What to eat to support each phase of your menstrual cycle

How much thought goes into your daily food choices? We know that what we eat impacts our physical health, mood and weight, but did you know that it can affect your menstrual cycle as well?

Different Phases = Different Symptoms/ Needs

Are you irritable, hostile, anxious or depressed before your period? Or perhaps your period is heralded by food cravings or migraines? Do you have higher energy levels and self-esteem after your period or during the middle of your cycle? Feel like you can take on the world during that time? Hormone fluctuations over the monthly menstrual cycle play a crucial role on how we feel and how our bodies function, affecting our emotional status, thought processes, weight (water retention, anyone?), libido, appetite and so much more.

The menstrual cycle consists of different phases, namely the follicular phase (with menstruation/ menstrual phase at the start), ovulation phase and luteal phase.

PhaseDays (approx.)Hormones/ What happens
Menstrual (part of/ beginning of Follicular Phase)1- 5Estrogen and progesterone are low. The lining of the uterus, called the endometrium, is shed, causing bleeding. Day 1 is the first day of menstruation. FSH starts to rise.
Follicular (1st half of cycle)6- 14Estrogen rises, which improves energy, physical strength, focus, libido, mood.
Ovulatory 14- 17Estrogen, FSH and LH peak right before ovulation. An egg is released from the ovary.
Luteal (2nd half of cycle)18- 28Estrogen drops after ovulation and progesterone rises. If the egg isn’t fertilized, hormone levels decrease and the menstrual cycle starts again. Unpleasant physical/ mental/ emotional symptoms may arise during this phase.

Eat the Right Foods for Each Menstrual Cycle Phase

By eating the right foods to support each phase of the menstrual cycle, you can feel and be your best regardless of which phase you are in.

  1. Menstrual Phase (Day 1 to 5): During your period, replenish the loss of blood by consuming iron-rich foods such as grass-fed beef, eggs, poultry, kale, dried figs, white beans, kidney beans, black beans and spinach. Complex carbohydrates (e.g. oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, beans/ legumes) and protein (e.g. meat, eggs, fish, nuts, legumes) will ensure that your energy levels are sustained during this often fatigued period. From a TCM perspective, you should eat warm, cooked foods. Stews, soups and curries are hearty food choices. Avoid raw or cold foods during this period.
  2. Follicular Phase (Day 1 to 14): Pumpkin seeds and ground flax seeds are rich in lignans and packed with omega-3 fatty acids which are anti-inflammatory, helping to reduce inflammation which can contribute to symptoms of PMS (i.e. premenstrual syndrome) such as pain and cramping later on in the cycle. Foods rich in B vitamins (e.g. eggs, salmon, sardines, Greek-style yogurt and leafy greens) and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts support the liver in metabolizing estrogen. Eat a variety of whole grains, vegetables, legumes and fruits to ensure good energy levels.
  3. Ovulatory Phase (Day 14 to 17): Continue to focus on foods that support your liver in metabolizing hormones (e.g. broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, spinach and dandelion greens). A Mediterranean diet has also been found to be beneficial. Focus on anti-inflammatory foods like whole fruits, vegetables, avocados and almonds. Research shows that the following have a positive influence on ovulation: carbohydrate products with low glycemic index (e.g. whole grains such as oats), plant protein (e.g. lentils, legumes), monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (aka “good fats” found in avocados, fatty fish, nuts and seeds), folic acid (e.g. leafy greens), vitamin D (fatty fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel), antioxidants (e.g. berries, pomegranates) and iron (see “Menstrual Phase” above).
  4. Luteal Phase (Day 15-28): Magnesium and vitamin B6 support energy production and progesterone production in the luteal phase. Magnesium-rich foods include chicken, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, quinoa, dark chocolate and legumes. Fish, legumes, pumpkin, sweet potato, and apples are rich sources of vitamin B6. Reduce or avoid caffeine, sugar and alcohol during this phase to support balanced blood sugar levels and ease the transition into the menstrual phase. Consuming warm, cooked meals and herbal teas such as cinnamon, fennel and chamomile will further encourage circulation and help your body shift into the menstrual phase.

Have you heard of seed cycling? Seed cycling is the consumption of different seeds during the different phases of your menstrual cycle to promote healthy hormone balance. In the first half of the cycle (Follicular Phase), consume 1 tbsp of pumpkin seeds and 1 tbsp of ground flax seeds per day. In the second half of the cycle (Luteal Phase), consume 1 tbsp of sunflower seeds and 1 tbsp of sesame seeds per day.

As always, if you have an existing health condition or if you want more personalized care, seek a licensed naturopathic doctor or practitioner trained in functional medicine for support.




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