While a healthy diet is always valuable, it is particularly important during your period. Many women experience some level of pain, inflammation, bloating and tiredness during menstruation. While a poor diet that is low in nutrients or high in added sugars or unhealthy fats can worsen these symptoms, a nutritious, balanced diet can help reduce them. Emphasizing certain foods and nutrients may provide exceptional benefits. If your symptoms are severe or long-lasting, seek guidance from your doctor.
Fish and Poultry
Fish and poultry provide rich amounts of protein, which supports blood sugar and appetite control. Fish and skinless, white-meat poultry also provide healthy alternatives to fatty meats, such as steak and fried chicken, which can increase inflammation. The omega-3 fatty acids in cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel and albacore tuna, can help reduce inflammation and, potentially, menstrual pain. As iron-rich foods, fish and poultry can help prevent low iron levels. This is important because, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health, women lose an average of 15 to 20 milligrams of iron during menstruation. This amount is more if you bleed heavily. Iron deficiency can cause headaches, dizziness, foggy thinking and fatigue. Chicken liver provides 11 milligrams of iron per 3-ounce serving. Light tuna canned in water and roasted poultry provide roughly 1 to 2 milligrams per 3-ounce serving.
Legumes, such as beans, lentils and split peas, provide valuable amounts of fiber, protein, calcium and antioxidants. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends eating antioxidant and calcium-rich foods for reduced menstrual pain. Legumes are also rich in iron. Boiled soybeans provide 8.8 milligrams per cup. Cooked lentils provide 6.6 milligrams per cup. Because plant-derived iron is less easily absorbed by your body, pair it with meat or vitamin C-rich foods, such as citrus fruits, which improve absorption. As low-glycemic foods, legumes can also help ensure positive blood sugar and energy levels between meals.
Colorful Fruits and Vegetables
Colorful fruits and vegetables tend to contain significant amounts of antioxidants. Varieties particularly rich in the antioxidant vitamin C include oranges, strawberries, squash, dark leafy greens, bell peppers and tomatoes. Fruits and vegetables also provide fiber and water, which can help reduce bloating and reduce pain. Fruit salads, smoothies and sweet potatoes provide naturally sweet alternatives to sugary sweets, such as candy, which can worsen menstrual pain.
Low-Fat Dairy Products
Low-fat dairy products are top sources of calcium and vitamin D. Although findings are mixed, according to the UMMC, calcium may help reduce pain during your period. Vitamin D could help minimize inflammation. Avoid high-fat dairy products, such as whole milk and high-fat cheeses, however, which can have the opposite effect. Nutritious dishes based on low-fat dairy products include smoothies made with fruit and low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt parfaits, and lasagna made with whole grain noodles -- a valuable source of B-vitamins -- lean ground turkey instead of beef, and low-fat cottage cheese instead of high-fat ricotta cheese. If you don't consume or tolerate dairy products, choose soy-based alternatives for similar benefits.
August McLaughlin is a health and sexuality writer, podcast host and author of “Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment” (Amberjack Publishing, 2018). Her articles appear in DAME Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, the Huffington Post and more, and she loves connecting with readers through her blog and social media. augustmclaughlin.com