The most annoying time of the month for every woman is when her periods hit. Food cravings, sleep disturbances, mood swings, pimples and a lot more comes in the package but the worst of them are periods cramps. Choosing a healthier diet can reduce such severe symptoms of menstruation like heavy flow, anxiety, headaches, and cramps.
About 80% of women feel cramps during their periods at some stage of their life. The periods’ pain or cramps can range from mild to severe in different individuals based on their hormonal profile but they spare almost nobody.
This uninvited guest can come anytime near or during your periods.
Let’s see why these cramps are a must-have with periods and what are the best foods to eat during periods;
Why do periods hurt so much?
Dysmenorrhea or periods pain is a throbbing or cramping pain in your abdomen, lower thighs & back due to uterine contractions.
During a menstrual cycle, the uterus lining prepares itself for holding a fertilized egg.
On average, 28 days have passed and fertilization didn’t occur. Now, the lining has to get back to its home. So, the uterus contracts to shed off its lining and that’s what makes you bleed during your periods.
The contracting uterus compresses the blood vessels around and hence, the blood supply stops.
In this hypovolemic shock state (lack of blood supply resulting in lack of oxygen). The tissues are now contracting without oxygen so the body responds to this situation. It releases prostaglandins (chemicals released during inflammation or injury that make you feel a sense of pain) which support uterine contractions to aid the sloughing of the tissues and resultantly, you feel the pain or cramps.
Well! That’s a physiological process so, don’t panic and try to manage the symptoms with the best foods and nutrients as you have no other choice.
Mild muscular contractions continuously occur in the womb/uterus but they are almost negligible. They increase drastically during periods resulting in excruciating pain.
Essential nutrients during periods to avoid cramps
Although apart from secondary dysmenorrhea, menstrual pains are a part of your normal physiological process but choosing the best foods full of essential nutrients and vitamins during periods can make a huge difference.
A well-balanced diet helps you manage these problems and ensure you restore all your lost nutrients.
About 70% of your body’s iron is in haemoglobin (Hb) which is an essential component of the red blood cells (RBCs).
Blood loss during menstruation may lead to anaemia, especially in individuals with a heavy flow.
The studies suggest that iron supplementation is effective in increasing the Hb levels when given in routine.
The daily intake of iron for women between 19-50 years is 14.8mg.
Apart from iron supplements;
These are among some of the common sources of iron that can help reduce cramps.
Vitamin B6 or pyridoxine is an essential vitamin for a number of body processes.
Vitamin B6 and the foods containing it can be a golden choice to help with premenstrual symptoms like pain, depression & mood changes.
The efficacy of Vitamin B6 for premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is also established in research.
A daily dose of up to 100mg/ day can help with PMS
Apart from the supplements, the food sources for Vitamin B6 involve;
- Beef liver
- Starchy vegetables like potato
- Fortified cereals
- Non-citrus fruits
Vitamin E can help reduce menstrual cramps and menstrual flow.
Vitamin E is recognized as an important nutrient as it reduces the production of prostaglandins thus, helps reduce the severity of menstrual cramps.
Daily intake of 200IU/ day a few days before and during the periods can help the cause.
The food sources of Vitamin E include;
- Sunflower seeds
One of the best foods to eat during periods includes those rich in calcium. Calcium, the food for your bones, helps reduce premenstrual symptoms, periods cramps, mood changes and food cravings during periods.
Reduced calcium levels can cause an increase in prostaglandin levels due to a decrease in intestinal calcium absorption.
Additionally, low calcium levels can also lead to strong uterine contractions causing an increase in menstrual cramps and pain.
The recommended dose of calcium is 1200mg/ day.
Food sources of calcium include;
- Dairy products like milk, cheese, yoghurt
Which Foods are Best to Eat during Periods?
We bring you easy and logical food choices among the best foods to eat during periods. Look at them and see which ones are missing from your diet and make sure you include them from now on.
Here are some of the best foods to eat during periods;
Dark chocolate for periods- a must-have
What’s a better excuse than periods to satisfy your chocolate buds?
Dark chocolate (almost 90% cocoa) is known to be rich in magnesium and iron.
It contains 67% of magnesium & 80.3% iron based on Nutrients Reference values in the EU.
The effect of dark chocolate on menstrual cramps is investigated and proven. The magnesium in it helps relax the smooth muscles of the uterus thus reducing the painful symptoms. It also reduces prostaglandin production which lessens the painful sensations.
Iron may help produce serotonin thus making the mood swings and other symptoms of PMS better.
Daily consumption of 30-60 g of dark chocolate is safe.
What type of meat is good for periods?
When you are menstruating as a result of excessive blood loss from the body, you also lose a lot of nutrients like iron. Try eating more red meat and meat products to balance your blood loss.
Therefore, iron-rich foods are also important at this time. Protein-rich foods also have an ample amount of iron content and vitamin B6, which are essential and highly beneficial for menstrual cramps and associated symptoms.
Some of the protein-rich foods are;
- Lamb and
- Dairy products.
Which Fruit is good during periods?
A bowl of yummy fruits is the best choice for a snack during menses. It should not be surprising because their benefits are countless. Fruits provide the necessary mineral and vitamin that the body demand during this time of the month.
Hence, eating around 2-3 fruits every day is considered a healthy practice. Fruits are rich in Vitamin C, which is helpful in the absorption of iron and, in the long run, improves blood iron levels.
The natural sugar in fruits may also satisfy your sugar cravings and impart general freshness.
According to research, Fruits also keep you hydrated which is extremely important in reducing menstrual pain and intensity.
Fruits that play a slightly higher role in easing periods cramps include;
- Apples and
Nuts are good for menstrual cramps
Nuts are a fantastic source of protein and are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Magnesium and several vitamins are also present. Magnesium helps ease the cramps by relaxing your uterus’s smooth muscles and may also aid in sleep.
If you don’t want to eat nuts on your own, try different kinds of nut butter or nut-based milk, or blend them into smoothies.
- Pumpkin seeds
- Peanuts and
- Hazelnuts are a few nuts with high amounts of omega-3.
Flaxseeds to reduce periods pain
Flaxseeds are proven to help with period symptoms such as excessive bleeding, anxiety, and mood changes. Flaxseed oil provides 7,195 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids per 15 millilitres.
Flax seeds are rich in Lignans which is a fibrous steroid-like substance. The effects of flax seeds on menstrual cramps and PMS is primarily due to this component.
According to research, The Office of Dietary Supplements estimates that you only require roughly 1,100 to 1,600 milligrams of omega-3s per day.
Flaxseeds can be used to make;
- Slices of bread
- Cooked vegetables
- Pulses and
For optimal benefits, 40 grams of flaxseeds should be consumed every day.
Eggs can help reduce menstrual pain
Eggs are a rich source of Vitamin B, Vitamin D, protein, folate and a decent ratio of zinc as well thus, including among the best foods to reduce menstrual cramps.
Zinc has also been discovered to reduce the prostaglandin
metabolism thus playing its role in managing menstrual cramps and symptoms of PMS. The essential nutrients also relax the uterine muscles.
The exceptionally high protein ratio keeps your energy levels to full thus avoiding weakness and dizziness related to menstrual cramps.
Other best foods to eat during periods to manage the pain and cramps include;
- Leafy vegetables
Foods to Avoid during menstrual periods
While all foods are allowed in moderation, you might need to avoid certain foods that worsen the symptoms of your period. These foods can aggravate existing symptoms and cause additional problems as well. They include;
Avoid sugary foods during your periods
Foods that contain high sugar content are known to worsen symptoms, and you can end up experiencing mood swings, anxiety or even depression.
Salty and spicy foods should be avoided during periods
Salty foods can cause our body to store water which can lead to problems like bloating. Bloating is quite common in periods and can leave you feeling uneasy at times. Therefore, avoiding foods with high salt content is encouraged. Processed foods have excessive salt and should be avoided during this time.
Coffee can cause bloating in periods
The bad news for coffee lovers is that it can cause water retention and hence affects your health during periods due to bloating.
Additionally, caffeine also increases headaches so should be avoided during menstrual periods.
Other such foods which are to be avoided during periods include;
- Heavy meals that are difficult to digest
- Ice creams and other
- Cold beverages.
How much pain is normal during periods?
Menstrual pain or cramps occur in almost every woman. Data shows the prevalence of pain in almost 84.1% of women during their menstrual periods especially higher during the first three days and linearly decreases towards the end (5 or 7 days on average).
The intensity of pain might vary in different individuals based on their hormones, pain threshold and other factors. This fact has also been proved by the conducted research.
However, in certain individuals, dysmenorrhea may be of secondary type (menstrual pain due to underlying disorders).
Data shows that 5-10% of individuals have extremely painful periods that even disrupt normal life.
This pain even requires a doctor’s consultation as it can be unbearable.
The conditions that cause extreme gnawing pain especially as you age include;
- Endometriosis (tissues similar to the uterus lining grow in other places like ovaries)
- Uterine fibroids (growths in the uterus)
- Adenomyosis (uterine tissues grow as a muscular wall around the uterus)
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (inflammatory infection in the upper reproductive organs)
- Infection or tumour in the pelvic cavity
The continuous pain before, during and after the periods is often accompanied by other symptoms like;
- Digestive issues
Menstrual pain, cramps and discomfort come naturally with your periods.
Over-the-counter painkillers can help you reduce your pain but the natural way to do so is to include a bucket of all the essential nutrients and vitamins in your diet to help your body restore its normal functions.
If the pain and cramps become worse (secondary dysmenorrhea), there may be some underlying conditions causing so.
Consult a doctor for better advice and diagnosis of your condition.
1. What should I do if my periods are unbearable?
Apply heat on your abdomen, reduce stress, take pain relievers, exercise moderately and make sure to take a diet rich in all the essential vitamins and minerals.
2. Can menstrual cramps be reduced with food?
Yes, the occurrence of menstrual cramps can be reduced by including foods rich in Vitamin B6, iron, calcium, magnesium and other vital like bananas, eggs, red meat, chocolate etc.
3. Do periods become painful with age?
Periods may become more painful as you age and also become consistent throughout your periods. The reason may be the conditions like endometriosis, fibroids, and other pelvic inflammations.