What to Eat When You’re on Your Period – and What to Avoid
Whether your favorite food is sweet or salty, you’ll find something quick and easy in this list – especially if you’re wondering what to eat on your period. Food has an immediate and dramatic impact on your mood and energy level, which is why you need to be thoughtful about what you eat while menstruating.
In 9 Easy Healthy Ways to Make Your Menstrual Cycle Regular, I share a few eating tips for women with irregular periods. In this article, I dig deeper into specific foods women should eat while getting their period. These are the best foods because they help regulate hormones, reduce cravings, decrease bloat and increase energy levels. And they (mostly) taste good!
To write this article, I did more book than online research about what to eat on your period, because you probably have access to the same websites and ebooks as I do. I also looked into the pros and cons of eating soy foods when you’re getting your period, which you’ll be interested in – especially if you have PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). From kimchi to sweet potatoes, skim milk to swiss chard – here’s what I learned from reading books about women’s health…
Your diet matters.
Every bite of food you eat can help stabilize and boost your hormones, mood, brain functioning, energy level, menstrual cycle, and immune system. If you aren’t getting enough healthy nutrients from the foods you eat, you won’t be physically or emotionally balanced. This is why it’s so important to know what to eat on your period – and even when you’re not actually menstruating.
What to Eat When You’re Getting Your Period
Most of the foods on this list are vegetarian or vegan because they contain more nutrients and minerals than meat does.
A rainbow of green, red, purple, yellow, and non-meaty foods
“Estrogen dominance can lead to heavier periods,” writes Dr Julie Holland in Moody Bi**hes: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, the Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having, and What’s Really Making You Crazy. “Hormones in processed meat and certain chemicals in plastics, soaps, and pesticides can mimic estrogen, as can soy, which is added to many processed foods.”
If you enjoy a lean tenderloin steak or barbecued chicken breast occasionally (like I do – I need to eat a burger sometimes!), make sure it’s organic or at least labeled “hormone-free.” The hormones used in meat processing can affect your body’s hormone levels, and possibly cause heavier periods.
“My patients who have switched to a vegetarian or vegan diet are enjoying lighter, less crampy periods,” writes Dr Holland. “Also, keeping your weight at an optimal level can make a big difference in your monthly symptoms. The more body fat you have, the more estrogen your body is going to make, so aim for a leaner frame if you have signiﬁcant PMS symptoms or especially heavy periods.”
Sweet potatoes and yams
Here’s what not to eat on your period: white potatoes, French fries, mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, frozen shoestring potatoes, even baked potatoes. They aren’t nearly as good for you as sweet potatoes and yams, and they’ll leave you feeling tired and sluggish.
3 reasons you should eat sweet potatoes and yams:
- They’re high in carbohydrates, which increase the feel-good hormone serotonin and satisfy your period-induced cravings for unhealthy fats, carbs, and sugar
- They’re super high in vitamins, which increase energy, brain power, and immunity
- They’re uber delicious and easy to cook
Yams and sweet potatoes boost your serotonin levels (serotonin is a hormone that makes you feel good); these foods are essential when you’re on your period because they stabilize your mood and energy levels. The complex carbohydrates in foods such as yams and sweet potato will instantly help you feel better and stronger when you’re on your period. But, don’t add marshmallows or butter to your sweet potato and yam dishes! Instead, just bake them in the oven like baked potatoes and eat them plain – skin and all.
I add yams and sweet potatoes to my salsas, soups, and spaghetti sauces. Mostly, I just eat them with steamed veggies. If they’re good dry, I sometimes add a dollop of yogurt or a dash of cinnamon.
Raw cacao or high-quality dark chocolate
Yay, you can enjoy sweet treats even if you’re searching for something as serious as what to eat on your period!
Raw cacao may not taste great but it’s loaded with antioxidants – and it’s high in ﬂavenoids, which are substances shown to increase blood flow, magnesium, iron, chromium, zinc, copper, and ﬁber.
I drink a mug of hot cocoa every day – the Divine Organics Raw Cacao Powder is perfect for making a rich, healthy mug of hot chocolate. Cacao can help decrease your premenstrual and menstrual food cravings and balance your blood sugar. Both cacao and high-quality dark chocolate are good foods to eat on your period because they stimulate the production of serotonin, endorphins, and phenylethylamine (PEA). I add a packet of Splenda and a couple teaspoons of sugar, so it’s not too bitter but not too sweet.
“Chocolate contains flavenoids, which have estrogen-like activity and help improve circulation by reducing platelet clumping,” writes Dr Rebecca Booth in The Venus Week: Discover the Powerful Secret of Your Cycle at Any Age. “Similar to the effects of aspirin, flavonoids enhance the microcirculation necessary for optimal functioning of the ovaries, as well as other endocrine glands. There are also antioxidant properties in the phenol component of chocolate, and antioxidants have a host of anti-aging properties.”
She adds that cacao or high-quality dark chocolate also contains the substance phenylethylamine, which is chemically very similar to dopamine (the neurotransmitter associated with desire and infatuation). Dopamine and other neurotransmitters tend to fall during the reset. Before menstrual bleeding. It could be the premenstrual fall in dopamine that causes the familiar chocolate cravings we get during and before our periods.
The benefits of dark chocolate include:
- Pro-circulation effects
- Natural antidepressant
- Good satiety
- Mouth-watering deliciousness
The darker the chocolate, the better. White or even milk chocolate is NOT what to eat on your period! Darker chocolate means less sugar (and sugar will sabotage your efforts to find the best foods to eat on your period. Everything in moderation: enjoy 1 ounce of high-quality dark chocolate every day – or a cup of hot cocoa, like I do. Remember that chocolate has caffeine. If you eat more than an ounce a day you’ll increase your caffeine intake, which can alter your hormone balance and prevent you from getting regular periods in natural ways.
Chia is my newest favorite food because it goes far beyond just what to eat on your period. Chia seeds are tiny, brown, black or white seeds, almost as teeny tiny as poppy seeds. They’re called a “super food” because they contain several important nutrients in just a few calories.
Viva Labs Organic Chia Seeds are rich in fiber, healthy fats, and antioxidants that help prevent cell damage. They’re also a great source of fiber; after you eat them, the seeds expand and form a healthy gel. This also happens when they come into contact with water outside of your body – so if you put them in your cereal or protein bars (like I do), they do change the consistency of the food.
Chia seeds are easy to add to your diet; just sprinkle a tablespoon a day on your breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Since these seeds expand after you eat them, they add bulk to your poop. This is great news when you’re on your period – it keeps your bowel movements regular and helps prevent constipation. The added bulk and fiber also fills you up so you eat less.
Research shows that not only does skim milk help decrease insomnia and restlessness at night, it can also relieve muscle spasms and soothe tension. According to a 2005 study from the Archives of Internal Medicine, women who drank four or more servings of low-fat or skim milk per day had a 46% lower risk of pre-period misery than women who had no more than one serving per week.
Skim milk – which I always use when I make my cup of hot cocoa – may also reduce premenstrual (PMS) symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety, and irritability. Skim milk also contains both calcium and vitamin D, which – according to a study called Calcium and vitamin D intake and risk of incident premenstrual syndrome – reduces the risk of not only PMS but also of osteoporosis and some cancers.
Magnesium-rich foods: spinach, bananas, legumes
It isn’t a food, but magnesium can help relieve PMS symptoms and it’s definitely what you should be eating on your period. It’s a mineral that is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in your body. I list the most important health benefits of magnesium just below, but if you’ve researched what to eat on your period in the past – or even what to eat to be healthy, period – then you have certainly found foods that contain magnesium.
- Helps to maintain normal nerve and muscle function
- Supports a healthy immune system
- Keeps the heart beat steady
- Helps bones remain strong.
- Helps regulate blood glucose levels
- Aids in the production of energy and protein.
Scientists are also studying how magnesium helps prevent and manage disorders such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
These magnesium-rich foods are super healthy to eat when you’re getting your period: Dried apricots, spinach, bananas, avocados, almonds, cashews, brown rice, legumes, skim milk, millet, and soy flour.
Quinoa, buckwheat, bok choy, kale, swiss chard
“In week three [of your menstrual cycle], there is both a surge of estrogen and progesterone and then a decline,” writes Integrative Nutritionist Alisa Vitti in 4-Week Cyclical Hormonal Health Plan on the Dr Oz website.
“This affects brain chemistry, and ultimately, our mood. Grains provide B vitamins, which give your body the building blocks to produce serotonin to help keep moods stable. Greens contain calcium and magnesium, which help your body use the hormones you do have efficiently. Grains and greens combined provide your body with plenty of soluble fiber to help move estrogen out of the body as quickly as possible.”
Sauerkraut and kimchi
In Kimchi and Sauerkraut – Best Probiotic Foods for Healing Depression Naturally, I describe why I now eat these foods every single day (whether or not I’m getting my period). Today, I had kimchi and a soft boiled egg on toast, yum.
Whether or not you’re prone to depression or mood swings when you’re on your period, you should start eating sauerkraut and kimchi. These fermented foods offer more and better probiotics than yogurt. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that are essential for the smooth and happy functioning of your brain, intestines, and immune system.
“Some of my favorite and healthiest sprouted and pickled foods are sauerkraut, kimchi, bean sprouts, broccoli sprouts and sprouted Ezekiel bread,” says Vitti. “These foods contain prebiotics and 3-endole-carbinol – two key micronutrients that help the body metabolize and break down estrogen. This is important during the first week as estrogen begins to rise (if you have a menstrual cycle).”
Take NatureWise Women’s Probiotics with Cranberry if you don’t like kimchi (too hot and spicy) or sauerkraut (too pickle-y and salty). These neat and clean little capsules provide a controlled, time-released stream of live, active cultures throughout your large and small intestines.
These probiotics will nourish beneficial flora and dislodge E. coli from your kidneys, bladder, and urethra, for enhanced urinary tract support, improved digestion, and immune health.
Green smoothies with raw veggies and fresh fruit
Eating a wide variety of healthy fruits and vegetables is an important way to balance your hormones when you’re getting your period. But, you can only eat so much fruit and veggies in one day, right?
Smoothies to the rescue! Making your own homemade fruit and veggie smoothies – or raw juice – is quick and easy. The best ingredients include beets, lemon, kale, apple, celery, carrots, and ginger. Learning what to eat on your period doesn’t have to overwhelming (as in trying chia seeds for the first time) – it can be as simple as learning the healthiest ways to make delicious smoothies and fresh juices.
In 10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse, JJ Smith provides a shopping list, recipes, and detailed instructions for a green smoothie cleanse for your body. If you want to lose weight, increase your energy level, clear your mind, and improve your overall health then you need to get this book today.
The green smoothies in this book are made up of supernutrients from leafy greens and fruits. They’re filling and healthy, they contain foods you should be eating on your period, and you’ll actually enjoy drinking them. Your body will thank you for these smoothies because your health and energy will improve to levels you never thought possible.
When you’re on your period, your estrogen levels increase. Fresh, raw fruits and veggies are filled with antioxidants and fiber, which your body needs to break down and move estrogen out of your system quickly. Even more important: raw juices and healthy smoothies that contain fruits and veggies also ensure your liver is getting enough of the micronutrient glutathione, which is required to break down estrogen.
Are estrogen-rich soy foods good for women on their periods?
Yes. It’s safe and even healthy to eat one or two servings of whole soy every day.
One serving of soy is:
- Half a cup of cooked edamame
- One cup of soy milk
- One ounce of soy nuts
- Three ounces of soy tofu
However, my research for this article – what to eat on your period – led to conflicting reports on soy foods for women. These two nutritionists say different things about eating soy for women; the bottom line for me is that whole soy foods in moderation are fine to eat when you’re on your period – but other foods offer more and better health benefits.
“In my experience, women with estrogen-dominant conditions, like PCOS, fibroids, ovarian cysts, infertility and low libido, have a harder time including soy foods as a significant part of their diet,” writes Vitti. She says no soy foods for women who have excess estrogen.
“So often we tend to overconsume foods that are touted as health foods,” adds Vitti. “Traditionally, Asian cultures consume no more than two teaspoons of fermented soy a day, which has been shown to be health-promoting, while more than that quantity becomes problematic. Soy products contain high levels of phytoestrogens that mimic the body’s natural estrogen hormones. If you’re struggling to break down what you’re already producing, adding more to your taxed system can make your symptoms worse.”
Symptoms of PCOS can include irregular infrequent periods – or no menstrual cycle at all. PCOS can also lead to infertility, polycystic ovaries, abnormal hair growth (hirsutism), hair thinning, acne, weight gain and in time, an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and endometrial cancer. If you’re sure if you have PCOS, read 4 Most Common Types of Menstrual Problems for Women.
“Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common endocrine problem that is diagnosed in reproductive aged women,” writes Tori Hudson in Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine: Alternative Therapies and Integrative Medicine for Total Health and Wellness. “It’s complex and involves multiple body systems, but is associated with hyperinsulinemia, impaired glucose metabolism, hyperandrogenism and dyslipidemia.”
She also says: “Soy foods in the diet of women with PCOS have been a staple of my nutritional advice, due to other evidence that soy phytoestrogens can improve lipids and lower some of the free testosterone. I would not be inclined to just rely on a soy isoflavone supplement or soy foods to fully address PCOS, but in terms of medicinal foods, soy foods and/or a soy isoflavone supplement is an important dietary influence for women with PCOS.”
Hudson says not to be misled by the word “phytoestrogens” (which are some of the natural compounds in soy). According to Hudson, soy does not contain estrogen nor does it increase estrogen levels. Soy foods do not cause hormonal cancers in reproductive aged women. Thus, according to her, you can eat soy foods when you’re getting your period.
The bottom line on soy foods for women with PCOS: check with your medical health practitioner before eating too many soy-based foods. Eat the other foods for women on their periods, because they’re healthier and far less controversial.
Listen to your body
In 15 Most Common Causes of Period Problems – and Quick Fixes, I share the most important tip about what to eat on your period: the foods that energize you, strengthen you, lift your mood, and help you feel great about yourself.
It took me decades (far too long) to figure out that when I eat potato chips and chocolate chip cookies (even homemade ones), my energy plummets. I feel tired and gross, and all I want to do is curl up into a fat little ball and go to sleep.
What foods energize and lift you up? Make notes for a week. Write down what you eat, when you ate it, and how you felt while eating it. Pay attention to how you felt 30 minutes later, an hour later, three hours later. Your body will tell you what to eat on your period. There is no “one size fits all” diet plan for women who are menstruating or finished their menstrual cycles….there is only what works for you.
How do you feel after reading all these food tips for women getting their periods? Feel free to share your thoughts below. I can’t offer advice, but I read every comment. Your experience will help other readers – and if you have a question, it’s possible that another reader may be able to help you.
Irregular periods are messy, frustrating, and embarrassing. Worse, they can lead to more serious health problems - such as endometriosis and even infertility! And the longer you wait, the more you suffer.
You'll find solutions and support in my new ebook: 97 Natural Ways to Regulate Your Period: The Safest Solutions for Irregular, Spotty, or Missing Menstrual Cycles.
Learn simple ways to regulate your menstrual cycle, balance your hormones, and feel healthy and happy again!