Food can definite be your best friend if you experience PMS. There are general nutrition recommendations for PMS as well as specific recommendations for the different types of PMS. Let’s start with the basic, general tips for managing PMS through diet.
First, it’s not just what you eat. It’s when you eat. Hormonal fluctuations associated with PMS make you more susceptible to low blood sugar which can cause or exacerbate many symptoms of PMS. Meal timing is important to prevent drops in blood sugar, thus preventing headaches, irritability and low energy. Plan ahead, and eat three meals and one or tow midday snacks everyday of your cycle.
As for what to eat, go for low glycemic carbohydrates. Women often report craving carbs prior to their period so go ahead and reach for carbs – just make sure they’re 100% whole grain, high in fibre and low in refined sugar. Low glycemic or low GI carbs cause a more steady rise in blood sugar levels, as opposed to the rapid burst that’s characteristic of a high GI “sugar rush”. The rush is followed by a crash, which leads to more cravings. You can avoid cravings by keeping blood sugar level stable with whole grains like barley, oats, quinoa, rye and spelt. Whole fresh foods and vegetables also provide low GI carbohydrates.
Choose naturally low-fat foods. A few studies have shown favourable changes in PMS symptoms in women who switched to a low-fat diet with no more than 15 to 20 percent of calories coming from fat. That’s no more than 40 grams of fat per day, roughly 10 grams per meal or the amount in two teaspoons of olive oil. A low-fat diet is good for PMS because it affects hormone levels, particular estrogen.
Cut down on sodium to reduce bloating. High level of estrogen associated with PMS often cause water retention in the hands and feet and that bloated feeling. In the body, water is attracted to sodium and sticks to it instead of getting flushed out by the kidneys. Reducing sodium intake encourages positive water balance and is best accomplished by avoiding processed foods. Canned goods, frozen dinners, salad dressings and prepared sauces are particularly high in sodium.
Reduce alcohol and caffeine consumption. One’s a depressant, the other is a stimulant. Reliance on either can aggravate PMS. Alcohol can trigger PMS symptoms like migraines or headaches. It also dehydrates the body which can lead to brain fog and fatigue. Both caffeine and alcohol disrupt sleep patterns increasing risk for insomnia, anxiety and irritability. If you’re prone to these symptoms, hydrate with herbal teas, green tea or just plain water.
Leslie Beck’s Nutrition Encyclopedia by Leslie Beck. Penguin Canada, 2001. Chapter 3, pages 483-485