Over 150 symptoms descend on women during the time they get their menstrual cycle. Prominent among these are:
Irritable and depressed
Having uncontrollable crying spells
Abdominal cramping of varying severity (sometimes so debilitating that it even puts you out of action)
GI issues like constipation, nausea, water retention and feeling like a gas balloon Headache and terrible fatigue
And many more.
The symptoms may vary from month to month – and there may even be symptom-free months – but one thing that does not change is the accompanying craving for high fat, high sugar foods. And it often starts two weeks in advance for some women, thus ensuring that their diet goes for a toss for half a month, every month.
Now who and how can one defeat this quandary!
Multiple theories like hormone imbalance, biochemical factors, vitamin and mineral deficiency, prolactin excess, stress, nutrition and lifestyle factors have and are being explored regarding the cause of these symptoms, but no ONE theory is universally agreed upon.
What is clear though is that food and what we eat can actually help relieve these to quite an extent. So best to focus on that:
Enough Water, Please!
Steer clear of experimentation during these days, and also the days leading to the periods. Stick to a well balanced diet, low in salt (to avoid water retention) and sugar (to prevent excess inflammation), adequate in protein, moderate in fat, and high in complex carbohydrates (fruit, vegetables, and whole grains) and fibre to help the body stay in balance.
Also fill up on H2O. Drinking lots of water helps your body flush out excess fluids and combats bloating.
Don’t Diet. Seriously
Have you noticed that you are hungrier the week before your period? That’s because the amount of energy the body expends actually increases during this phase of the menstrual cycle. So feed your body enough ‘good’ food to close the window for junk food cravings. Try not to ‘diet’ during these days. It is important to keep your blood sugar levels fairly stable to help your mood, keep energy levels up and cut cravings to size. So it helps to factor in two healthy snacks too besides the three main meals.
Inflammation is What Causes Your Agony
Scientists seem to have discovered what is behind the debilitating pain that some women suffer from. It’s inflammation!
Report in the US National Library of MedicineA new study suggests that the pain is caused by acute inflammation, as measured by the C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP is a protein produced by the liver; its levels rise when there is inflammation present in the body.
So eating an anti-inflammatory diet loaded with antioxidants, essential minerals and fatty acids is the way to go.
Green leafy vegetables, beets, pineapple, salmon, turmeric, ginger, walnuts and flaxseeds are top anti inflammatory foods.
Pick Up a Glass of Milk
A glass of warm milk can do you wonders during menstruation. That’s because studies show that calcium is another important element in controlling early tiredness, appetite changes, and depressive symptoms. Some people, though, cannot handle dairy during this time – they must then get their calcium from alternate sources like spinach, figs, sesame seeds and soya.
Similarly, magnesium also helps improve mood swings and migraines. Load up on pumpkin seeds, beans and tofu.
An Array of Teas
Herbal is your friend. Pick from an array of options such as dandelion leaf tea – a diuretic herb that helps reduce water retention, ginger and chamomile tea (relieves headaches and menstrual cramps) and passionflower tea (relieves insomnia).
Evening primrose oil is also most effective in reducing the symptoms, specially when taken with a diet of foods rich in B-complex vitamin and vitamin C.
Doing Without Chocolate (We’re Sorry)
Sometimes it’s what you take away from the diet that helps more. Restricting caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate and caffeinated soft drinks) intake from at least one week prior to their period can reduce breast tenderness and also help you sleep better – and even alleviate moodiness and irritability.
Many crave chocolates during their periods, but it is best to limit the intake not just because of caffeine but also because it has large amounts of theobromine, an alkaloid that can lead to pain and discomfort.
Similarly, a high-fat diet (fried foods particularly) is associated with cyclic breast pain and breast soreness – so you’re better off eating only good fats like omega 3 and MUFA. Also, avoid red meat as it can stimulate the release of cramps causing prostaglandins. Stick to fish and lean cuts of chicken during your periods.
(Kavita Devgan is a weight management consultant, nutritionist, health columnist and author of ‘Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People’.)