Premenstrual Syndrome, commonly known as PMS, is responsible for a range of uncomfortable physical and emotional symptoms. Over 90% of women are regularly affected by premenstrual symptoms like bloating, abdominal cramping, headaches, backaches, and constipation. When period troubles pop up, it is tempting to reach for sugary and fatty comfort foods. But these indulgent diet choices might actually be making the symptoms worse. Limiting or avoiding certain foods can help you manage PMS symptoms in the long run.
The body begins to retain sodium and fluids in the days leading up to your period. Eating salty foods like chips, cheese, canned soups, pickles, and olives promotes water retention and causes bloating. Eat diuretic foods like lettuce, beets, asparagus, and ginger, and drink plenty of water to flush the excess sodium out of your body. If your craving for a salty snack gets the best of you, look for low-sodium alternatives and avoid eating highly processed foods that contain lots of salt.
Processed foods like candy bars, cookies, donuts, cake, and soda cause a rapid rise and crash in blood sugar levels, resulting in intense mood swings. Added sugars can change the levels of testosterone and estrogen in the body, which in turn decreases the feel-good hormone serotonin. Eating sugar-rich foods can also worsen symptoms of constipation and cause unwanted weight gain. If PMS makes you feel moody, anxious, depressed, or irritable, keep your sugar intake in check to regulate your moods.
Caffeine causes the constriction or narrowing of blood vessels, including those that supply blood to your uterus and gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This constriction can cause more intense period cramps and headaches. Cutting down on caffeine will help you prevent bloating, abdominal cramps, sleep disruptions, and digestive issues like diarrhea. Choose decaf beverages or herbal teas to enjoy a refreshing taste while limiting PMS symptoms. Keep in mind that if you are used to drinking coffee daily, avoiding caffeine completely may cause a caffeine withdrawal headache.
Drinking alcohol dehydrates your body and causes increased water retention, bloating, and puffiness during PMS. Alcohol also slows down digestion and can lead to cramping and constipation. Drinking alcohol before your period alters blood sugar levels in the body, which can lead to more intense mood swings than normal. If you choose to consume alcohol, limit your intake to one drink per day as per the current recommendations for women. Alternate your alcoholic drinks with a glass of water to stay hydrated and minimize bloating.
If you tend to feel tired and sluggish before and during your period, iron deficiency might be the culprit. Although red meats are some of the best sources of iron, they can also worsen cramps and other abdominal distress. Red meats are rich in prostaglandins, which are hormones that cause contractions of the uterus and trigger PMS symptoms. Instead, choose alternative sources of iron like chickpeas, spinach, beans, and mushrooms. Meats like turkey and salmon also offer plenty of energy-boosting iron along with healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Eating spicy foods in the days leading up to your period can worsen stomach issues, especially if you are not used to spicy meals. Spicy foods can cause diarrhea, stomach pain, and nausea on top of other symptoms connected with PMS. The burning sensation of spiciness comes from capsaicin, the active component of chili peppers. Capsaicin triggers pain receptors in the digestive tract, which can directly lead to stomachaches. Changing hormonal levels during PMS might make you crave carb-rich, spicy foods, but giving in to the temptation can lead to increased abdominal pains and even ulcers.
Managing the complex symptoms of PMS can be challenging. But a proper eating schedule and careful diet choices can help provide relief before, during, and after your period. Good nutrition has also been shown to reduce the severity of period symptoms in the long run. To help combat PMS symptoms, eat nourishing foods like fruits, beans, nuts, yogurt, tofu, and dark leafy greens. Make sure you get 8 hours of sleep at night and try to fit moderate exercise into your schedule. If your periods are especially painful and disruptive, see your healthcare provider for the right medical advice.
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- Better Health Channel: "Nutrition - women's extra needs."
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- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Dietary Guidelines for Alcohol."
- The Journal of Reproductive Medicine: "The use of prostaglandin inhibitors for the premenstrual syndrome."
- University of Michigan Health System: "Capsaicin."
- The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Premenstrual Syndrome."