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Period Cramping Your Style? Here’s What to Eat in the Lead-Up Week

The lead-up to your period – also known as the Luetal phase – is the perfect time to lay the foundations for fewer cramps. The secret? What you put on your plate. And the best part? Chocolate is absolutely on the list! 

In the weeks leading up to your period, it's beneficial to focus on incorporating foods that may help reduce cramping and alleviate other symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Here are some nutrient-rich foods to include in your diet during this time:

Magnesium-Rich Foods

Magnesium is your right-hand mineral in the fight against period pain, and it's got the science to back it up, having been proven to help reduce muscle cramps and ease menstrual discomfort. Here's how:

Muscle relaxation: Magnesium is a mineral that helps relax muscles and nerves, including the smooth muscles of the uterus. During menstruation, the uterus contracts to shed its lining, which can lead to cramps and discomfort. Magnesium helps to ease these contractions, reducing the intensity of menstrual cramps and promoting overall relaxation. 

Pain modulation: Magnesium has been found to have analgesic properties, meaning it can help alleviate pain. It may influence pain perception pathways in the brain and nervous system, reducing the perception of menstrual discomfort.

Anti-inflammatory effects: Magnesium has mild anti-inflammatory effects, which can help reduce inflammation in the pelvic area associated with menstrual pain. By decreasing inflammation, magnesium may help alleviate symptoms such as bloating and pelvic discomfort. 

Hormonal balance: Magnesium plays a role in regulating hormonal balance in the body, including the hormones involved in the menstrual cycle. Maintaining adequate magnesium levels may help support hormonal balance, reducing the severity of menstrual symptoms.

Stress reduction: Magnesium is often referred to as the "anti-stress" mineral because it helps regulate the body's stress response system. High stress levels can exacerbate menstrual symptoms, including cramps and mood swings. By promoting relaxation and stress reduction, magnesium may indirectly help alleviate period pain and improve overall well-being during menstruation.

Be sure to load up on the nutrient with these foods:

  • Leafy Greens: Spinach, Swiss chard, kale
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds
  • Legumes: Black beans, chickpeas, lentils
  • Whole Grains: Brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread
  • Avocado: Add sliced avocado to salads, sandwiches, or smoothies
  • Dark Chocolate: Enjoy a small piece of dark chocolate as a treat


'Calcium-rich foods can help regulate muscle function and may alleviate menstrual cramps. Good sources of calcium include:

  • Dairy Products: Milk, yogurt, cheese (opt for low-fat or non-fat varieties if watching calorie intake)
  • Fortified Plant-Based Milk: Almond milk, soy milk, oat milk (look for calcium-fortified options)
  • Canned Fish with Bones: Sardines, salmon (the bones are edible and rich in calcium)
  • Tofu: Firm tofu is a good source of calcium and can be used in stir-fries or tofu scrambles
  • Leafy Greens: Collard greens, kale, bok choy, broccoli (while not as high in calcium as dairy, they still contribute to overall intake)

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce inflammation and ease menstrual pain.  

Alleviating menstrual cramps: Menstrual cramps, also known as dysmenorrhea, are often caused by the release of inflammatory prostaglandins in the uterus. Omega-3 fatty acids, by competing with omega-6 fatty acids in the body, can reduce the production of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. This helps to relax the uterine muscles and alleviate the intensity of menstrual cramps.

Reducing pelvic inflammation: Inflammation in the pelvic region can contribute to menstrual discomfort and pain. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce pelvic inflammation by inhibiting the production of inflammatory cytokines and promoting the resolution of inflammation in the pelvic tissues. This can lead to decreased pelvic pain and discomfort during menstruation. 

Managing bloating: Bloating is a common symptom of menstruation, often associated with water retention and inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids have diuretic properties, meaning they can help to reduce water retention by increasing urine output. Additionally, omega-3s' anti-inflammatory effects may help to alleviate bloating by reducing inflammation in the digestive tract and abdominal region.

Where to find it:

  • Fatty Fish: Salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines, herring
  • Flaxseeds: Ground flaxseeds or flaxseed oil
  • Chia Seeds: Add to smoothies, yogurt, or oatmeal
  • Walnuts: Snack on a handful of walnuts or add them to salads
  • Hemp Seeds: Sprinkle hemp seeds on salads or blend into smoothies
  • Fish Oil Supplements: Consider omega-3 supplements if you're not getting enough from food

Complex Carbohydrates

Whole grains and complex carbohydrates can help stabilise blood sugar levels and prevent mood swings and fatigue associated with PMS. Choose whole grains such as oats, quinoa, brown rice, and whole wheat bread, as well as starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and squash.

  • Whole Grains: Oats, quinoa, brown rice, barley, bulgur, farro
  • Legumes: Lentils, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans
  • Sweet Potatoes: Roasted sweet potatoes or sweet potato fries
  • Whole Wheat Bread: Choose whole grain varieties for sandwiches or toast
  • Whole Grain Pasta: Swap regular pasta for whole wheat or legume-based pasta

Fruits and Vegetables

Incorporate a variety of fruits and vegetables into your meals to ensure you're getting a range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Opt for colourful produce like berries, citrus fruits, bell peppers, leafy greens, broccoli, and carrots.

Herbal Teas

Herbal teas like ginger, chamomile, and peppermint may have calming and anti-inflammatory effects that can help relieve menstrual cramps and promote relaxation.

Anti-inflammatory effects: Many herbs used in herbal teas, such as ginger, turmeric, and chamomile, have anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation plays a significant role in menstrual pain, particularly in conditions like dysmenorrhea. Drinking herbal teas rich in anti-inflammatory compounds can help reduce inflammation in the pelvic area, easing menstrual cramps and discomfort.

Muscle relaxation: Certain herbs, including chamomile, peppermint, and raspberry leaf, have muscle relaxant properties. During menstruation, the uterus contracts to shed its lining, leading to cramps and discomfort. Drinking herbal teas that promote muscle relaxation can help ease uterine contractions and alleviate menstrual cramps.

Hormonal balance: Some herbs, such as chasteberry (Vitex), have been traditionally used to support hormonal balance in women. Hormonal imbalances can contribute to irregular menstrual cycles and exacerbate menstrual symptoms. Drinking herbal teas containing chasteberry or other hormone-regulating herbs may help regulate hormone levels, leading to reduced period pain and improved overall menstrual health.


Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Herbal teas, coconut water, and infused water with fruits or cucumber can also contribute to your fluid intake.

Limit Caffeine and Alcohol

While it's important to stay hydrated, try to limit your intake of caffeinated beverages and alcohol, as they can contribute to dehydration and may exacerbate PMS symptoms like irritability and breast tenderness.

Incorporating these nutrient-dense foods into your diet leading up to your period may help reduce cramping and discomfort associated with PMS. Additionally, maintaining a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, managing stress levels, and prioritising adequate sleep can also support overall menstrual health.

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