Syncing food with menstrual cycle
General Nutrition • • 1 minute to read • By Praveena Kuchipudi, INFS Faculty
Author: Praveena Kuchipudi
Menstruation or the menstrual cycle is an essential process for reproductive health in women. It is governed by hormones that are interacting with each other throughout their reproductive cycle. These hormones are estrogen, progesterone, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), and luteinizing hormone (LH). Women are more prone to fluctuations of these hormones in every cycle throughout their phases of their lifetime. Have you ever realized the cravings such as chocolate or that wanting to eat foods at the sight of them happen around your menstrual cycle?
This is all to blame for these playful hormones that constantly put you under the desire to eat more food, which are majorly the carbohydrates. Let’s understand what exactly happens during the menstrual cycle and when to include different foods based on the phase of the cycle so that you don't want to hold on your food cravings.
The menstrual cycle typically lasts between 24-38 days (depending on various factors in each woman). The cycle has three major phases,
- Follicular phase
- Ovulatory phase, and
- Luteal phase
Each of these phases has an early and late phase.
Follicular phase: In early follicular (also called menstrual phase) where all the hormones are very low. The hormones estrogen, LH and FSH slowly rise towards the late follicular phase and peaks at ovulation.
Ovulatory phase: Hormones are at peak during the ovulatory phase (between 13th to 15th day). This is the most fertile period. Including foods that help increase the chances of implantation in those planning to conceive can consume foods rich in folic acid, iron, and other most nutrient dense foods.
Luteal Phase: In early luteal phase, the progesterone peaks with little rise in estrogen level and declines towards late luteal phase (which is also called pre-menstrual phase). Pre-menstrual phase with low levels of estrogen and progesterone is when women experience various symptoms such as bloating, poor sleep quality, pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS).
Women with PMS have increased appetite, food cravings, and in turn higher calorie intake. Studies show that there would be need to increase the healthy fats, in particular omega-3 fatty acids, due to their utilization and reduction in the tissues during this phase.
Along with the above-mentioned nutrients, sufficient intake of vitamin D or exposure to proper sunlight, vitamin B6, and antioxidants intake through vegetables and fruits throughout the menstrual cycle are also suggested (Draper et al., 2018).
Furthermore, foods that can help with managing mood symptoms (due to low serotonin), magnesium rich foods to counteract low libido and fatigue can be included.
Adapted from: Hormone levels according to the menstrual cycle phase
(Allen et al., 2016; Draper et al., 2018)
Compared to the follicular phase, luteal phase is the time when most women indulge in high calorie foods, particularly sweets. It is also observed that there is decrease perception to acid taste and hence women prefer sugary foods (Chaves et al., 2015). Though they don't need to restrict these foods forcibly but include them in daily calorie intake which would support with their mood and eating disorders and eventually avoid the risk of overeating leading to obesity.
Every woman is different because of the way the hormones fluctuate depending on their metabolic status. The hormonal fluctuations during the entire cycle impact the appetite, food preferences and overall energy intake. It is important to understand what happens around their menstrual cycle based on the symptoms and cravings, so that can be managed with choosing foods from all the food groups that will provide proper nutrient status as well.
- Chaves, D. E. (2015) ‘Changes in Taste and Food Intake during the Menstrual Cycle’, Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences, 05(04). doi: 10.4172/2155-9600.1000383.
- Draper, C. F. et al. (2018) ‘Menstrual cycle rhythmicity: metabolic patterns in healthy women’, Scientific reports, 8(1). doi: 10.1038/S41598-018-32647-0.
- Gorczyca, A. M. et al. (2016) ‘Changes in macronutrient, micronutrient, and food group intakes throughout the menstrual cycle in healthy, premenopausal women’, European Journal of Nutrition, 55(3), pp. 1181–1188. doi: 10.1007/s00394-015-0931-0.
- Souza, L. B. De et al. (2018) ‘Do Food Intake and Food Cravings Change during the Menstrual Cycle of Young Women?’, Revista brasileira de ginecologia e obstetricia : revista da Federacao Brasileira das Sociedades de Ginecologia e Obstetricia, 40(11), pp. 686–692. doi: 10.1055/S-0038-1675831.
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