What foods to eat during every week of your cycle

Everybody’s periods are completely different.

Some people bloat and have raging hormones, while others just feel completely knackered for a few days. 

But we can all agree that we’d welcome anything that would make our monthly cycles more pleasant. 

Whether you have severe symptoms or not, adjusting our diets can be an easy way to support these fluctuating hormones.

For those not clued-up, cycle-syncing is the practice of eating, exercising and aligning with the different phases of your monthly menstrual cycle.

And it can make a real difference. 

We’ve asked nutritionists and experts to shed light on the foods we should be eating during every week of our cycle. This is what they had to say…

Week 1 (day 1-7): Menstrual phase

Let’s start at the beginning, on the first day of a cycle, which is usually when bleeding begins.

‘During phase 1 of the menstrual cycle, oestrogen and progesterone are at their lowest levels and this can affect mood and worsen PMS symptoms,’ explains Francesca and Charlotte, nutritionists at Health Nutritionist.

These are the things to prioritise:

Iron-rich foods

Lauren Craven-Niemczyk, head of nutrition at Feel, explains why it’s important to consume iron-rich foods during the first week of your cycle.

She says: ‘Losing blood every month is the reason why many women have low iron levels; some women who suffer from very heavy periods may even be anaemic because of this.

‘It’s recommended to consume high iron foods throughout the month, but especially during your monthly bleed, to replenish your iron stores.

‘Red meat, poultry and shellfish are all great sources of heme iron (from animal-sources), whereas dark leafy green vegetables e.g. kale and spinach, plus lentils and tofu are great non-heme (plant-based) sources of iron.’

Omega 3 and antioxidants

To reduce cramping, it may help to up your intake of omega-3 fatty acids – which are found in oily fish, like salmon and trout, and small amounts in flaxseed and walnuts. 

Lauren adds: ‘These fats are potently anti-inflammatory and have been shown to reduce symptoms of period pain. 

‘Also, including plenty of herbs and spices is also a great idea. These are rich in antioxidants which may also support pain reduction – try including turmeric, ginger and rosemary to spice up your meals.’

Week 2  (day 8-14): Follicular phase and ovulation

In the second week, your body is gearing up for ovulation – which is usually around day 14 in a 28-day cycle. 

Lauren explains: ‘This is a high oestrogen phase, as your body is producing high levels of this important hormone to thicken the uterine lining and trigger ovulation. 

‘You may notice increased energy, libido and feeling more sociable than usual.’

Eat carbohydrates

‘Ensure you’re eating enough carbs – yes, you heard me,’ Lauren adds.

‘Women need to consume a certain amount of starch in order to ovulate: this is so the body recognises it has the required energy availability in order to have a baby. So ensure you’re having a source of carbohydrates with each meal.’ 

Lauren also stresses that it’s vital to include complex carbohydrates such as root vegetables – like sweet potatoes, butternut squash and parsnips – as well as wholegrain rice, pasta and bread.

Include zinc and iodine-rich foods

Two key nutrients that support healthy ovulation are zinc and iodine. 

Lauren adds: ‘Zinc isn’t stored in the body, and so you need a daily supply from your diet. 

‘Try eating seafood such as prawns, poultry or red meat, or some excellent plant-based forms of zinc include pumpkin seeds, beans and lentils.

‘Iodine is another crucial mineral that often gets forgotten in our modern diets – this can be found in fish and shellfish, seaweed, and mineral-rich sea salt.’

Week 3 (day 15-21): Luteal phase

‘During the third phase, both oestrogen and progesterone start rising again and the higher levels of progesterone may mean a greater appetite,’ Francesca and Charlotte add.

‘This is because these two hormones can affect your basal metabolic rate, which is the energy your body spends at rest.’ 

A regular intake of carbohydrates and protein can help avoid a spike in blood sugar levels – so eating every 2-3 hours is a good strategy.

Lauren also stresses that during this week, it is important to support the detoxification of oestrogen via the liver and the gut. 

She says: ‘This is because many symptoms of PMS are exacerbated by high oestrogen levels.’

There are a few ways of doing this…

Up your fibre intake

Lauren says: ‘We excrete spent oestrogen through our digestive system, so ensuring your bowel habits are regular (1-3 x a day) is an essential albeit un-sexy part of PMS-prevention.’

High-fibre grains such as brown rice, quinoa and wholegrain oats and plenty of fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, apples and berries will go a long way here.

Include probiotic foods

‘Having a healthy balance of gut bacteria also supports oestrogen detoxification pathways – so it’s a good idea to consume plenty of probiotic-rich foods during this time,’ adds Lauren.

Some of these might include yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha.

Week 4 (day 22-28): Pre-menstrual

The final week before the cycle kicks off again is known as the pre-menstrual phase.

This can often be when PMS symptoms occur, such as feeling anxious or emotional, bloating, tender breasts, fatigue, headaches and breakouts.

Lauren explains: ‘This is often due to an imbalance in the key hormones oestrogen and progesterone. Continuing with the tips from week 3 will support the reduction of these symptoms, but there are a few additional suggestions to bear in mind.

‘This pre-menstrual phase is still a time of high progesterone. Progesterone is a super hormone for women’s health – it boosts energy levels, reduces anxiety, promotes deep sleep, nourishes hair and skin, builds bone and muscle – so it’s a no brainer to support its production.’

Here’s how you can do exactly that:

Include magnesium-rich foods

Lauren says: ‘Magnesium is mother nature’s relaxant and supports progesterone production, and reduces fluid retention.’

You’ll find this in leafy green vegetables, beans and pulses and wholegrains.

Lauren also explains why lots of people crave chocolate treats around the time of their period. 

She says: ‘Cravings for chocolate before your period can indicate a magnesium deficiency, as cocoa is very high in magnesium. Try an 80%+ dark chocolate and manage portion size.’

Include vitamin B6-rich foods

B-vitamins are required for energy production, but are also thought to increase progesterone production and reduce symptoms of PMS. 

Chickpeas, salmon, poultry and starchy vegetables like butternut squash are great sources of this.

Watch your salt intake

Despite the fact you might crave junk, Lauren says it’s best to avoid salty foods and processed meats in the days before your period.

She adds: ‘These foods are high in sodium and will exacerbate water retention and bloating. 

‘Instead try to increase your intake of potassium-rich foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables: banana, oranges, avocado, artichokes, spinach, broccoli and watercress.

‘Smoothies can be a great way of incorporating these foods.’

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