Ladies, it’s that time of the month again! You feel tired, irritable and wonder what’s wrong? It starts with lower abdomen cramps and you feel like going to bed for the rest of the day.
Although menstruation can get uncomfortable and unpleasant for many, a healthy diet at this time can help alleviate the symptoms. Food plays an important role in easing problems like bloating, water retention and tiredness (due to blood loss). Sometimes pre- menstrual symptoms can cause women to crave fatty and sugary foods that can seriously derail healthy food choices of even the most serious dieter. These cravings are caused due to the fluctuation of hormones like oestrogen and progesterone. In addition, many women and girls tend not to be active during this time, preferring to take rest and avoid any activities and exercise. While it is important to rest if needed, being inactive for too long can sometimes cause sluggishness and lethargy. While strenuous exercise at this time is best avoided, light exercises, like stretching and yoga can help release endorphins (feel good hormones) and can provide relief from menstrual cramps keeping one’s mood upbeat. Endorphins help reduce the perception of pain and provide positive feelings. Exercise also helps to boost blood circulation which can help ease cramps. If your periods are irregular, exercise may help in regulating the menstrual cycle. Certain foods act as emmenagogues (stimulate menstrual flow in women). These include- parsley, papaya and pineapple, which may help initiate a late period.
Healthy foods to include at this time:
1. Iron rich foods: Since you lose a lot of blood during a period, it is then important that you replenish your iron stores. This can give you the energy you need. Iron is an important component of the body’s red blood cells (RBC). Include a Vitamin C source to help the body absorb iron. Iron rich foods to include- Liver, shellfish, sardines, chicken, lentils, beans, dark green leafy vegetables and pumpkin seeds. Vitamin C rich foods- Strawberries, fresh cherries, kiwi fruit, guava, papaya, citrus fruits, capsicum.
2. Calcium and Vitamin D: These are two important nutrients that go hand in hand. Vitamin D helps in calcium absorption. A warm glass of milk may be soothing at this time. But it also has extra benefits. According to the University of Maryland- calcium helps reduce menstrual pain because it helps to maintain muscle tone. Sources include: Dairy products, small fish and green leafy vegetables. Vitamin D sources are- Fish, egg yolk, liver, cheese and fortified foods
3. Minerals: Potassium and Magnesium work together to help relieve menstrual cramps. Low potassium levels could lead to nausea during menstruation. Magnesium is important to prevent painful periods (dysmenorrhea). Sources include- Dry fruit, unsalted nuts, seeds, leafy greens, banana, citrus fruits, papaya and gourd vegetables.
4. Whole grain carbs: Fiber rich carbohydrates can help provide energy. Due to their fiber content, they provide a constant supply of energy over a period of time. This is important to keep energy levels up and prevent unhealthy cravings (which are so easy to give in to at this time). Include fiber rich foods like- Whole grain cereals, multigrain bread and chapathis, fruits with the skin, salads and legumes. A bowl of oats porridge with nuts and chopped fruit at this time can give a healthy and nourishing start to your day.
5. Protein: It is important to pair a protein along with whole grain carbs, as it keeps the blood sugar levels stable. This can help prevent you from indulging in any unhealthy snacks. Include a protein source with every meal. This could be- skinless chicken, fish, egg whites, pulses, legumes, soy and dairy products.
6. Omega 3 fatty acids: Fish oil is known to reduce premenstrual syndrome symptoms and provides relief from cramps and pain. Other sources of omega 3 include-Fish, Canola oil, soy beans, walnuts, seeds (flaxseeds and chia seeds)
7. Water: It may seem surprising, but water can help prevent bloating and keeps you away from water retention. Try drinking 2 to 2.5 litres of water. You can also have infused water, tender coconut water, buttermilk and unsweetened fresh fruit juices.
Other helpful tips:
• Avoid caffeine: This can cause dehydration and could make you feel stressed and irritable since it acts as a stimulant.
• Avoid too much salt: This leads to water retention and bloating. Avoid processed packaged foods, namkeens, chips, pappad, pickles etc.
• Have small frequent meals: This helps to prevent nausea and can give you a slow sustained release of energy. Avoid spicy and oily foods as these could lead to digestive issues, since at this time digestion could be sluggish. Chew your food well and eat in a calm, relaxed environment.
• If you crave sweets or some treat, have a small fruit/ 2-3 raisins/ a date/ a fig. You can even have a small square of dark chocolate (choose one that contains more than 70% cocoa solids). Dark chocolate contains anti-oxidants that helps boost serotonin (a mood booster).
While having a period may not be the easiest thing to deal with; by feeding your body with the right foods, they can give you more energy and can help you feel better at this time.
With inputs from: