Healthy Diets and Your Menstrual Cycle

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Your menstrual period. It comes to visit about once a month. It's not the most enjoyable of physiological functions, but it's necessary for normal reproductive health.

You might find that your cravings for certain foods increase for a few (or many) days before your period begins. The most common culprits are sweets and salty foods. The problem, of course, is that indulging too heavily might increase your caloric intake and the excess sodium can make fluid retention (a common symptom of PMS) worse.

Tips for Beating PMS Cravings

No one knows exactly why some women suffer from food cravings during those premenstrual days, but there are a few things you can do to combat them:

  • Eat smaller more frequent meals. This may help keep blood sugar levels constant, or maybe it just helps to know your next meal isn't several hours away.
  • Choose fiber-rich foods. The fiber slows down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates and helps you feel full a little longer.
  • Add protein. Foods that are high in protein might also help curb your food cravings.
  • Drink more water. Water has no calories so it can replace sugary beverages. Add a slice of lemon, lime or cucumber for flavor.
  • Try some exercise or take a walk. Light exercise might help reduce your appetite for junk foods or at least get your mind off eating while you're moving around.
  • Keep sugary and salty foods out of your house. Keep fresh fruits and vegetables around. A handful of grapes or a sweet tangerine may be enough to curb your craving for sugar.

Eating Right During Your Period

Your dietary needs are about the same during your period as they are the rest of the month, but if you have heavy blood flow, you might need some extra iron. It's probably not a big deal if you're a massive meat-eater, but if you're on a vegetarian or vegan diet, you might want to take an iron supplement. Or you can eat more foods that are high in iron, such as iron-fortified foods, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

You can also boost your iron absorption by eating vitamin C-rich foods along with those plant-based iron sources. If you feel any fatigue or have any other concerns about PMS or your menstrual cycle, you should speak to your health care provider before taking any iron supplements.

Increased Appetite Might Mean Extra Calories

Many women report an increased appetite, which when combined with food cravings can lead to an increase in caloric intake. You may have a slightly higher metabolism during your period, but you can easily add hundreds of calories per day if you're not careful.

Use a food diary to keep track of the foods you eat. Watch your beverage intake, as well. This may not be the best time for heavy alcohol consumption, and even caffeine can contribute to your discomfort.

Favorite Period Foods

These foods have that perfect combination of comfort factor and flavor, but they're still healthful. They're not all low in calories, so keep your portion sizes in mind:

  • Apple slices with caramel sauce (lite or sugar-free if you'd like) and chopped nuts.
  • Any kind of fruit smoothie.
  • Sliced banana with a drizzle of chocolate syrup and chopped nuts.
  • One cup Greek nonfat yogurt with honey and pecans.
  • 1/4 cup hummus served with fresh vegetables or whole-grain crackers.
  • Baked tortilla chips
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