What To Eat During Your Period to Help You Feel Your Best

Woman making dinner in the kitchen

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Periods are often surrounded by a handful of stereotypes: feeling sluggish, crying, eating chocolate, and an overall need for comfort. While this comfort may quickly be found in a good movie, a nap, or a snack you've been craving, there's another strategy as well. Fueling your body with food that has the nutrients your body needs during menstruation may be the secret to actually feeling your best.

Your body benefits from nutrients—it craves them! That's because what you eat and your hormones are directly related. Nutrients from food act directly on the gut and nervous system to affect production and secretion of hormones. What you eat, as well as how much and how often all affect the health of your hormones.

While nourishing your body for hormone health is important all of the time, focusing on certain foods during your menstrual phase is helpful to support your hormones and manage possible discomfort and cramps.

Eating to support your menstrual phase also keeps energy high and mood swings stable. Adjusting your diet to fluctuating hormones at different phases in your cycle can be empowering when it comes to taking charge of your health.

Nutrients to Focus on During Your Menstrual Phase

Menstruation occurs during the first week of the entire month long cycle—usually lasting between three days to a week. In this stage, hormones estrogen and progesterone are that their lowest level to shed the uterine lining resulting in a bleed. Key nutrients to focus on are iron and vitamin B12.

Iron

Iron is a mineral that is naturally present in food, added to some foods, or found in supplement form. It is an essential component of hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that moves oxygen all around the body. Iron is also important for growth, neurological development, cellular functioning, and synthesis of hormones.

Iron is depleted with blood loss during menstruation, putting people who menstruate at risk for iron deficiency. Adolescents are at particularly high risk for iron deficiency due to a combination of accelerated growth, low dietary iron intake, and menstruation.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is a critical component of red blood cell formation, cell metabolism, and nerve function.

According to Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, registered dietitian and author of The Better Period Food Solution, "because your body is running low on hormones like estrogen and progesterone, it's all too common to be feeling sluggish and run down. Vitamin B12 helps assist in creation of energizing and vital red blood cells and the more red blood cells you have, the more oxygenated and revitalized your body becomes."

Foods To Eat During Your Menstrual Phase

In addition to supporting your hormones with a balanced diet of adequate protein, carbohydrates, and fats during your menstrual phase, it is important to focus on foods high in iron and vitamin B12.

Excellent sources of iron include red meat, poultry, and fish, which help to replenish blood loss during your period. Beckerman says, "you can also opt for non-animal sources of iron like peas, beans, and nuts."

You also want to focus on foods high in vitamin B12 to help produce new red blood cells and decrease the drowsiness and dizziness you may feel during your period. Foods high in vitamin B12 include cheese, salmon, and eggs. There are also plant-based sources of vitamin B12 including fortified breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast.

Sample Meal Plan

While it's one thing to understand what foods contain certain nutrients, sometimes it can be more difficult to put that knowledge to practice. Below you can find a sample meal plan containing foods that are full of nutrients a menstruating body craves:

What to Eat on Your Period
 Breakfast Avocado toast with two eggs and berries, coffee with milk and sugar
 Lunch Quinoa bean chili with shredded cheddar cheese, an orange, water
 Snack Whole wheat pumpkin muffin with peanut butter
 Dinner Grilled skirt steak with roasted asparagus and potatoes, water
 Snack Almonds and dark chocolate

How to Handle Cravings

If you crave chocolate cake when your body really wants the nutrients from a piece of salmon, you're not the only one. There are real scientific reasons for the extra hunger and cravings you may feel before or during your period.

Beckerman says "hormones like estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest while on your period which also causes serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical, to head south. When serotonin is low, we can act more irritated, frustrated, or annoyed." One study showed changes in levels of these hormones are associated with cravings for high carbohydrate and sweet foods before your period.

Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD

It's better to plan ahead than have these cravings sneak up on you when you are not prepared

— Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD

So what's the best way to satisfy these cravings? Beckerman says preparation is key. "That way, you are ready to feed your body with wholesome nutrients coming from antioxidant rich dark chocolate, seasonal fruit, or homemade muffins. It's better to plan ahead than have these cravings sneak up on you when you are not prepared."

A Word From VeryWell

Food is imperative to adequate hormone production and function, playing major roles in growth, development, metabolism, reproduction, and mood. The menstrual phase is a volatile time when estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest levels. In order to support the body and keep you feeling your best, it is important to focus on foods rich in iron and vitamin B12.

Cravings are common during your period due to decreases in serotonin, the feel-good chemical in your brain. These leads to high carbohydrate and sweet cravings. In order to combat these cravings, it is important to prepare with nutrient-dense foods such as fruit, dark chocolate, and high fiber breads and whole grains.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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