Hormonal changes during menstruation have a very close relationship with nutrition: they cause foods to be assimilated differently. It means that on some days we should give priority to vegetables and fruits and on other days we can have a plate of pasta, legumes or healthy fats because we are going to ‘burn it off’ easier.
But, be careful! It’s not just a matter of whether a dish is going to suit us better or worse or whether it’s going to make us gain more or less weight. A diet with nutritional deficiencies at this stage has consequences for health. “A poor diet can lead to alterations in the menstrual cycle and even fertility problems,” warns Marta Massip-Salcedo, director of the Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles of Women specialty at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC).
As a general rule, it is important to eat a diet high in fiber. “Eating vegetables in lunch and dinner dishes will help, and including fruit at least twice each day,” they point out from the Quirón nutrition unit. Other basic rules: “Include foods that provide us with iron, vitamin C, omega 3, reduce the consumption of sugars, salt and saturated fat, and avoid alcohol,” they add. But, if we adjust to each phase of the menstrual cycle, these are the foods that we should prioritize.
Iron and vitamin C
The first phase of the menstrual cycle begins with bleeding and ends at its end. It lasts five or six days on average. At this stage, estrogen and progesterone levels are usually low and the woman’s energy is also lower. «For these days, foods rich in iron are recommended, such as green leafy vegetables, lentils or red meat. And, to promote its absorption, you should also eat raw oranges, kiwis or tomatoes, which have vitamin C,” says the UOC professor. If the woman has heavy bleeding, she must take special care with iron; One trick is to reinforce the diet with bivalves: clams, mussels…
Pasta, cereals and protein
The second period of the menstrual cycle is the one that runs between menstruation and ovulation. Lasts 10 to 12 days. It is the follicular phase, in which a rapid rise in estrogen occurs. «It causes us to have greater sensitivity to insulin and optimal metabolization of carbohydrates. It is time to include potatoes, legumes, pasta, cereals, vegetables and fruits in a greater proportion, since we will metabolize them more effectively.
It is also important to make an adequate contribution of protein and be alert to fluid retention prior to ovulation, which can be improved with a higher consumption of water or infusions and avoiding overdoing it with salt,” says Marta Massip-Salcedo. In the next phase, at ovulation, the level of estrogen reaches its peak. It can last between 12 and 24 hours. The advisable diet is the same as during menstruation.
Vegetables and fruits
After ovulation, the luteal or secretory phase arrives. Its duration is usually 12 to 16 days. «Progesterone is the dominant hormone and estrogens are becoming less; This translates into a period of greater insulin resistance and worse carbohydrate metabolism. “It is time to opt for vegetables and fruits with a low glycemic index to avoid insulin spikes, which will make us hungrier and snack,” adds the expert.
Techniques against the sensation of swelling
If there is inflammation or a feeling of bloating, “choosing easily digestible culinary techniques can also help – long cooking, boiling, stewing, baking, using very little fat,” point out Quirón nutritionists. “It is important to incorporate foods rich in omega 3 into your diet, because they also help reduce inflammation, such as oily fish or nuts,” they detail.
And given the craving for sweets…
Sweet cravings are more frequent during menstruation. If you eat sweets rationally, once or twice a month, it will not influence your body weight, dietitians agree. His advice: we can choose homemade pastries and use as ingredients whole wheat or oat flour, chickpeas… and intrinsic sugars present in foods such as ripe banana, dates or roasted pumpkin.
Foods to avoid ‘aftermath’: swelling, pain, mood changes…
Increase the consumption of healthy fats such as oily fish or nuts. They are foods that have a satiating and anti-inflammatory effect, they will help us reduce the physiological inflammation caused by menstruation and control hunger and cravings.
Drink infusions based on anti-inflammatory spices such as turmeric.
Nuts, soy, eggs…
Consume foods rich in tryptophan, magnesium and vitamin B6 – chicken and turkey, dairy products, eggs, soy, spinach, banana, nuts… – to cope with changes in mood and irritability, and improve rest.