What to Eat During Your Luteal Phase

Luteal Phase

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Adjusting your meal plan to support your fluctuating hormones during your menstrual cycle may help you address premenstrual syndrome, painful periods, and other symptoms you might experience. Because the hormones in your body that lead to these symptoms are influenced by a variety of factors including what you eat, eating foods with an impact can may lessen your symptoms.

For instance, magnesium-rich foods such as tofu, dark greens, and nuts can help counteract PMS and water retention related to your menstrual cycle while foods rich in vitamin C can affect cortisol levels and help improve your stress response. Here is what you know about what to eat during your luteal phase for ultimate comfort.

What Is the Luteal Phase?

The luteal or secretory phase occurs sometime between day 14 and day 28 of the menstrual cycle. Progesterone stimulated by the luteinizing hormone is the dominant hormone during this phase to prepare the body for a possible fertilized egg and implantation.

Sara Twogood, MD

I typically separate the phases of the menstrual cycle into the period, follicular phase, ovulation, and luteal phase, meaning I refer to the luteal phase as that occurring after ovulation.

— Sara Twogood, MD

"I typically separate the phases of the menstrual cycle into the period, follicular phase, ovulation, and luteal phase, meaning I refer to the luteal phase as that occurring after ovulation," says Sara Twogood, MD, a board-certified OB/GYN in Los Angeles, California and co-founder of Female Health Education and the Female Health Collective

However, another school of thought suggests that the luteal phase starts with the luteinizing hormone (LH) surges a day or two before ovulation.

"After ovulation, estrogen dips off to baseline levels and progesterone becomes the dominant hormone," explains Rebeka Racz, NP, RN, a nurse practitioner in women's health. "That is until your body realizes it’s not pregnant and then the whole menstrual cycle starts all over again."

In terms of your cycle length, it can vary widely depending on several factors including age, BMI, hormones, contraceptives, and other measures. In fact, one study investigating a large set of data on menstrual cycles found that almost 88% of the 32,595 participants involved in the study reported a cycle length of between 23 to 35 days.

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a dated, biased measure that doesn’t account for several factors, such as body composition, ethnicity, race, gender, and age. 

 

Despite being a flawed measure, BMI is widely used today in the medical community because it is an inexpensive and quick method for analyzing potential health status and outcomes.

One certainty is that the luteal phase is always a constant, and lasts for 14 days (on average) of your cycle, says Racz.

How To Track Your Luteal Phase

In order to identify your luteal phase, Dr. Twogood suggests tracking your ovulation as the luteal stage will immediately follow. There are a number of ways to do this including everything from monitoring cervical mucus to checking your basal body temperature as well as the position of your uterus.

Ways to Track Your Luteal Phase

  • Cervical mucus monitoring
  • Ovulation prediction kits, which identify the surge in LH
  • Checking the position of your cervix
  • Mittelschmerz, a one-sided pain often occurring with ovulation
  • Basal body temperature monitoring


"Alternatively, tracking periods can help as once a period starts, you know retroactively you were just in the luteal phase," adds Dr. Twogood.

Cravings During Your Luteal Phase

In the broader sense, your luteal phase is when you are most likely to experience premenstrual symptoms (PMS), says Racz, which includes bloating, irritability, mood swings and anxiety. Research has also found a connection between symptom severity and dietary habits, such as craving higher calorie, sugary, and fatty foods.

The hypothesis for these cravings is likely due to a spike in progesterone which peaks during the luteal phase, and thereby stimulates your appetite. According to Dr. Twogood, as PMS strikes at its highest during your luteal phase, you may want to eliminate certain foods to minimize the symptoms.

During this time, Racz recommends skipping inflammatory foods that increase urine retention—meaning those high in fats and salt content. She also suggests limiting caffeine and alcohol. Both act as natural laxatives and can trigger menstrual cramps.

"You may feel extra bloating during this time, so it's best to avoid foods high in dairy content, with added salts, or carbonated drinks to counterbalance this," she says.

What to Eat During Your Luteal Phase

Hormones naturally fluctuate throughout your menstrual cycle, and for this reason, certain foods will better serve your body depending on what stage you are at. During your luteal phase, focus on foods containing:

Foods Rich in Magnesium

Enriching the body with magnesium can help lower anxiety and water retention as well as promote sleep. A review on the effects of magnesium found evidence that it could help reduce mild anxiety in addition to PMS symptoms, in part due to its ability to regulate certain stress hormones.

Magnesium packed foods to incorporate are nuts—especially almonds, cashews, and dry roasted peanuts—spinach, black beans, wholegrain, avocados, and even dark chocolate.

Calcium-Rich Foods

One study found that among 66 female students who were suffering from PMS symptoms, those who took 500 milligrams of calcium for the duration of the research experienced lowered symptoms of anxiety, depression, and water retention, compared to the placebo group.

Rather than reaching for a supplement though, consider implementing more calcium-rich foods into your diet. Some options include sunflower seeds, beans, lentils, chia seeds, edamame, and yogurt.

Vitamin-Rich Whole Foods

A healthy diet rich in whole foods, specifically packed with vitamins B6, B12, D, and C can help ward off PMS symptoms. Aside from the nutritional content that helps to optimally fuel your body, whole foods decrease digestive strain and can therefore positively impact your mood.

This influence is due to the two-way communication between your gut and brain, which explains why flooding your body with highly-processed foods is unlikely to lift your spirits in the long term.

  • Vitamin B6: In addition to helping the functioning of your immune system, vitamin B6 can positively impact the emotional symptoms of PMS including levels of depression, irritability, and tiredness. Fill your plate with salmon, tuna, chicken, chickpeas, and sweet potato.
  • Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 works alongside Vitamin B9 (folate, in its natural form), to produce healthy red blood cells in the body. It is also known to help maintain iron levels and boost your brain health—all of which can impact how you feel during your cycle. To take advantage of these benefits, by including trout, eggs, and chicken breast in your meal plan. Or, if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, opt for fortified cereals, nutritional yeast or a vitamin B12 supplement.
  • Vitamin D: Increasing your intake of vitamin D—which helps keep your body functioning at its best—has been found to reduce symptoms of PMS. Foods naturally containing this mighty vitamin include salmon, cod liver oil, egg yolks, and fortified foods like cereals.
  • Vitamin C: Antioxidant vitamins like vitamin C can help alleviate PMS symptoms. A large part of this is due to the vitamin's ability to reduce oxidative stress. It also supports immune function.

Protein-Packed Foods

A diet high in protein as well as fiber is known for its ability to keep you feeling fuller for longer, potentially reducing the likelihood of additional snacking and cravings that arise during this phase. Plus, there are a number of other benefits to protein-rich foods.

"You'll need plenty of protein during the luteal stage to assist with maintaining muscle and strength as your body prepares to bleed during your period," says Racz.

Such foods include lean meats, fish, tofu, eggs, leafy greens, beans, lentils, and chickpeas. These foods are filling and help you feel full longer.

Maca and Pistachios

In case you did not know, your libido naturally decreases during the luteal phase, and that's due to the hike in progesterone and drop in estrogen, occurring as your body prepares for menstruation, explains Racz.

To balance this, she suggests increasing your intake of foods such as maca (which can be added to shakes, soups, oatmeal, and more), and pistachios. Both of these foods are modest aphrodisiacs that may help rev up your sex drive.

A Word From Verywell

While it is important to eat a variety of nutritious foods, certain foods are especially beneficial for people during the various phases of their menstrual cycle. During the luteal phase, focus on foods containing magnesium and calcium as well as protein. These foods can help boost your mood and lessen PMS symptoms.

If you find that PMS is unbearable or interferes with your ability to function throughout the day, be sure to talk to a healthcare provider. Severe PMS may be a sign of another condition that needs to be addressed.

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