painful periods, eating foods high in magnesium at this time can help. Magnesium is also thought to support low energy and libido during this phase.

Eating healthy fats and proteins will also help maintain muscle and strength as your body prepares to bleed. Incorporating complex carbohydrates, root veggies, leafy greens can help.

Foods to eat:

  • White fish
  • Red meat, turkey
  • Sesame and sunflower
  • Chickpeas, navy bean
  • Berries, grapes
  • Cruciferous + bitter veg: garlic, ginger, onion, sweet potato, cauliflower, cabbage, dark greens
  • Apple, date, pear, peach
  • Mint + greens powder
  • Brown rice, millet

 

Personalised support 

If you are experiencing painful periods, an abnormally heavy (or light) flow, or extreme mood changes, it’s always best to see a professional to get to the root cause of your menstrual concerns. 

We have a number of women’s health experts at the clinic, so please do get in touch with a member of our team to learn how our functional medicine practitioners can support with optimising your cycle and get you feeling your best at every phase.