There are a billion-and-one reasons why all women should consider themselves to be extraordinary beings with supernatural powers. Shoot, I am reminded of this every time my period rolls around. Although I've been fortunate to not experience a ton of cramping or any real menstrual-related discomfort, I do bloat, I am drained, a period pimple or two is sure to pop up (and leave a mark), the first two days are like bleed central…and, then there's the cravings. The week before and a couple of days into my period, anything processed and/or sugary, I'm all for it!
If you can totally relate to that last part, don't let anyone cause you to think that it's all in your head. The sugar that you desire is due to the drop in progesterone and estrogen that your body is experiencing. The dip in your serotonin (the feel-good hormone in your system) is why you want carbs like potato chips, pastries and all things white (white rice, white bread, white pasta, etc.). Problem is, while these foods may taste really good, they actually can make your period so much worse due to them causing things like fluctuating hormones, dehydration and a lack of sleep.
So, what exactly should you be eating in order to have a more pleasant menstrual cycle? According to science—and a little taste-testing on my end—here are some that will definitely make that one week a month, so much easier to bear.
1. Dark Chocolate
In every way and form that I can possibly think of, dark chocolate is dope. On the health tip, all of the antioxidants in it makes dark chocolate good for your heart, libido, blood pressure, vision and moods. And yes, get totally excited because dark chocolate is something that you shouldn't feel the least bit guilty about eating when you're on your period.
If you eat a high-quality form of it (it needs to have at least 65 percent cacao in it), the magnesium that's in dark chocolate will reduce the intensity of your cramps and trigger the endorphins in your system so that you feel happier—or at least less stressed.
A naturally sweet way to get a good amount of potassium and fiber into your system is to have a banana. Some other cool things about this particular fruit is it can help to prevent diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. If you've got a Charlie horse, bananas can bring instant relief and, the Vitamin A in bananas make them a great way to keep your eyes healthy and strong.
Eating a banana is good for you during your period because oftentimes cramping worsens as the result of having too little potassium in our bodies. Not only that, but the Vitamin B6 that's also in this kind of fruit can soothe any back discomfort that your period may bring to your body.
When I'm writing on topics like this, I like to mention when foods are in season; that way, you can get them when they've got the most nutrients and they taste the best. As far as watermelon goes, it's a fruit that is at its peak from May-September. This is a food that will not only keep you hydrated (something that you definitely need when you're on your period; more on that in just a sec), it also has a good amount of vitamins A and C, is able to help prevent certain types of cancer, reduce bodily inflammation and, if you eat some of it following a workout, the citrulline (an amino acid) that is in watermelon can help to decrease any muscle soreness that you may be experiencing.
Since watermelon is made up of so much water (92 percent), it, along with its natural sugar (6 percent), can also soothe your period cramps. It's definitely a healthier alternative to OTC meds.
4. Infused Water
The reason why we all need to drink more water than usual whenever we're on our period is because it's the shift in our progesterone and estrogen levels that causes us to feel bloated and can sometimes end up causing constipation. If you'd honestly rather drink anything but water, make your own infused kind. That way, the water will have a little extra flavor to it, plus the fresh fruits, veggies and/or herbs will give your system some more of the nutrients that it probably needs.
Whatever you do, just make sure that you don't eat a billion bowls of cereal or get a large milkshake. Dairy contains something known as arachidonic acid that can trigger cramps or make them more intense. Also, soda and coffee aren't really your friends either. They are good at putting your hormones on even more of a roller coaster ride. Who wants that?!
Let's throw a spice in here, shall we? When's the last time you cooked with a little bit of saffron? It's got the kind of antioxidants that fight cancer, lower blood sugar levels, reduce heart disease risk and can increase the libido in both men and women (if you take a 30 mg supplement on a daily basis, that is).
What a lot of people don't know is saffron is also pretty awesome at treating PMS and mood swings. On the PMS tip, saffron soothes food cravings, headaches and any pain that's associated with your period. Also, if you typically find yourself feeling kinda blue (or straight-up pissed) during that time of the month, this a spice that is effective at treating mild depression (again, so long as you consume it on a regular basis).
OK, before you get too excited, I'm not talking about movie popcorn that's doused in butter and salt. But yes, popcorn (especially if you pop it yourself—on the stove and not in the microwave) that has as little "extra" on it as possible is a multi-grain food that contains vitamins B1, B3 and B6, magnesium, manganese (a ton of that!), zinc, potassium, copper, phosphorus and iron. Something else that popcorn has in it is a good amount of antioxidants. So yeah, possibly without you even knowing it, it's the kind of snack food that can boost your immune system.
The reason why it's perfectly fine to curl up with a bowl of popcorn and binge-watch your favorite show while you're on your cycle is because popcorn also triggers the production of serotonin in your system. When serotonin is flowing, you end up being in a better mood and getting a sounder night's rest too.
Spinach is a low-calorie (25 of 'em per serving) vegetable that offers all sorts of nutrients. It's got vitamins A, B6, C, E, K, folic acid, calcium and iron in it. It also contains plant compounds like lutein, quercetin and zeaxanthin. All of these nutrients make it possible for spinach to fight off free radicals, improve your vision and lower your blood pressure. At the same time, if you are prone to kidney stones, you probably shouldn't eat spinach on a daily basis; the calcium and oxalates that's in it could actually cause a kidney stone to form (#themoreyouknow).
Since spinach does have a lot of iron in it, eating some is a good way to get your blood back on track. And, since it also contains Vitamin E, a little green juice or spinach salad can decrease any menstrual discomfort you might be feeling too.
The peak season for blackberries is July thru August. I recommend getting some because, not only do they have a lot of vitamins A, C and K in them, they also are full of fiber and manganese too. Aside from the fact that, the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties in blackberries can keep the cavities away. And this fruit can boost your brain health too.
Another plus with blackberries is they are able to bring balance back to your hormones (that just may be all over the place during your period). Also, if you are naturally low in estrogen, they just might give that a bit of a boost as well. (For the record, blueberries can also accomplish a lot of these same things.)
9. Cramp Bark Tea
Gee, it's almost poetic that the herb viburnum is also known as cramp bark. Because it contains properties that suppress muscle spasms and reduce muscle tension, it's the type of herb that can relieve symptoms that are related to inflammation, tension headaches and even arthritis. If you're dealing with symptoms related to perimenopause or menopause, it can reduce some of those as well.
Since this is the type of herb that works so well with muscle discomfort, it makes perfect sense why it would be a great herb to treat menstrual cramps. Not only that, but the phenolic compounds in cramp bark can also aid in treating endometriosis or speed up the physical healing process of a miscarriage.
You can take this herb in supplement form, but I recommend drinking it as a hot tea because that can feel super soothing. A brand of cramp bark that's good is Tea Haven's Cramp Bark Tea.
I don't know about you, but something that I find to be a great comfort food (especially when the cold weather sets in) is some homemade lentil soup. It's a good source of protein and fiber, contains a pretty impressive amount of calcium (38 grams per cup) and, if you're pregnant, it's also a good way to get some (more) folic acid into your system. I decided to end this particular food round up with lentils because two other nutrients that it contains are iron and magnesium.
Due to all of the blood that is lost during our period (the average is around 16 teaspoons), we need the iron replenishment, for sure. And, as far as magnesium goes, if you tend to have trouble sleeping during your period, having some lentils for dinner may help you to get some much needed z-z-z's so that you—and your period—can tackle another day. (If you want to make some of your own soup, Chef Mama Rosa has a recipe for you here. Enjoy!)
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