If you wish you didn't have to bother with a monthly period, you're not alone. In fact, more than 30 percent of women in a recent survey said they'd rather go to the dentist than deal with menstrual woes. But Bahar Takhtehchian, SHAPE's Editor-at-Large, has some easy strategies that can help make the "monthly curse" more bearable. Turns out what you eat (and avoid) can play a big role in determining how you feel.
GENERAL INFO ABOUT PERIODS AND PMS
WHAT TO EAT: Calcium
WHY: Several studies show calcium eases PMS-related symptoms. Taking calcium only during PMS time would likely help symptoms, but at SHAPE, we recommend daily intake for prevention of osteoporosis and good general health.
WHERE TO FIND IT: Low-fat yogurt, milk, low-fat cheese, broccoli, kale, collard greens
WHAT TO EAT: Magnesium
WHY: Studies have shown that the mineral magnesium, found naturally in food and in supplements, can help relieve PMS. In fact, magnesium was found to significantly improve PMS mood changes in one study. In another study, magnesium was found to significantly reduce weight gain, swelling of the hands and legs, breast tenderness, and abdominal bloating.
WHERE TO FIND IT: Spinach, beans, tofu, and peanuts. Not only are these foods good for cramps, but they may help reduce bloating in menstruating women
WHAT TO EAT: Unrefined grains
WHY: Unrefined grains can increase levels of serotonin, which boosts your mood and help ward off PMS-related irritability.
WHERE TO FIND IT: Whole-wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, and brown rice. Bonus: whole grains are filled with fiber, so you will stay satisfied for longer and will be less likely to graze and take in extra calories throughout the day. Afterall, gaining weight is definitely likely to put you in a bad mood, so watch your waistline!
WHAT TO EAT: Omega-3 fatty acids
WHY: Omega 3s work to reduce inflammation that can cause pain. Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids: They are necessary for human health but the body can' t make them -- you have to get them through food. Besides helping with pain relief during your period, they're also key in reducing your risk of heart disease. Because omega 3s reduce inflammation, they may help lower your risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.
WHERE TO FIND IT: Flaxseed oil, walnuts, salmon, and sardines
WHAT TO EAT: VITAMIN A AND D-RICH FOODS
WHY: As if PMS wasn't bad enough, your period can wreak havoc on your skin. As you probably know all too well, breakouts begin to attack before and during your period. The good news? Foods rich in Vitamins A and D can help you steer clear of acne and oily skin.
WHERE TO FIND IT: Cantaloupe, raw carrots, cooked sweet potatoes, spinach, and enriched milk and cereal
WHAT TO EAT: VITAMIN B-RICH FOODS
WHY: Vitamin B6 can help with many PMS symptoms including bloating, cravings, tiredness, and mood swings.
WHERE TO FIND IT: Chicken, eggs, sweet potatoes
WHAT TO EAT: FRESH FRUITS & VEGGIES
WHY: Fruit should always be part of your daily meal plan, but it's particularly crucial during menstruation. The reason? The natural sugars from fruits can help alleviate sugar cravings, and this can control your mood.
WHERE TO FIND IT: Apricots, oranges, plums, pears, cucumbers, artichokes, corn, and carrots
WHAT TO EAT: DARK CHOCOLATE
WHY: Having a piece of dark chocolate every day during your period will help soothe cravings. Plus, dark chocolate has helpful antioxidants and is linked to boosting serotonin, which can help improve your mood.
WHERE TO FIND IT: Dark chocolate with 60 percent or higher cacao bean
WHAT TO DRINK: WATER
WHY: This one may not feel intuitive, but drinking more water will help your body release water retention and alleviate bloating. Your body is retaining water because it's afraid of not getting enough. So, if you give it what it needs (more water) it will release the water it's holding onto. You can also eat fruits (watermelon, apples) and veggie (celery, eggplants, etc) that are hydrating to boost your h20 levels.
WHAT NOT TO DRINK AND EAT
DON'T DRINK CAFFEINE
Caffeine also elevates estrogen levels that increases symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Cutting back on caffeine intake can help reduce bloating, can relieve breast tenderness, and can calm an irritable stomach. So skip the tea, coffee, and cola and go for decaf green tea, warm milk, or lemon and water.
DON'T EAT TOO MUCH SALT
Though salt is crucial to good health, bloating and water retention can occur if you overdo it. Nutritionists recommend a diet with 2,300 milligrams/day, or roughly one teaspoon. The best way to control salt intake is to avoid processed (chips, frozen foods, etc) and fast foods, many of which contain three to four times the salt you should have in one meal. Some people are more sensitive to it than others. If you're the type who retains water quickly after eating salty foods, scale back during the premenstrual week. Salt increases water retention, which leads to bloating.
SKIP THE BOOZE
Alcohol increases premenstrual depression and headaches. Try to avoid it during your period.
SKIP THE EXCESS SUGAR
Sugar causes rapid swings in blood sugar levels, triggering mood swings. Avoid candy and sweets when you can and rely on nature's candy instead (grapes, bananas, mangos, apples)
Regular aerobic exercise such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling may help relieve PMS symptoms. In one study, the frequency but not the intensity of exercise was associated with a decreased PMS symptoms. Even if exercise doesn't totally get rid of the symptoms that occur during your periods, your amped up level of activity will help you control your weight and reduce stress.