It’s that ‘time of the month’ and for many women a time when cravings peak and the need for simple carbohydrates (sugar!) is uncontrollable.  Whilst indulging yourself in the occasional dessert or cake is not going to do you any harm, making it a regular ‘sugar fest’ can add inches to your waist line. These symptoms occur because of hormonal changes during the last week of our cycle.  The good news?

It is possible to find ‘healthy’ comfort foods to indulge on while you have your period, without piling on the weight!

What causes these cravings?  The first cause is linked to swings in blood sugar levels.  Women’s bodies become more sensitive to insulin towards the end of their monthly cycle.   This can lead them to experience temporary dips in their blood sugar levels, which triggers greater cravings for simple sugars to bring blood sugar levels back up again.

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Changes in hormonal levels which occur at the end of the cycle cause our production of ‘happy neurotransmitters ’ such as serotonin and dopamine to decrease, which is why we can feel irritable and grumpy.  As the consumption of carbohydrates helps to optimise production of these hormones, this is another reason why we feel the need for simple carbohydrates at this time.

As for some of the pain and bloating we experience during our menstrual cycle?   Research links cramps to changes in our prostaglandin levels.  Prostaglandins are chemical substances which help to mediate processes in our bodies, such as muscular contractions and pain perception. Some of us may also see dramatic swings in our weight at the end of our cycle.  This is linked both to increased fluid retention, but also a drop in progresterone levels, which can cause mild constipation.

healthy comfort food for period

Eat foods which support pre menstrual tension and also taste healthy and delicious by thinking about these 4 simple rules:

Balance blood sugar levels 

Select carbohydrates, which have a low glycaemic index such as wholewheat bread, brown rice, quinoa and oats.  The fibre contained in these grains slows down digestion, keeping you both feeling fuller longer as well as stablising your blood sugar levels.

Monitor the size of your carbohydrate serving and always eat a protein food with your carbohydrate, as protein foods play a role in keeping your energy levels stable. Munching your way through a loaf of whole wheat bread might not be the best idea for weight control! For example, whole wheat crackers with cottage cheese or a slice of rye bread with a generous topping of cooked chicken or a fruit salad with a handful of nuts.

It’s also important to be prepared and to carry ‘blood sugar balancing’ foods with you so that you are not tempted to rush into the nearest shop and grab a packet of biscuits.  Have an emergency supply of nuts and dried and fresh fruit in your handbag for those difficult moments.

Optimise neurotransmitter levels

During periods of premenstrual tension, it might not be the best time to go ‘low carb’ even if this is a diet you follow the rest of the month.  Introducing small amounts of complex carbohydrates into your diet at this time will help to optimise serotonin production.  Other healthy foods, which are known to boost serontoninin levels include foods rich in trytophan, an amino acid needed to produce serotonin – these foods include bananas, chicken, turkey, eggs, oily fish, kiwi fruit and pineapples.

As for dark chocolate, which some women swear by, it is has a low glycaemic index and is a rich source of trytophan.   Do keep the serving size to no more than a couple of squares, as it is also high in saturated fat!

Balance your prostaglandins

Omega 3 fatty acids are used to make ‘anti inflammatory’ prostaglandins, which can help to balance some of the more inflammatory prostaglandins,  linked to causing cramps and menstrual pain.  Ensuring that your diet contains omega 3 in the form of oily fish, nuts, seeds will help to support you with these symptoms.

Support the bloating

Drink plenty of water to help the kidneys flush out excess fluids.  Support any mild constipation by consuming foods, which contain insoluble fibre, such as whole grains, vegetables and fruits.  Adding ground flaxseed powder to cereals and yoghurt is an effective way to add both more fibre and omega 3 fats to your daily diet.

The key to surviving ‘that time of the month’ is to select foods which keep you feeling both happy and comfortable.  Think about keeping your blood sugar levels as stable as possible, ensure your diet contains sufficient protein and include the ultra nutritious omega 3 fats to support cramping and pain.  This will help you to ‘survive’ the premenstrual period, optimise your health and manage your weight.  A win all round!

Absent period? Read here to find out how to deal with it.

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