The menstrual cycle is a well-regulated process occurring in females after puberty. Studies reveal subsequent hormonal changes in the female body during the menstrual cycle. These hormonal shifts during the menstrual cycle lead to varied energy demands and nutritional demands, making it crucial to have a balanced diet to aid a healthy menstrual cycle.
A menstrual cycle consists of four phases. The brain and the uterine system precisely monitor all the phases: the menstrual phase, follicular phase, ovulatory phase, and luteal phase. Each phase plays a significant role in maintaining the overall reproductive health of a female. The female menstrual cycle starts with the menstrual phase (approximately five days), followed by the follicular phase (day 1- 13), the ovulation occurs on the 14th day, and finally, the luteal phase lasts for the next 15 days.
Amid the menstrual phase, the female body sheds the blood vessel lining of the endometrium. During this time, girls experience abdominal cramps as the uterus tries to get rid of the inner blood lining. As a result, menstrual bleeding may vary from 30- 80 ml in females.
The second phase is the follicular phase, during which the development of the female zygote or ovum occurs. The phase ends on day 13, and people mark it by the development and maturation of the ovum.
On the 14th day, ovulation occurs. The mature ovum is released, passing from the ovaries to the fallopian tube. It resides in the fallopian tube to get fertilised by a sperm. It then slips down into the uterine lining.
Lastly, our body initiates the luteal phase on the 15th day. At this time, the absence of fertilisation leads to the disintegration of the egg cell. The hormonal changes mark a new menstrual cycle after 15 days.
Hormonal Changes During Your Menstrual Phase
Before we focus on different nutrients that are essential during your menstrual phase, one must understand the body’s requirements. Here’s a brief description of all the hormonal changes prevailing in your body during the entire menstrual cycle.
- Hormone levels in menstrual phase/bleeding phase: The secretion levels of hormones estradiol, progesterone, follicular stimulating hormone (FSH), and luteinising hormone (LH) are minimal.
- Hormone levels in follicular phase: The levels of secretion of hormones take a surge during the follicular phase. For example, estradiol is at its peak, and FSH, LH, and progesterone secretions increase gradually.
- Hormone levels on ovulation day: The LH and FSH levels are at their peak on the 14th day of the menstrual cycle. That marks the maturation and release of the ovum. Furthermore, oestrogen levels drop, and progesterone levels are moderate.
- Hormone levels in the luteal phase: FSH and LH levels are significantly low. On the other hand, progesterone surges up, and estrogen is also high.
During the bleeding phase, the energy levels of the body are low. Therefore, you must focus on eating the right food items that raise your energy levels. Here’s a list of nutrients you must focus on during your periods.
Nutrients to Consume During Your Menstrual Phase
The role of iron in the menstrual phase is highly essential, but not all forms are absorbed the same. Due to bleeding, the iron levels in the blood drop significantly. This drop may lead to severe anaemic conditions as well.
Iron plays a crucial role in maintaining haemoglobin levels and RBC formation. Therefore, it becomes essential to maintain the iron levels in your body while menstruating. Drop-in iron levels may lead to a lack of energy and weakness.
It is normal to experience menstrual cramps in the abdominal region when on your periods. Some females may even notice sore breasts during menstruation. Magnesium, according to studies, is highly beneficial in reducing these cramps. Several studies also show that magnesium, combined with vitamin B helps invigorate the muscular cramps during menses.
Vitamin C is mainly known for its benefits in obtaining clear and bright skin. But, there’s a more important job that Vitamin C does for you. Research suggests that Vitamin C helps regulate haemoglobin levels in the blood. Therefore, it is essential to incorporate vitamin C into your diet when menstruating. Lack of vitamin C leads to anaemic conditions and deficiency diseases like scurvy. Therefore, include vitamin C in your diet to maintain higher energy levels during periods.
The haemoglobin molecule consists of the heme molecule and the globin molecule. The molecules necessary for the formation of heme molecules are iron and folate. Folate helps in the biosynthesis of heme molecules. Thus, consuming food rich in folate will help trigger more production of the haemoglobin molecule. This intake will indirectly make you feel energetic and enthusiastic. Research suggests that women who take folic acid supplements tend to have a shorter duration of menses.
Calcium and Vitamin D helps to maintain bone density and bone strength. Eating foods rich in calcium helps to cause mild uterine contractions. The study reveals that the absence of calcium and Vitamin D in your diet will cause painful menstrual cramps.
Suppose you are looking for a supplement to reduce your abdominal pain during periods or maintain a healthy RBC level. Hence, you must try eating foods rich in zinc. Research proves that zinc is an element that works to reduce menstrual cramps and pain in women with PMS symptoms.
Foods to Eat During Your Menstrual Cycle
Now you know which nutrients must be your top priority when menstruating. Here’s a list of foods you can eat during your menstrual phase.
Eating green leafy vegetables with high calcium and vitamin content is fruitful during menstruation. For example, spinach, kale, fenugreek, and broccoli are good vitamin K and calcium sources. Other soothing vegetables during the menstrual cycle are sweet potatoes, mushrooms, and kelp.
Fruits rich in vitamin C content are a boon during the bleeding phase of the menstrual cycle. As they help lower the risk of anaemia, it becomes necessary to consume fruits like oranges and lemons. Other fruits that are safe to eat during menses are watermelon, grapes, strawberries, cranberries, and blueberries.
3. Nuts and Seeds
Almonds, cashew nuts, and peanuts are the best sources of vitamin E, magnesium, and vitamin D. These nuts help soothe your menstrual cramps. You can also eat them when you crave food during menses. This way, you can prevent yourself from eating junk food and eat a healthy supplement instead.
4. Protein Sources
Protein is an essential nutritional element of a balanced diet. These sources that you can eat during your menstrual phase are- fish, kidney beans, pork, lentils, adzuki beans, shellfish, and sardines.
5. Cereals and Pulses
Fortified grains, rice, lentils, and pulses like moong daal are good meals to take during periods. These meals are lightweight and less in calories. Therefore, you can eat them and won’t feel bloated around your abdomen.
6. Herbal Teas
Tea is a staple beverage almost every other person loves. Luckily, some sorts of tea will help relieve menstrual cramps and make you feel calm. Examples of such herbal teas are- green tea, ginger tea, peppermint tea, chamomile tea, and lemon tea.
Foods to Avoid During Menstrual Phase
The female body is somewhat sensitive to external and internal stimuli during the menstrual phase. Therefore, it must be your top priority to take good care of yourselves at all levels. Below are certain eatables you should avoid when on menses.
Alcohol acts as a dehydrating agent. Therefore, every time you take a sip of alcohol, it will leave you feeling even more thirsty. Thus, drinking alcohol should be strictly prohibited during periods. Alcohol consumption leads to increased and prolonged duration of menstrual cramps.
Studies reveal those smoking cigarettes during the menstrual phase may face heightened menstrual cramps. Also, women who smoke cigarettes during menstruation are more likely to experience severe PMS symptoms. The menstrual cycle length gets affected as well.
3. Red Meat
Red meat is a good source of protein and is nutritious to eat during menstruation. Unfortunately, eating red meat during menses leads to an increased release of progesterone. This upsurge of progesterone levels will eventually lead to intense and painful abdominal cramps.
4. Spicy Foods
You can eat spicy food during your periods unless you want them to be more and more painful. Spicy foods are a strict no-no during the bleeding phase. When you are bleeding, your stomach pH is acidic. Adding more spicy foods to your tummy will worsen the situation. In addition, the capsaicin present in chilli powder increases abdominal pain.
5. Processed Foods
The reason for avoiding processed foods during menses is simple. These foods contain a high amount of chemical additives and preservatives. All these chemicals are harmful to your gut. They may contribute to bloating, hyperacidity, nausea, and abdominal cramps.
6. Fried/Junk Foods
Junk foods are better to keep at bay all the time. Whether you are menstruating or not, skipping junk food is always the best choice for your body. Junk food consumption during the menstrual phase leads to the same side effects as processed food consumption. Bloating, nausea, constipation, and abdominal cramps are likely to worsen upon junk food consumption.
Sample Meal Plan and Ways to Handle Cravings
Managing your eating patterns can be excruciatingly tough amidst the hustling life. Here’s a quick sample meal plan you can try when menstruating. Feel free to alter the ingredients as per your convenience and availability of items.
Sample Meal Plan
You can adjust the following meal plan in your schedule as per your timings and preferences. Consider starting your day with a mild-workout session (ex: yoga).
Start your day with fluids. You can try any of these drinks as per your likeability.
- A glass of warm water with 2 tsp of lemon juice
- A glass of warm water with a single tsp of honey
- A cup of warm milk
- A cup of green tea
After a mild workout session, you can have your breakfast. Breakfast should have sufficient calories and nutrients that’ll make you feel energised at the start of the day.
- A plate of fruit salad including various types of fruits such as mangoes, oranges, bananas, grapes, and watermelon is a good choice. You can always switch to eating seasonal foods.
- A bowl of regular oatmeal with toppings of your choice (fruits, dry fruits, seeds, etc.)
- A bowl of granola and smoothie is filling and healthy during menstruation.
Lunch should be the heaviest meal you consume throughout the day. Here are a few lunch ideas you can choose from.
- An Indian thali: It comprises chapati, cooked vegetables, curd, salad, rice, and daal.
- Chicken breasts with rice and cooked veggies.
- Kidney beans, rice, and Raita or salad are healthy foods.
Evenings are when we crave all sorts of foods. Therefore, it is necessary to curb evening hunger with healthy alternatives.
- Nuts (almonds, walnuts, peanuts, cashew nuts.)
- A cup of milk.
- Fresh fruits.
- Roasted oats.
Dinner can be a light meal with fewer calories. It can include:
- ¼th portion of salad
- ¼th part green leafy vegetable with chapati,
- ¼th part rice and cooked pulses
- ¼th part of curd or buttermilk
This combination will make your stomach feel better than any other spicy meal. This combination looks similar to the lunch plan. However, try to half the chapatis and rice consumption during dinner compared to lunch.
Lastly, relax your body with soothing herbal tea when you are about to sleep. Examples of herbal tea are chamomile tea and green tea.
Periods or menstrual cycles are a highly-balanced and critical functioning of a human female body. A female body undergoes truckloads of changes during this time. Hormonal changes, mental changes, behavioural changes, and physical changes are some changes worth mentioning.
The menstrual cycle is a delicate process, and it affects the female body significantly. Thus, it becomes the responsibility of females to look after themselves during these crucial five days of the month. Engaging yourself in healthy eating practices will provide you with appreciable changes in the longer run.
Having a low-calorie intake, avoiding junk foods, and increasing protein intake are easy ways to make you feel energised throughout your cycle.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. Is it reasonable to eat more during your period?
A. Yes, it is customary to gulp more during your period. While on the menstrual cycle, the female body has a higher metabolic rate, and thus, the energy demands increase. Moreover, the constant shedding of blood might lead to weakness in some. Therefore, eating more during periods is okay.
Q. What should we avoid eating in periods?
A. There are a bunch of food items that you should avoid while menstruating. Foods to avoid during periods are alcohol, beverages like coffee, processed foods, fried foods, tobacco, red meat, and foods with high levels of fat content. These food items will alter your bleeding cycle and may turn problematic.
Q. Can our food habits affect periods?
A. The type of food you eat will affect your menstrual cycle. For example, you will feel more relaxed if you eat more natural and fresh stuff like home-cooked meals, fruits, veggies, and low-carb items. However, on the contrary, eating spicy foods, caffeinated beverages, drinking alcohol, and eating red meat will lead to issues.
Q. Can we drink milk during periods?
A. Yes, you can drink milk during your period. Milk is a multi-nutrient-containing supplement that is good to drink daily. It has all the essential vitamins and minerals that will boost your energy levels during this period. Although, if you are lactose-intolerant, drinking milk might not be correct for you at any time of the month.
Q. What Indian food should we eat during periods?
A. There are many Indian foods and recipes you can try eating while on your menstrual cycle. Try eating vegetables rich in protein and fibre like spinach, cauliflower, cabbage, and fenugreek. You can also relish buttermilk, rice, yoghurt, green tea, and other light recipes.
Q. Does lemon stop your period?
A. Some people do claim that drinking lemon juice may alter your menstrual phase by a day or two. However, no scientific research proves lemon to be a period-stopping fruit.
Q. Can I eat bananas during periods?
A. Yes, you can eat bananas during periods. Bananas are a good source of natural sugar, minimal calories, fibre, protein, and carbs. In addition, they don’t have any harmful ingredients that will affect your period cycle. Thus, you can relish bananas effortlessly.
Q. What foods cause heavy blood flow during periods?
A. Foods that cause heavy blood flow during periods are jaggery, beetroots, dark chocolates, meat, caffeine, and seafood. Eating more of these would lead to an increase in heat levels in the body that cause a heavy flow of blood during the period.
Q. Can eating eggs delay the period?
A. No, eggs are in no way involved in delaying your periods. Instead, eggs contain essential nutritional elements like Vitamins B, D, and E. All these nutrients are good for your health. Thus, eggs are perfect for eating during periods.
Q. Which dry fruit is good for periods?
A. Dry fruits like cashew nuts and almonds are good to eat during periods. They contain Vitamin E, which is essentially advantageous in reducing the pain of sore breasts, abdominal cramps, and other PMS symptoms. You can also eat raisins if you crave sugar on your periods.