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 people who menstruate who experience PMS (that is, premenstrual syndrome), you are probably eager for some relief.
While research is still working on fully understanding what causes symptoms of PMS, what you eat may play a role. Here’s a list of what to avoid and what to reach for to help you manage your PMS symptoms.
Can diet affect PMS?
Multiple studies have found that symptoms of PMS can be affected by what you eat and drink. Eating a nutrient-dense and balanced diet that includes enough water is always advised, but sometimes tweaking your eating plan in the week or so before your period can help you avoid the worst of it.
Here are some of the foods that may help you get some relief from the cramps, bloating, and other unfun symptoms before and during Shark Week.
1. Greek yogurt
With about 10 grams of protein per 100 grams, Greek yogurt can be a staple for getting good nutrition without contributing to PMS symptoms. It’s also one of the best sources of calcium which, when too low along with vitamin D, can contribute to worse symptoms, according to a 2019 review of studies.
We’d recommend using plain Greek yogurt with no added sugars or sweeteners, and adding fresh fruit and nuts to spice it up.
2. Pumpkin seeds
Need a crunchy snack to satisfy that salty chip craving? Pumpkin seeds may be your answer. These little pepitas are a good source of magnesium.
Magnesium may have beneficial effects for those with subjective anxiety, according to a 2017 review of studies. The review noted that the quality of existing research isn’t great and higher quality studies are needed.
But these little seeds are pretty tasty, so it could be worth snagging some to top your next salad or pumpkin spice latte for taste and crunch alone.
We love ours sprinkled onto salads, yogurt, or oats or just eaten roasted au naturel.
Almonds are rich in the craving-crushing combination of fiber, protein, and good fats, but they’re also a good source of the B vitamin riboflavin, which, early research suggests may significantly lower the risk of developing PMS. It’s also a source of non-heme iron, which one 2013 study found had the greatest impact on reducing the risk of PMS.
Try baking with almond flour, grinding them whole into pesto, topping a salad, or smearing some almond butter onto your morning toast.
4. Lean beef
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. A large, 10-year study from 2011 found a significantly lower risk of PMS in women who had high intakes of thiamine and riboflavin specifically from food sources.
Bump up the protein and fiber in your oats by mixing them with Greek yogurt and chia seeds for overnight oats.
Loaded with healthy fats and protein, salmon makes its way onto basically every “healthy foods to eat” list, and with 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.
Eggs, already so well-rounded in nutrients, may be the key in helping to tame those PMS symptoms. Like salmon, egg yolks (specifically from pastured hens or hens fed with fortified feed) are rich in vitamin D.
A 2018 study linked high-dose vitamin D supplementation to benefits for PMS relief and other issues related to the menstrual cycle. Vitamin D coming in clutch again.
Eggs are also a protein powerhouse and rich in vitamin B6, which we already know is likely linked to symptom relief. Enjoy yours scrambled, poached, boiled, or pan-fried for a hit of quality protein any time of day.
Dark, leafy greens, like kale, are rich in calcium and magnesium, two minerals that may play a role in reducing PMS symptoms. One randomized control trial found that taking calcium supplements could reduce menstrual mood swings. So add a few handfuls to your soup, salad, or pasta to easily get your fix.
It may feel like chocolate and chips are all you want around your period, but keeping things balanced will more likely help you feel better overall. Here are some foods to limit when you’re trying to beat the bloat.
1. Salty foods
As you probably know, salty foods tend to make us feel bloated even on a good day, a feeling we really don’t need to exacerbate when we may feel like garbage.
One 2017 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 to cut your intake a bit. Also maybe keep the takeout and pre-packaged foods to a minimum as they can be culprits of hidden sodium.
You may not have thought there was an association with booze and PMS, but they just may be. One review of studies found that PMS was associated with alcohol intake, though we don’t currently know the specific amount that could trigger symptoms.
We say it’s best to just abstain or limit the cocktails 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 1 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 2016 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.
Another 2016 study found a significant association between caffeine and PMS, though more research needs to be done to fully understand the link. It may be worth switching to decaf or tea if you’re struggling with PMS pains.
Hey, we can’t relieve ourselves of all the grievances of having a uterus, but hopefully, by making a few different choices at mealtime, we can help alleviate some of the monthly pain. Focusing on nutrient-dense foods and lots of water while avoiding too much coffee and takeout may be just what the cycle ordered.
However, if your PMS symptoms or pain are severe, speak with your doctor to see if something else is up. Severe symptoms may be a sign of other issues.