I personally have always noticed a change in my dietary needs leading to menstruation. It used to lead me to binge excessively on crappy food choices that left me feeling bloated, yucky and unhappy during my period. Now, as a nutritionist, I have researched what is actually going on under those cravings and found balanced ways to deal with them. Here are three common reasons for our period cravings along with my two favorite recommendations to help deal with them.
A woman's need for magnesium increases dramatically between ovulation and menstruation. Naturally the body looks to replenish its stores by craving foods high in magnesium. Guess what is high in magnesium? Cocoa beans. No wonder so many women crave chocolate close to their periods! Unfortunately most processed chocolate has lost most of the natural magnesium content. Choose dark chocolate that has been minimally processed or use your own organic unsweetened cocoa in smoothies and baking. Other foods that are high in magnesium are green vegetables and oats. Magnesium can decrease common menstrual symptoms like cramping, constipation, insomnia, headaches, water retention, anxiety and sore swollen breasts. If you experience those symptoms you may find benefit from taking a magnesium supplement.
- Sugar & Carbohydrates
Our caloric needs fluctuation through our cycle. That means we need to eat more on some days than others. Menstruation is a time where women are not only shedding a lining of the uterus, but also cleansing toxins and processing emotions that may have been ignored during the month prior. This requires a lot of energy, so we may find our hunger is increased premenstrually. It is important to listen to your hunger signals and provide your body with the nourishment it needs. When hunger signals are ignored they can turn into voracious sugar cravings! Always eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full and make sure to consume enough protein and healthy fats during the week before your period to reduce sugar and carbohydrate cravings.
- Salt & Water
The adrenal glands govern many hormonal reactions in the body. As our hormone levels change, the adrenal glands are at work. Minerals are incredibly important to the function of our adrenals glands. When we have a mineral deficiency we crave salty foods. It is important to listen to this craving since it is indicating a deficiency. The type of salt you choose is crucial. Sea salt, sea vegetables and water rich vegetables are high in the full spectrum of minerals our body needs. Avoid refined salt, canned foods and packaged goods as these are high in refined salt and do not provide the minerals our body needs during menstruation.
We also need lots of water for those minerals to move through the body and effectively be used in hormonal reactions. When we are dehydrated we often crave salt since extra salt will trigger the kidneys to keep more water in our body. But, excessive refined salt intake can lead to water retention and a feeling of being bloated and swollen all over your body. Drink 6-10 glasses of water daily, and choose the healthy salty foods listed above when craving salt.
My favorite recommendations!
1. Permission! When you are having a craving please indulge it! I know you may not have heard this from a nutritionist before, but if you want chocolate cake, go ahead and eat it! I give you that permission. I have just one requirement while you indulge: Mindfulness. Eat whatever you want, but eat it in a mindful way. If you are present with the food you are craving you will feel satisfied with less, and may even realized that it is not what your body is actually asking for.
2. Lifestyle – Menstruation is a time to be still, quiet and with nature. In our busy world it is very tempting to pop a pain killer, and push through without giving our bodies the chance to do what it needs to do. As I said above, menstruation requires a lot of energy so it is a good idea to relax more during your period. Choose a restorative or meditative practice instead of vinyasa during this time. Try lying on the ground with your legs up the trunk of a large tree. Know that your body is doing amazing work even when you are still.