The reason? All the hormones in our endocrine system that work together to carry out vital functions and promote homeostasis (the state of equilibrium) in the body, are influenced by many factors, including what we eat. In particular the balance of progesterone and oestrogen (the primary cycle hormones that fluctuate throughout our monthly cycles) is imperative not only for hormone health, but overall physical mental and emotional well-being.
Certain nutrients help support hormone detoxification, influence hormone activity or promote their production. It’s fascinating when we look at the symptoms food can help us with. For example, protein provides amino acids – the raw materials needed for making hormones – while foods such as kale and broccoli (sulforaphane-rich foods, if we’re being nutrition geeks) can help support detoxification processes including removal of excess oestrogen. Vitamin C, found in foods such as dark leafy greens, citrus and parsley, is a key to help the production of cortisol, which influences our stress response, while magnesium-rich foods such as tofu, dark greens and nuts may help to support PMS-associated water retention and menstrual pain.
Keeping our blood sugar levels steady also contributes to overall hormone balance, helping to reduce mood swings and better manage weight, sleep and cravings. To do this, try eating balanced meals filled with fibre and protein at regular intervals, and being mindful of the types of sugars and carbohydrates that we are eating.
Tapping into the intelligence of the female body and responding to its unique needs is a huge act of personal care. Not only can it reduce frustrating period symptoms but it also optimises our energy levels and balances our moods so we don’t have to dread that time of the month, but rather appreciate its wisdom. A diet based around whole, plant-based foods, quality proteins and healthy fats is a good foundation, and include some of these cycle-supporting foods to your shopping basket each week to help with hormone harmony.
PHASE 1: Menstrual
FOOD FOCUS: Add nutrients; warmth and comfort
Day one of our cycle is the first day of menstruation. At the start of the cycle, our hormones are at their lowest as they work to shed the uterine lining. Because of this hormonal dip, energy levels are likely to be low, so support the body with plenty of filtered water and unprocessed, nutrient rich foods that keep energy and blood sugar levels steady. A good mix of lean proteins, healthy fats and low GI complexcarbohydrates such as root vegetables, wholegrain and legume-packed stews, can support the energy-intensive process of menstruation. If possible, include cooked, fermented, sprouted or activated foods as they may be easier to digest, because as some of the breaking down process has already begun. Include plenty of iron-rich foods such as lentils, kelp, pumpkin seeds, dried prunes and spinach and, if you eat animal products, grass-fed beef, eggs and fish are also a good source of heme iron, which that help to replenish iron levels that can be lost during our bleed. This is also a timely moment to make healthier food choices as lower levels of hormones may make it a time of the month when women often report feeling less hungry.
Phase One Shopping List Ideas:
- Sea vegetables e.g. kelp
- Sweet potato
- Activated brown rice
- Kefir or probiotic yoghurts
- Pumpkin seeds
- Millet- based cereals
- Wheat germ
- Protein of choice; beef, chicken, lentils, fish, eggs, tofu
- Dark chocolate
Supplements and herbs
Magnesium: nature’s relaxing mineral so it’s amazing for period cramps and has been shown to potentially help balance mood as well.
Iron: For replenishing iron levels that can be lost during our bleed. Iron plays an important role in energy production, oxygen transport and blood rebuilding, which is important during menstruation as we can lose anywhere between 50-80mL of blood.
Vitamin C: pair Iron with vitamin C to increase absorption.
PHASE 2: Pre Ovulation
FOOD FOCUS: Fresh and light
Hormone levels, while still low, are beginning to rise as your egg follicles mature, in preparation for ovulation. We may be starting to feel more energised, and potentially including more exercise, so this is a good time to incorporate light, fresh and vibrant foods, such as salads and fermented foods like kefir, probiotic yoghurt or sauerkraut, which support gut health and detoxification. With rising oestrogen, some women find that they have more energy, focus and willpower at this time, so it may also be an optimal time to begin your healthy eating plan or give that 7-day cleanse a go.
Once the egg has matured, we move into the ovulatory phase. Hormone levels are rising, particularly oestrogen as it aids in the ovulation process. Our basal body temperature also increases, which can impact increased energy levels. Excess oestrogen can have negative impact on our cycle including breast tenderness and increased spots,so nutrients that support the liver to remove oestrogen are good to include and are found in foods such as kale, broccoli, onions, garlic and radishes.
Phase Two Shopping List Ideas:
- Salad vegetables
- Nuts/seed mix
- Probiotic yoghurt
- Zucchini/ courgettes
- Wholegrain: breads, pasta, rice –- BB vitamins
- Fruits: berries, citrus, papaya
Supplements and herbs
- Shatavari: Known for its support of sexual vitality to compliment increased arousal
- Vitamin B6: Supports energy production, mood and hormone regulation throughout the month
- Vitamin B12: Low levels of vitamin B12 can contribute to fatigue, dizziness and nervousness.
FOOD FOCUS: Curb cravings, fibrous and light
Hormone levels reach their peak as we approach menstruation and many women experience PMS around this time. It is possible to help manage pre-period moods and discomforts through food choices: if you experience water retention in the form of swollen breasts and bloating, avoid foods high in salt as they can exacerbate the problem, due to salt’s anti-diuretic effects on the body. The same applies to sugar; if you are prone to cravings, they may be at their highest during this week and carbohydrates may be what you are craving, however just ensure they are complex ones such as like brown rice, pasta or bread (the husks are filled with energy with and stress- supporting B vitamins and fibre to help curb cravings and balance those moods.). This is also a good time of the month to cut down on caffeine and alcohol, as these stimulants can aggravate PMS- triggered anxiety and mood shifts. Coffee and alcohol can also interfere with the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals required for optimal menstrual health, so try some alternatives like sparkling fruit water, herbal teas, chicory root or swap your morning latte for a caffeine free one.
Vitamin D-rich foods such as mushrooms, salmon, sardines, milk and eggs are great to boost the immune system and prepare for the next phase of your cycle. In fact, in those diagnosed with PMS, vitamin D supplementation has been shown to decrease the severity of symptoms, such as low mood and fatigue, which can commonly show up in phase three.
Phase Three Shopping List Ideas:
- Cucumber (water retention)
- Caffeine-free herbal teas
- Sesame seeds
- Brown rice
- Protein of choice: tofu, chicken, lean meats, fish and seafood
- Turmeric latte blend
- Dark chocolate
Supplements and herbs
- Chromium: To keep sugar cravings at bay
- Co-Q10: Increase your energy levels
- Maca: Hormones balance which might help ease PMS
Sound like a lot of planning? Don’t sweat it. Aim to make small changes and keep a note of what works for you.
To make sure that you are getting all of the cycle phase nutrients your body requires start Triumph Monthly Cycle Supplement, which has been designed provide your body with everything needed as you go through phase 1, 2 and 3.