In order to support our bodies and health throughout our menstrual cycle we should aim to eat a healthy balanced diet which includes a range of fruit and vegetables, protein, healthy unsaturated fats and complex carbohydrates, plenty of fibre and at least 2 litres of fluids each day.
Our menstrual cycle is controlled by two main hormones - Oestrogen and Progesterone - and there is limited research into how these hormone fluctuations affect what we eat. However, what we do know is that our hormones play a role in how we feel (our physical and mental well-being) and this can affect a range of things from food choices, to temperature, to sleep patterns. We are all unique and everybody’s body will respond slightly differently to changes in hormone levels. Some people find it helpful to keep a diary to track how they are feeling during their cycle as it gives them more insight into their body during different times of the month.
When we have a period, we lose blood and fluids and as iron, folate and vitamin B12 play a vital role in producing blood cells, it is important that we have enough in our diets to support this. Some women have naturally heavier periods than others and this is normal but if it begins to affect your lifestyle then go and see your GP as there are treatments available. Throughout the whole of our cycle there are some key things to consider to support our bodies natural menstrual patterns;
❤ B12 – This vitamin is found in meat, eggs, poultry, dairy products and other animal products, meaning that those that don’t eat meat or dairy are at risk of deficiency. If you are vegetarian or vegan it is important to consume a range of grains and cereals that are fortified with B12 and/or take a daily supplement.
❤ FOLATE – We should eat a range of fresh green leafy vegetables such spinach, kale, cabbage and broccoli to ensure that we are consuming enough folate. Try not to overcook vegetables as this causes some of the folate to be lost, try steaming or microwaving instead of boiling veg. Other good sources include, beans, fortified cereals, whole grains foods and poultry.
❤ IRON – Include lots of iron rich foods such as, beans, peas, lentils and dark green leafy vegetables, tofu, nuts and seeds, red meat (this is a rich source of iron and is easily absorbed but so we should try not to have more than 70g per day) and to a lesser extent chicken and fish. Some cereals are fortified with iron. Tea and coffee contain a substance called tannin which can reduce iron absorption so avoid drinking tea or coffee with a meal, directly before or after. Vitamin C helps iron absorption and so eating fruit and vegetables together with iron rich foods is a great idea to boost intake.
❤ FLUIDS – Stay hydrated by drinking at least 2 litres of fluids each day, this can be water or dilute squash. Teas and coffee also count but make sure this isn’t your only source of fluids. If you are exercising or its particularly warm, then try to drink more than 2 litres.
❤ENERGY – When we say energy what we really mean is calories. When trying to lose weight it can be tempting to reduce your calories right down but if your body isn’t getting enough energy to function properly then our periods can become irregular or even stop altogether. The right amount of calories will be different for every single person and depends upon age, lifestyle, how active you are, height, weight etc. As a guideline, women should aim for around 2000 kcals a day and men for 2500kcals. You can reduce this slightly if you are trying to lose weight but please make sure you are fueling your body especially if you are someone who exercises regularly.
There is a lot of information available online around what we should and shouldn’t be eating at different times of the month. However, as all of our bodies are different it is very difficult to suggest that we should ALL be eating or not eating specific foods. The above guidance is based on current scientific evidence and what we already know about the nutrition requirements of women who are of reproductive age.
If you are using a form of contraception which means that you don’t have a monthly period, then the above advice is still relevant as a balanced diet supports all areas of our health and well-being. It will ensure that you are meeting your bodies requirements for nutrients, nourishing your body and promoting positive health and well-being.
On a side note, if you do experience anything unusual for your body such as pain or discomfort that is different to what you usually feel, bleeding outside of your period, continuous bleeding, irregular periods or if you miss a period then please go to see a GP for some support and guidance.