You Are What You Eat: Period Edition
July 8 2021 | Written by Rhea Kumar (She/Her)
Disclaimer: If you suspect that you might be experiencing abnormal period symptoms, please seek care from a medical professional. Additionally, gendered language used in the following post is included to remain consistent with scientific articles cited.
I’ve always walked the tightrope leading up to my period, “This time, will the cramps be as painful as the last time?” I’ve never suffered from anything serious in regards to my menstruation, but for the life of me, I could never pinpoint why I’d experience terrible cramps one on occasion, and smooth sailing the next. Sure, there’s stress which could be a big factor, but then I dug a bit deeper, and realized that perhaps certain foods have played a pretty significant role in the pain experienced during my period. And, maybe it can help explain yours too.
Warning: if you’re never one to pass up a side of french fries or onion rings, I have some sad news to share.
There is scientific evidence that suggests foods high in estrogens, namely oils and animal products, can cause the uterine lining to become abnormally thickened. This goes beyond the colloquial understanding that many of us hear, urging us to “eat healthy, after all, you are what you eat!” An abnormally thick uterine lining means that during your menstrual cycle, the body must produce more prostaglandins to break down the lining, and more prostaglandins means more pain.
So, in the week or two leading up to your period, maybe skip the oily foods if you suspect your painful periods aren’t based on serious medical conditions and are perhaps a result of your diet. If you’re like me, and can’t resist, try finding a happy balance, and don’t go overboard.
The reason that doctors focus so much on encouraging menstruators to skip oily and fatty foods is because such foods contain very little fiber. Hint: Fiber needs to become your best friend, especially leading up to your period. When estrogen is released into the bloodstream, it is pulled by the liver into the intestinal tract. Fiber helps to bind to the estrogen, almost in a sponge-like mechanism, and carries it out of the digestive tract with other waste. Basically, the more fiber in your diet, the better your body is able to dispose of estrogen.
In a study conducted in 2005, 276 Japanese women were asked what foods they consumed, and what they would rate their menstrual pain. It was found that women whose diets were fiber rich experienced less menstrual pain.
The Mayo Clinic has rounded up a well researched list of fruits, vegetables and legumes that contain the highest amount of fiber per serving. Here’s a quick summary, but be sure to click here for the full list.
Raspberries contain 8g of fiber per serving (1 cup)
Pear (medium sized) contain 5.5g of fiber
Green beans contain 9g of fiber per serving (1 cup)
Broccoli contains 5g of fiber per serving (1 cup)
Spaghetti contains 6g of fiber per serving (1 cup cooked)
Barley contains 6g of fiber per serving (1 cup)
Split peas contain 16g of fiber per serving (1 cup boiled)
Lentils contain 15g of fiber per serving (1 cup boiled)
Chia seeds contain 10g of fiber per serving (1 oz)
Aside from fibre, menstruators should always be aware of iron levels because of the amount of iron lost during the average day of bleeding. Around 1 mg of iron is lost for every day of bleeding. Iron deficiency is common in women, and symptoms may include fatigue and shortness of breath. While men need around 8 mg of iron in their daily diet, women need up to 18 mg, and 27mg if pregnant. Good sources of iron include red meat, fortified cereals, legumes and nuts and leafy greens.
Remember, if you are under the suspicion that your period is not normal, it’s always best to see a doctor than to assume you can fix your painful periods with a daily bowl of oatmeal (but hey, your digestive track will thank you for that!) Your hormones are important regulators and rightfully respond to your diet, so here’s to happy eating and happier hormones!