The right food for a harmonious menstrual cycle

Cramps, bad mood, water reten­tion. Almost every mens­trua­ting per­son has expe­ri­en­ced at least one of the count­less PMS and mens­trual sym­ptoms. There are many tips to help get through this time. One of them: Eating. Eat cycli­cally, to be exact. If ques­tion marks are appearing on your face now, hang in there! Because the right nut­ri­tion for the mens­trual cycle can do a lot more than just relieve discomfort.

How can we actively support the menstrual cycle?

Ever­ything we eat somehow has an influ­ence on our body. For this rea­son, you can basi­cally lis­ten to what your body tells you. If you know yourself well and pay atten­tion to yourself, you will quickly find out which food is good and tole­ra­ble. And also which you should rather avoid. Nevertheless, there are some tips on what to watch out for in which cycle phase.

Nutrition for the menstrual cycle: Persephone, pomegranates and Japanese women

The god­dess of love and lust, Per­se­phone, is often depic­ted with a pome­gra­nate in her hand. It is a sign of her fer­ti­lity and femi­nin­ity. Pome­gra­na­tes con­tain plant est­ro­gens, also cal­led phy­toes­tro­gens. These can acti­vate est­ro­gen recep­tors in the body, but also block them. Mens­trual and PMS sym­ptoms often occur when the mens­trua­ting per­son has an est­ro­gen sur­plus. In this case, phy­toes­tro­gens have a blo­cking effect. Est­ro­gen defi­ci­en­cies, on the other hand, are found in con­nec­tion with meno­pause, where phy­toes­tro­gens then have an acti­vat­ing effect to com­pen­sate for the imbalance.

Like pome­gra­na­tes, soy also con­tains phy­toes­tro­gens. People in Asian coun­tries such as Japan eat a lot of soy. The­re­fore, women who fol­low a tra­di­tio­nal asian diet hardly ever suf­fer from meno­pau­sal sym­ptoms and PMS as known in Europe. The­re­fore, a regu­lar intake of phy­toes­tro­gen-con­tai­ning foods can relieve sym­ptoms. Per­so­nally, I don’t like soy too much, so I’m very happy that len­tils, peas, beans, pota­toes, plums, and (pome­gra­nate) app­les, among others, also have phy­toes­tro­ge­nic effects. Espe­cially if you eat the peel too, because the hig­hest con­cen­tra­tion of the valu­able sub­s­tance can be found directly under the peel.

Follicular phase

Our body needs energy to rebuild the ute­rine lining after mens­trua­tion. Many mens­trua­tors also feel more cheer­ful, upbeat and full of energy during this time. You can now sup­port your body with pro­tein-rich foods, such as kid­ney beans, len­tils or soy pro­ducts. Pro­bio­tic foods such as sauer­kraut, pick­les, yogurt and bean sprouts also help during this phase.

Ovulation

Shortly before and during ovu­la­tion it can be hel­pful to eat raw vege­ta­bles, dark ber­ries, broc­coli, aspa­ra­gus, corn, and red len­tils as these foods con­tain fiber, anti­oxi­d­ants and cal­cium, that sup­port the body during ovulation.

Luteal phase

The luteal phase can be cal­led the inner autumn. Our body shuts down and oft­en­ti­mes you may feel the need to retreat. The well-being can now be incre­a­sed with vit­amin B by eating chick­peas, bana­nas, pep­pers, kale and avo­cado. Also, as a pre­cau­tio­nary mea­sure, one should already make sure to con­sume enough magne­sium and iron so the body has no defi­ci­en­cies during mens­trua­tion. Foods rich in iron are beet, fennel, aru­gula, wal­nuts and cho­co­late (the ones with a high cocoa content!).

Menstruation

In addi­tion to iron, you can make sure you get enough unsa­tu­ra­ted fats during your period. These can be found in sal­mon, avo­cado and olives for examleVit­amin A from spi­n­ach, car­rots, kale, sweet pota­toes and pump­kin also con­tri­bute to a hor­mo­nal balance.

Avoid meat and dairy products as nutrition for the menstrual cycle

I was a vege­ta­rian mys­elf for quite a while and was happy that, unlike many people I know, I didn’t have cramps during my mens­trua­tion. When I star­ted eating meat regu­larly again I had cramps for the first (and unfor­tu­n­a­tely not the last) time. I didn’t see the con­nec­tion until I cut back on my meat con­sump­tion for two mon­ths. With a hot water bot­tle and laven­der oil I was pre­pa­red for the abdo­mi­nal pain but it didn’t come.

Meat and dairy pro­ducts espe­cially beef and pork, sau­sage, offal and whole milk con­tain a lot of ara­chi­do­nic acid. This pro­mo­tes inflamma­tion and cramps and the­re­fore cau­ses more severe cramps and pain before and during mens­trua­tion. We also absorb the stress hor­mone cor­ti­sol via meat, which is secreted by ani­mals before slaugh­ter and of which mens­trua­ting women already have an incre­a­sed dose in their bodies before their period any­way. To sum up, giving up meat or eating less meat for one to two weeks before mens­trua­tion can help against the pain.

Reduce sugar and salt consumption

Sugar and also cow’s milk incre­ase the pro­duc­tion of insu­lin. Insu­lin ensu­res the pro­duc­tion of tes­to­ste­rone, which is partly respon­si­ble for acne and pimp­les. Addi­tio­nally salt should only be con­su­med in mode­ra­tion before the period as it pro­mo­tes water reten­tion in the body, which can occur espe­cially during this time.

Cyclic seeds and kernels

During the two meat-redu­ced mon­ths, I also tes­ted some­thing else: “seed cycling.” The principle of seed cycling is to sup­port the hor­mo­nes and their balance men­tio­ned at the  begin­ning with seeds. In the fol­li­cu­lar phase, these are flax­seeds and pump­kin seeds, which con­tain many omega-3 fatty acids that sti­mu­late FSH. Sesame seeds and sun­flower seeds can sup­port you during the luteal phase. They con­tain omega-6 fatty acids and thus sup­port the pro­duc­tion of pro­ges­te­rone and pre­vent est­ro­gen domi­nance. In addi­tion, all of these seeds also con­tain the phy­toes­tro­gens men­tio­ned above. So I sna­cked on pump­kin seeds, made my muesli Insta­gram-ready with flax­seeds, and ate rolls with sun­flower seeds. 

How important is nutrition for the menstrual cycle?

In the end, I can’t really say whe­ther all of this had an influ­ence on my cycle as big as it pro­mi­ses. Because alt­hough I felt com­for­ta­ble in my skin, every cycle is indi­vi­dual and influ­en­ced by very dif­fe­rent things like stress, exer­cise and the psy­che. We need more stu­dies on the cycle and mens­trua­tion! But what I can say is: it helps to observe yourself during your cycle and to find out more about your body. It is a kind of self­care to sup­port your body with cer­tain food in dif­fe­rent phases.

If you want to learn more about the topic and are loo­king for reci­pes, I recom­mend the book “Eat like a woman” by Andrea Haslmayr and others.

Sophia
Sophia 
Stu­dent | + posts

Sophia lives near Lake Con­stance in Ger­many, where she stu­dies lite­ra­ture, art and media. She soaks up infor­ma­tion about the mens­trual cycle like a (mens­trual) sponge and tries hard to keep her tips lis­ted here in mind herself, even if she some­ti­mes can't resist a fro­zen pizza.