A few days before your period you start getting signs of pre-menstrual syndrome – PMS. You may become cranky and irritable. Nothing seems to go your way. You may feel blue and any obstacles you meet seem overwhelming. Suddenly, you’re craving fatty, salty, sweet and carb-heavy foods. To make it all worse, you step on the scale and find you’ve gained two pounds! But you’re not alone – the Mayo Clinic estimates that three out of four women experience PMS symptoms before their periods.
Several PMS symptoms – including the cravings and PMS mood swings – play off each other, leading women to eat foods they know aren’t good for them. Unfortunately, eating those sugary, fatty, carbohydrate-packed and salty foods causes you to retain even more water and gain more weight, adding to the feeling of being “down in the dumps,” which leads to more craving.
It’s a vicious cycle, and that’s why it’s important to resist the siren call of those food cravings and eat wholesome food instead. Women tend to gain a pound or two during the two weeks before their period, losing it during the two weeks after. But women who are overweight and dieting are often thrown off track during those first two weeks and find it hard to get back to normal.
Here’s a list of 10 diet tips that will help keep you on track (and 7 more foods you might want to avoid)
Say yes to these foods and diet tips – they’ll ease your PMS symptoms:
- Complex carbohydrates – found in whole grain breads and cereals, barley, beans, lentils, and brown rice. It takes longer for these carbs to break down in your body, so they don’t bring the same quick rise in blood sugar that simple carbs do (such as those doughnuts at work that are calling your name).
- Calcium-rich foods, such as low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, and some leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale.
- Vitamin D-rich foods – found in some fish, such as salmon and sardines. One interesting note: a research study led by a professor at the University of Massachusetts over 10 years ago showed that women who had high intakes of both vitamin D and calcium-rich foods were less likely to experience PMS.
- Fruits and vegetables – The Cleveland Clinic states that if you “eat from the rainbow” (fruits and veggies of all different colors), you’ll get a good variety of vitamins and nutrients.
- Lean meats, such as chicken and turkey, pork loin, and lean cuts of beef are rich in iron and provide a lot of protein. Red meat is especially rich in iron, but you should trim off all the fat and cook it so the remaining fat drips off. If you’re a vegetarian or just don’t like meat, you may need to take an iron supplement to replace the iron lost during your period.
- Go nuts – unsalted nuts are excellent snacks with high levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. They’re also a good source of protein, and are a good option for vegetarians.
- Peanuts are high in vitamin B6 and magnesium, which some researchers have found helps regulate serotonin, the chemical in your brain that controls your mood. A spoonful of peanut butter makes a good, quick snack.
- Eggs are high in vitamins D, B6, and E, and are a great source of protein.
- Pumpkin seeds, chia seeds – like nuts, these are healthy sources of vitamins and protein.
- Eat more often – The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends eating six times a day. You can eat six small meals, or three small meals and three snacks. Eating more often will keep your blood sugar level more stable.
The following are PMS diet no-no’s:
- Salty foods – salt retains water and therefore contributes to weight gain that accompanies your period.
- Simple carbohydrates – includes processed foods such as white bread, white rice, and white pasta, all low in fiber, which makes them quick to break down in your system and cause blood sugar spikes. (Blood sugar spikes are followed by plunges, which contribute to moodiness.)
- Sugary foods – these include candy, cake, cookies, and all those sweet goodies at the top of the list of pre-menstrual food cravings. It’s hard to resist this stuff because food manufacturers give us so many tempting choices. (Remember when Peeps® were just little marshmallow chicks sold at Easter? Now we can buy them as heart shapes for Valentine’s Day; Christmas tree, snowman and gingerbread boy shapes at Christmas; covered in chocolate, and in fruit flavors!)
- Caffeine – There are mixed research results about the effects of caffeine on PMS. Most older studies show that caffeine makes PMS worse by stimulating the central nervous system, at first causing a burst of energy and alertness, but then hours later causing a sharp drop, resulting in feelings of tiredness, nervousness, difficulty in concentrating and general crankiness. However, a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no relationship between caffeine consumption and PMS symptoms. Regardless of either argument, caffeine does act as a diuretic (causing water loss and more trips to the ladies’ room). That does deplete calcium and other minerals and vitamins, which are essential to good health. So it can’t hurt to at least cut down on caffeine consumption.
- Alcohol – believe it or not, alcohol can increase your risk of having painful cramps – so try to drink sparkling water at happy hour instead.
- Skipping meals – you may think you’re banking the calories you’re not consuming, but skipping meals leads to low blood sugar, which will only make you more cranky and moody (and therefore apt to overeat at the next meal).
- Foods with saturated fat – Eating foods with too much saturated fat, such as butter and high-fat meat and cheese, increases your risk of heart disease. Several research studies have also shown they play a major role in the increase of PMS symptoms.
If you experience PMS symptoms month after month but changing your diet doesn’t help, it’s worth talking to your doctor. She should rule out other causes for the mood swings and cravings you’re experiencing, and she may recommend medication or a non-prescription product with clinically studied ingredients that can help ease those symptoms.