Unfortunately, in today’s world, the term diet has long gone from representing what we eat to a meal plan for losing weight but I’m not here to give you a meal plan.
What I am here for is to tell you about what nutrients you as a menstruator require so you can determine what items you need to add to your normal meal plan to ensure healthy menstruation and good reproductive health.
Let’s Talk Nutrition and Menstruation
When an individual begins menstruating, they lose a large amount of blood over their reproductive lifetime. Red blood cells contain haemoglobin, which contains 70% of the body’s iron content. In order to compensate for this monthly loss, and to avoid anaemia, menstruating individuals require over twice as much iron content in their daily diet than non- menstruating individuals. Fortified cereals, beef, poultry, black beans, eggs and soybeans are some good sources of iron.
We all need carbohydrates as an energy source for our body functions; low carb diets for menstruating individuals can result in irregular menstrual periods along with impaired metabolism. So, ensure that you incorporate complex carbohydrates, such as fruits, oats, barley, dahlia etc in your daily diet.
Good fatty foods like those that contain polyunsaturated fatty acids (fatty fish, seeds and nuts) help maintain hormone levels and support ovulation. Walnuts, sunflower seeds, soybean oil, flax seeds, salmon and mackerel fish are good sources of PUFA.
Calcium has been found to help prevent and reduce symptoms of PMS. Dysregulation of calcium in the body can suppress the maturation of ovarian follicles which is a condition that occurs in individuals with PCOS. Low calcium levels can result in low levels of vitamin D as calcium is instrumental in the absorption of vitamin D from natural sunlight. Vitamin D is found to boost one’s mood and help reduce PMS symptoms Some sources of calcium and vitamin D include dairy products such as milk and cheese, tofu, fatty fish, fish liver oils, nuts, okra, beans and lentils.
Vitamins help promote blood cell production and thus help prevent anaemia. Also, low levels of vitamin B12 can result in fatigue and dizziness. One can look into nutrition supplements such as those for B complex, Vitamin C and Vitamin D but preferably after consulting a nutritionist.
Some natural sources of these vitamins are:
Vitamin B6 - turkey, potatoes, fish
Vitamin B12 - salmon, tuna, fortified-soy products
Vitamin C - citrus fruits, kiwi, pineapple, broccoli.
An interesting point to note is that spices such as cinnamon and ginger have been found to regulate your menstrual flow and can help in normalizing your periods and turmeric can help regulate estrogen levels. So a ginger tea, a cinnamon powder drink or turmeric mixed with warm water would be a beneficial addition to your daily routine.
Antioxidants and probiotic foods are also items that are required to maintain a healthy regular menstrual cycle.
Bloatedness is very common during periods. Hormone imbalances in the body cause the body to retain fluids and thus causes bloating. Drinking 9-10 glasses of water a day can help one fight the bloatedness as it thins the blood and pushes waste out of your body. Dehydration causes painful cramps and can give you stressful period days.
So don’t forget to keep yourself hydrated!
A Look Into Menstrual Cravings
Did you know that cravings essentially occur when your body requires extra nutrients?
Cravings are a result of hormone imbalance in one’s body. It is theorised, that this hormone imbalance can cause an increase in blood insulin levels which reduces blood sugar levels. Hence, explaining the sweet cravings one has in the days during and leading up to one’s period.
Although our body pushes for us to reach for our favourite sweets, candy and caffeine, giving in to these cravings, could cause an increase in painful menstrual cramps and hence should be avoided and replaced with healthier, filling options like high protein snack bars.
A good balance of the aforementioned essential nutrients in menstruating individuals; maintained all year round, can help one deal better with menstrual cravings on period days.
With the right diet and exercise in one’s routine, barring any underlying complications, one can be sure of maintaining a regular and healthy menstrual cycle and could potentially be having stress-free period days with reduced PMS symptoms! That does sound like a dream come true but is in fact very possible with the right lifestyle and regimen. Making an effort to incorporate the right nutrient requirements into your diet will not only improve your reproductive health but also give a boost to your physical health as well!
Especially, now that times are stressful I do hope that this article can be your check to ensure that you are taking care of yourself. Take some time once a week to check if you are keeping to your normal and extra nutrient requirements. Just doing this can go a long way!
Written by: Sanjana Gandhi
Graphics by: Rachel Alexander
ETimes - Best foods to eat during periods to stay healthy.
Family Education - Nutrition and Menstruation
Clue - Diet, Nutrition and the Menstrual cycle
Nua Blog - Irregular period problems and a Healthy Diet
Healthline - Do very Low Carb diets Mess up Some Women’s Hormones?
Healthline - 16 foods to eat (and some to avoid) During your Period
A beautiful me - Nutrition for your menstrual cycle