Stephanie Baker, Elara's Head Nutritionist, shares how to tailor your nutrition across different phases of the Menstrual Cycle so you can take advantage of your hormones and provide the right nutrients to your body.
Reduce PMS symptoms and support your overall wellbeing!
Video Part 1: Phases of the Menstrual Cycle and Related Symptoms:
You can also view the following two articles for a detailed overview of the different phases of the menstrual cycle: The Menstrual Cycle - Phases, Hormones and Their Functions
Video Part 2: Video: Nutrition for the Different Phases of the Menstrual Cycle
Timestamp on video: 5:15
Hi, everyone. So I'll be covering some nutrition tips and how they can relate to the menstrual cycle.
The right foods at the right times can really help to manage common symptoms that we experience throughout the cycle. And nutrients are required as they are the building blocks for our hormones.
For example, hormones like serotonin and dopamine are from the amino acids from proteins. If you have quite a low protein diet that can affect many areas of your health (and mood) across your cycle.
There are a number of different nutrients that we require to build hormones. Iodine for thyroid health, vitamin D, and cholesterol. Even though we make a lot of cholesterol, we also take a lot from the diet. You've heard fatty fish, that kind of stuff.
So I'll be going over that in a little bit more detail.
A happy gut can support balanced hormones. So I'll also be talking about our microbiome and how that does affect conditions like estrogen dominance or lack of estrogen and how it helps metabolize different hormones.
We start with the early follicular phase - aka menstruation.
Foods that can really help during this time, especially if you have heavy periods, are foods rich in iron, vitamin C and vitamin D because they help create our red blood cells, our haemoglobin.
Of course, if you experience very severe blood loss or you're severe symptoms that stop you from completing day to day activities, then you need to go and speak to someone about this.
If you find that you do experience some of these symptoms but they aren't debilitating - enough that they cause you discomfort - then there are some things that we can do nutritionally to help alleviate them.
At this time, there is a drop in hormones. So you find that a lot of people do lose their appetite, but it is important not to skip meals during this phase just because you don't want to put pressure on your adrenals. You want to be eating at regular intervals. Having three meals a day is great.
For those experiencing abdominal cramps, I recommend looking at your magnesium intake.
You can get magnesium through leafy veg, things that grow in the ground. Because magnesium is a mineral, you're very much looking at foods that grow in the soil. However, the way that food production is these days is very different. We don't quite get the same vitamins and minerals in the soil as we used to get.
So I actually tell my clients that magnesium is quite a safe supplement to take. So I would look, if you do experience this during menstruation, to try a magnesium supplement. I would say somewhere between 400 mg is a very safe dose.
Almost all of us are deficient in magnesium if we are buying supermarket food. So I would recommend adding it to your diet.
So here (in the image below) I've added a list of different kinds of foods you can incorporate during this phase. So, again, the foods that have high levels of the nutrients that we require for red blood cell formation and then also magnesium-rich foods.
I've included the supplement in there, but it is a really, really safe supplement and it won't interfere if you're on medication. That's what I would recommend for that phase.
So, here we have the late follicular phase. As Natalie said, it's everyone's favourite phase. Our symptoms, if we do experience them, tend to calm down here. And as Natalie said, you do get that clarity. Your mood is a bit lifted, you have a bit more time for activities.
So I would say during this time, as with any other time in your cycle, but especially during this time, where you might increase activities, make sure you're increasing your protein consumption as well. And you can also get away with a bit more caloric intake because you're on the move. So definitely make sure that your diet complements that. And generally, just enjoy the time.
Again, if your appetite still is fairly low at this time, before the hormones start increasing, then just have a nice balanced diet with lots of colour in your food.
During this phase, usually, you find you don't need much specific nutritional help, but just increase that protein and increase a little bit of complex carbs in this one.
So you want light, colorful, nourishing salads, and you just want to make sure that you increase your protein.
I always tell my clients to get a mix of proteins as well. So get some plant-based proteins. And if you do eat animal food, then make sure you're getting a mix that just gives you all the different amino acids that are required. So try and vary up, try not to stick to the same one or two types of protein.
With the increase in energy typical of this phase, make sure you consume complex carbs from natural sources like oats, whole grains and sweet potatoes.
The mid-luteal phase (just after ovulation) of your phase is where you have to start prepping for the late luteal phase as you are coming into the section of your cycle where your symptoms do start to increase.
Look at your antioxidant intake just to get your body in a prepared state for the pre-menstrual phase. So you're looking at all your fat-soluble vitamins. Your vitamin A, De, and K, as well as you're vitamin C.
A good rule of thumb with antioxidants is to remember that the brighter and deeper the color, the more antioxidants in the food. For example, dark purples, reds and really bright oranges are really high in antioxidants.
Focus on adding a lot of color here in your diet. And also what's really, really important for this part of your cycle is to make sure that you are having regular bowel movements because estrogen peaks at this time. And we excrete estrogen through our stool. So if we're constipated, estrogen goes back into circulation. And this is where we can see those symptoms are associated with estrogen dominance.
It's really important during this time to make sure that you are managing your bowel movements. Just like at any other time of your cycle, but during the mid-luteal phase, it's even more important.
Consume cruciferous vegetables. So you're looking at your brassica family, which is basically all your leafy green vegetables. Your bitter-tasting foods are your cruciferous foods. You're looking at:
You also want to increase fibers. This helps you to excrete that excess estrogen.
Water intake is also really important because that helps with stool formation and helps it move through your digestive tract.
Bitter foods increase digestion. So if your digestion is a little slow during this period, then that really, really helps. Probiotic rich foods because you want a rich and diverse microbiome that's really going to help with bowel function, bowel movements, constipation, bloating and those kinds of symptoms.
And again, antioxidant foods. So you want your fatty fish and your leafy greens and that really colorful produce.
So this (Late luteal phase) again is that phase where most people do experience a lot of symptoms. So the mood dysregulation for A lot of the symptoms I see when people are due on can be related a lot of the time to imbalance blood sugar because hormones work, they all kind of compete for the same receptors. So it is like about it's like a pair of scales, like a balancing act. If you have too much of one, it tips the other. You don't have enough of one thing, it tips the other up.
So what blood sugar does, is insulin is a hormone as well as all of our other sex hormones. So it is really about trying to balance them all to get that right. So I find mood dysregulation can be linked to blood sugar balance. So if you're finding that your blood sugar is pretty high, you're eating at really just regular times, high processed food, you're not getting enough protein, you're not getting enough fibre, that can also affect your mood and your energy throughout the day. So really look at balancing your blood sugar at the most important time, and it's important all times of the month, but when you add, you want it's the most important time to get that right.
So when it comes to bloating and water retention, you're kind of looking at those trigger foods that can bring that on.
A lot of it can be the way your hormones function and the increase in drops of hormones. But at this time in your cycle, this is quite a common symptom. So I would just look at reducing your intake of processed foods, high sodium foods, looking at getting that sodium-potassium balance. So again, it's about that balance of the two. So potassium foods are pretty much in any fruit and vegetable. So get that fruit and vegetable intake up and that will really help your potassium levels and it helps reduce sodium levels as well as avoiding processed foods.
Try and get that intake of colorful foods up. And again, a lot of cravings I see around that time are increasing cortisol. So again, you want to look at your blood sugar balance.
If your blood sugar is dysregulated, then your cortisol goes through the roof. So again, protein. Try not to graze throughout the day. Balanced meals, lots of protein, and then poor quality sleep. Again, cortisol could be a blood sugar issue, could be a general lifestyle issue.
But yes, at this stage really pay attention to your blood sugar. That could be the key to a few symptoms here and then again here.
So just as I explained, just a few tips really around those common symptoms that we see leading up to your period.
So, yeah, just try and limit those inflammatory foods. Try to add color and protein. As always said, start the day with breakfast, too. A lot of us do run out the door. We have our coffee, we're running out the door. We might not sit very well. That sends our adrenals through the roof and that really starts us up. Not a great day when it comes to blood sugar balance.
The key to good blood sugar balance is starting the day with a high protein, high fiber, nourishing breakfast, and that will kind of help to start stabilizing those blood sugar levels throughout the day.
So, yeah, mood dysregulation again, magnesium. I just think it's a really good supplement here for a few things. So as well as obviously, as I mentioned during your period, magnesium helps with cramps. I've seen it a lot in the clinic, but it really does help with cramps. It can really help to support your nervous system, which at this time is being impacted by this influx, up and down of hormones, and sleep disturbances.
There are a lot of lifestyle things you can do with that. But also a good balance of protein and complex carbs before bed has also been shown to help with sleep just because it helps the serotonin levels which we need for a good night's sleep.