The bloating, the food cravings, the crying at every damn cute puppy video you see. Surprise! It’s that time of the month again. If you’re one of the 90 percent of women who experience PMS (that is, premenstrual syndrome), you (and everyone in your life) are probably pretty desperate for some relief.
While research has linked stress and a family or personal history of depression to the monthly meltdown, what you eat may also play a role. Here’s a list of what to avoid and what to reach for to help you manage your PMS symptoms.
Foods to Avoid
So a lot of this won’t come as a surprise to you and probably could appear on most no-no lists across the board, but it’s worth the extra reminder here.
Of course, the days when you really just want to curl up with a family-size bag of potato chips are the days you should hold off. Ah yes, the misfortune of womanhood. But trust me, it’s for our own good. As you probably know, salty foods tend to make us feel bloated on a good day, a feeling we really don’t need to exacerbate when we feel like garbage. One study found a correlation between PMS symptoms and the consumption of salty foods, so try seasoning your meals and snacks with fresh or dried herbs instead.
Hey, we’ve all thought about numbing our monthly misery with a bounty of adult beverages, but it may do us more harm than good. One meta-analysis of the research found that PMS was associated with alcohol intake, though we don’t currently know the specific amount that triggers symptoms.
We say it’s best to just abstain on the fun-juice until you’re feeling more up to having fun and to focus on upping your hydrating fluids like water and herbal tea. If you just can’t resist, do your best to drink moderately (that’d be one drink per day for women).
Speaking of tea, there’s a reason we’re recommending the herbal variety. While research in this area has had mixed results—with a recent prospective study finding no association between caffeine and PMS risk—the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists currently recommends that people who experience premenstrual syndrome avoid caffeine consumption.
This is because evidence suggests that women with PMS tend to consume more caffeine than those who do not experience PMS, which may exacerbate their symptoms. It’s very likely that caffeine impacts different women in variable ways before Shark Week, so try going decaf one month to see its effect on you.
Foods to Eat
Now that you know what you’re cutting back on, let’s chat about what to grab.
With 10 grams of protein per 100 grams, Greek yogurt should be a monthly staple for helping you crush those PMS symptoms. It’s also one of the best sources of calcium and vitamin D, which research suggests can help alleviate PMS symptoms by as much as 40 percent! Be sure to choose a plain Greek yogurt with no added sugars or sweeteners, adding fresh fruit and nuts to taste.
Need a crunchy snack to satisfy that salty chip craving? Pumpkin seeds are your answer. Magnesium is an important mineral for reducing water retention and boosting mood, and those little guys contain about 75 percent of your daily needs. We love ours sprinkled onto salads, yogurt, or oats or just eaten au naturel.
Almonds are rich in the craving-crushing combination of fiber, protein, and good fats, but they’re also full of the B vitamin riboflavin, which early research suggests may help reduce PMS symptoms. It’s also a source of non-heme iron, which one prospective study found had the greatest impact on reducing the risk of PMS. Try baking with almond flour, grinding them whole into pesto, or smearing some almond butter onto your morning toast.
In addition to protein, lean beef is one of the top dietary sources of zinc, an important mineral that has been associated with lower risk of PMS. Choose lean cuts whenever possible, like flank steak, sirloin, tenderloin, top round, or eye of round.
Whole grains, like oatmeal, are rich in PMS-busting B vitamins, specifically B6, thiamin, and riboflavin. One study found that higher intake of dietary thiamin and riboflavin was associated with lower rates of PMS, while another study found that taking a B6 supplement over the course of just three menstrual cycles was associated with a reduction in moodiness, irritability, bloating, and other pesky PMS symptoms. Bump up the protein in your oats by mixing them with Greek yogurt for overnight oats or whisking in pasteurized egg whites to make “proats.”
Loaded with healthy fats and protein, salmon makes its way onto basically every “healthy foods to eat” list for pretty good reason. Salmon is chock-full of vitamin D, and studies have found that having higher levels of vitamin D prior to the onset of PMS may help to reduce the risk of breast tenderness by 21 percent! Enjoy yours grilled, flaked onto a salad, or mixed with mashed sweet potatoes and baked into fish cakes.
Often touted as the “perfect food,” eggs may be the key to taming those crazy hormones. Like salmon, eggs (specifically the egg yolks) are rich in vitamin D. With interesting research linking the sunshine vitamin to mood disorders, one study found that those with the highest vitamin D intake had a 41 percent lower risk of PMS!
Eggs are also a protein powerhouse and rich in vitamin B6, which has also been linked to symptom relief. Enjoy yours scrambled, poached, boiled, or pan-fried for a hit of quality protein any time of day.
You didn’t think I could get through a healthy listicle without mentioning kale, did you? Dark, leafy greens, like kale, are rich in calcium and magnesium, two minerals that may play a role in reducing PMS. One randomized control trial found that taking calcium supplements could reduce menstrual mood swings, while another found that taking magnesium could relieve the dreaded bloat. So add a few handfuls to your soup, salad, or pasta to easily get your fix.
Hey, we can’t relieve ourselves of all the grievances of womanhood (hello there, unequal pay, sexual harassment, pink tax, I could go on). But hopefully, by making a few better choices at mealtime, we can help alleviate some of the monthly pain.