5 Foods to Reduce PMS
Disclaimer: This is not medical or personalized nutrition advice, but general education. Discuss your own nutrition needs with your healthcare provider or qualified nutritionist.
PMS is my favorite topic.
Ok not really. PMS is the worst. It robs you of half your month in productivity, makes you feel lousy, and convinces you that you’re crazy.
You might joke about PMS because you feel like it’s a rite of passage that we all experience. But…it’s not. PMS is common, that’s for sure. Over 90% of menstruating women in the U.S. experience Premenstrual Syndrome, characterized by irritability, fatigue, tender breasts, bloating, headache, anxiety, trouble concentrating, and food cravings. Up to 5% have a more severe form of PMS called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD).
While there is no consensus as to what causes PMS, research on various populations shows that some people groups experience higher or lower rates of PMS. This could mean there is a genetic component, or there may be some cultural behaviors that contribute to PMS.
Even though it’s common, I would argue that it’s not normal. Many times, an underlying disease, hormone imbalance, nutritional deficiency, or all of the above contribute to PMS. When these issues are resolved or reduced, PMS usually improves dramatically. Yes, hormone fluctuations happen and yes, they cause changes in mood, energy, and resilience. That doesn’t mean you have to have panic attacks, painful cramps, or lethargy!
So how do you work with your body instead of against it? First, accept that your symptoms are common and that many women experience them. You might find it easier to ask for help or give yourself a little grace when the day isn’t going like you thought it would.
Second, take a deep breath and notice how your symptoms have affected your life. Are you holding tension in your neck? Are you cold and sluggish because you’ve been too tired to move around today? Do you skip the gym for a whole week because you feel crappy? Do you dive nose-first into a bag of chips or tray of cupcakes because your willpower went out the window?
Third, will you believe me when I tell you it’s going to be ok? You have the ability to support your body through PMS symptoms and gradually reduce them so that you can feel amazing again. One of the best ways you can do that is to reduce stress and optimize your PMS coping strategies. That’s a topic for another day though. Today, focus on nourishing your body with foods that have the nutrients you need. There are so many great foods for PMS, but here are a few of my faves.
Wild Alaskan Salmon
This fish is packed with omega 3 fatty acids, which support hormone balance, help your brain think clearly, and reduce strain on your joints. Omega 3 intake has been shown to improve PMS symptoms. Salmon is also a great source of protein, which improves blood sugar regulation, reduces fatigue, and supports normal appetite. An easy way to prepare salmon is to purchase it fresh or frozen from a local supplier, bake it in the oven at 350ºF for 11-15 minutes (depending on size), and serve it with steamed vegetables and wild rice.
You might crave chocolate before your period, and for good reason! The sugar in chocolate is a quick energizer, and your brain is smart enough to know that and prompt you to seek it out. But there are other reasons your brain might want chocolate: it’s rich in magnesium, caffeine, and theobromine. Magnesium is essential for reducing nerve and muscle tension, and magnesium has been shown to reduce premenstrual anxiety. Caffeine can be helpful when energy is low, and a little goes a long way. I’ve noticed that if I have a lot of (even very good quality) dark chocolate, my moods get worse because of the caffeine level. Enjoy this in moderation for PMS support. Finally, theobromine in chocolate can support brain function and task efficiency. If you feel like a little chocolate helps you get stuff done, then it could be that you respond well to the combination of theobromine and caffeine!
Yummy chocolate for PMS?
Here’s an easy smoothie recipe that gives you that dark chocolate taste you want, while supporting your blood sugar with protein and healthy fats. The vanilla bean paste is optional, but it really elevates this smoothie to another level! I love adding maca for extra energy (without adding caffeine), or coconut cream for an extra smooth texture.
One of my favorite vegetables, and for good reason! Not only are they delicious and versatile, sweet potatoes are full of fiber, easily usable carbohydrates, and minerals (including magnesium!). The fiber in sweet potatoes supports blood sugar regulation, which is impaired during the luteal phase of your cycle and can make premenstrual syndrome SO much worse. You need more food just before your period because all that hormonal change requires energy, and the carbohydrates in sweet potatoes are easy to digest and gentle on your body. The minerals in sweet potatoes are super helpful too: magnesium, potassium, and manganese support different parts of your body’s hormone and energy regulation.
This recipe is SO good.
My husband created this on a whim one day, and I’ve been making it (or begging him to make it!) ever since. The creamy, sweet flavor of the potatoes mixes nicely with the herbal rosemary, spicy curry, and tangy feta. You can also use goat cheese here, it’s super tasty!
What can I say? Avocado has all my love. It’s nature’s perfect fat bomb. Beyond that satisfying fat content, avocado is a rich source of potassium and fiber. Women who eat more potassium have lower risk of PMS, and potassium also supports general energy and hydration. The fiber in avocados (once again) is fabulous for helping your energy and mood stay stable throughout the day. This is because blood sugar fluctuations cause mood swings. So next time you’re hangry (or if you want to prevent it), eat an avocado. The simplest way to enjoy it is just to cut it in half, sprinkle salt and pepper, and eat it with a spoon out of its skin! If you like a bit more sophistication, try avocado toast, chicken or grain salad-stuffed avocado, or homemade guac and Beanitos!
Craving something crisp and sweet? Apples are my go-to recommendation for an afternoon snack that fills you up and energizes you without overloading your blood sugar. If you feel that you’re sensitive to fruit (or sugar in general), it’s a good idea to pair your apple with cheese, nuts, or a boiled egg. This will reduce the blood sugar spike (and crash) that’s causing your afternoon slump. You may also need to purchase apples that are medium-sized rather than the ginormous ones at specialty food stores. Apples are a good source of potassium as well, making them a great pre- or post-workout snack.
And that’s it, folks. What foods do you eat to support your hormones? Have you ever had relief from PMS by changing what you eat? Leave a note in the comments!
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Behboudi-Gandevani, S., Hariri, F. Z., & Moghaddam-Banaem, L. (2018). The effect of omega 3 fatty acid supplementation on premenstrual syndrome and health-related quality of life: a randomized clinical trial. Journal of Psychosomatics Obstetrics and Gynecology, 39 (4), 266-272.
McCabe, D., Lisy, K., Lockwood, C., & Colbeck, M. (2017). The impact of essential fatty acid, B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc supplementation on stress levels in women: a systematic review. JBI Database System Rev Implement Rep, 15 (2), 402-453.
Chocano-Bedoya et al. (2013). Intake of selected minerals and risk of premenstrual syndrome. American Journal of Epidemiology, 177 (10), 1118-1127.