Food and your period go hand in hand, which is why your dietary choices can make or break your menstrual health. From keeping your hormones in harmony to fighting those crippling cramps, these are the nutrients you won’t want to skip out on, plus where to find them.
Iron and vitamin C
During the menstrual phase of your cycle, blood loss is par for the course – but did you know you can lose around 50 millilitres of blood? Yikes. Along with the blood, you’ll lose iron stores too, so it’s essential to eat foods rich in this essential nutrient. Iron plays a role in the following functions:
- Healthy growth and development
- Transporting oxygen around the body
- Hormone production
- Energy regulation
If you have a heavy flow, you may be particularly at risk of depleting your stores of this vital nutrient – blood loss of over 60 millilitres will drain your stores, while 80 millilitres could cause anaemia, and even a measly 40 millilitre loss can leave you 1.6 milligrams less iron that you had before. That’s over 10% of your daily iron needs to compensate for. So, load up on the following foods:
- Dark leafy greens
- Meat and eggs
- Iron-fortified milks and breads
But don’t forget to take your iron with vitamin C! This stuff helps your body absorb the iron, plus you’ll benefit from the antioxidising, immune-boosting benefits of vitamin C. You can find it in citrus fruits, broccoli, capsicum, berries and potatoes.
Magnesium is the cramp-whisperer of the nutritional world – this stuff is not only good for that corked muscle, it’ll also work wonders for those debilitating period cramps. Research has backed not only its cramp-fighting abilities, but also its mood-regulating abilities. So, if you often experience painful cramps or mood swings during your period, a little magnesium could be just what the doctor ordered. Leafy greens, nuts and seeds are great ways to get more magnesium into your diet – try to load up on any of the following:
- Dark chocolate – yep, this stuff is full of magnesium, while also satisfying that chocolately sweet tooth; just remember to get a high cocoa solid content!
- Pumpkin seeds
Vitamin B6 and zinc
This vitamin is essential for a healthy balance of hormones, and it’s particularly crafty at keeping progesterone in check. This is the hormone to blame for any mood swings right before the beginning of your period – healthy levels of progesterone can significantly reduce or even eliminate these uncomfortable symptoms. Here are a few ways to get this helpful nutrient onto your plate:
- Beef liver
- Dark leafy greens
Zinc is another nutrient needed for progesterone regulation. It also helps to with regulating your cycle – it does this by promoting healthy follicles in the ovaries – so if you’re someone who can never predict when your period will be joining the chat, zinc could be the solution. You’ll find it in the following foods:
- Mushrooms – especially shiitake mushrooms
- Whole grains
We all know the sunshine vitamin is essential for mental and physical health, but did you know that it plays a pretty big role in period health too? Studies have found that vitamin D can significantly reduce the severity of mood-related symptoms during your menstrual cycle, including depression and low mood, and it may even help with fatigue. Go for the following foods to get your dose:
- Mushrooms – aim for vitamin D enhanced varieties!
Omega 3 and fibre
During the follicular phase – this phase starts when your period starts, but ends around 14 days later – of your menstrual cycle, you want to set yourself up for a stress-free, pain-free (or at least pain-reduced) period, and omega 3 fatty acids and fibre are two key nutrients to get you on the path.
Omega 3: This anti-inflammatory nutrient plays a major role in relieving menstrual pain – but that’s not all it’s good for. This fatty acid also supports healthy cell and hormone function, along with promoting strong hair and skin – this is especially important during a time where your hormones may be a little imbalanced, so getting things back on track is the key to maintaining your overall health. Go for the following foods:
- Algae oil
- Hemp seeds
Fibre: Periods and poo make for a diabolical duo – many of you know what we’re talking about here. A lot of people struggle with either diarrhoea or constipation throughout their cycle, and the results can be painful, disruptive and, well, explosive. But it’s not part and parcel for your period – there are steps you can take to reduce these toilet woes, and it starts with one of the most important nutrients – fibre. Fibre is essential for regulating our bowel movements and making sure we’re excreting those excess hormones – when we’re constipated, the oestrogen ends up staying with us a little past its welcome. So, to combat this common ailment, drop a few of the following onto your shopping list:
- Whole fruits and veggies
- Whole grains
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