When you’re feeling pretty flat-out terrible during your period, the last thing you need is to eat something that’s going to make you feel worse. Between the unbearable bloating, the constant cramping, and the pesky emotions of PMS, it can be tempting to reach for some comfort food. Unfortunately, some of these foods that make you feel good in the moment can end up making you feel even worse later on. If you're wondering what not to eat on your period, you're not alone.
“Many [people] report cravings of [salty and sweet] foods while on their menstrual cycle, and many report that it is difficult to avoid the temptation to eat the foods they crave,” Bethany Wheeler, MS, RD, LD, tells Bustle. “I don’t believe in deprivation, so I recommend clients to incorporate the foods they crave, but in appropriate portions and to have them with other nutrient dense foods, which can help you feel fuller sooner, and thus, decrease the likelihood of wanting more of the craving food.”
Eating the right foods can help decrease bloating, improve your mood, and even give you more energy, but eating the wrong types of food can actually exacerbate these problems. To help you better cope through the perils of your period, you should try to avoid these seven foods if possible, as they can leave you lethargic, bloated, and not feeling your best. Here are the foods that can make your period worse, according to experts.
1. Salty Foods
“Some [people] report bloating and water retention while on their period,” Wheeler says. “To alleviate some of the discomfort, some women find that lowering their sodium intake works.”
High-sodium foods can increase already existing bloating and discomfort, so try to stay away from foods like chips, french fries, and canned foods.
Like salt, caffeine may also increase discomfort, experts say. “Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor,” Dr. Lori Shemek, PhD, CNC, tells Bustle. “It makes blood vessels constrict and may cause the vessels that feed the uterus to tighten.”
If you need a boost of energy to get you through the day, try switching to tea for the first few days of your period, as it contains less caffeine, therefore having a minimal effect on cramping and bloating.
“Blood sugar is like a roller coaster during menstruation,” Shemek says. By consuming more of the sweetener, you’re only adding fuel to the fire by letting blood sugar levels rise and drop drastically. “On top of that, sugar is inflammatory and has a tendency to increase cramping,” she says.
If you’re having an insatiable craving for something sweet, try eating some natural sugars such as figs or dates, which keep your blood sugar levels more stable.
4. Fatty Meat
Many heavy meats are high in saturated fats, which may worsen period pains, some studies show.
“This fat contains arachidonic acid, which produces prostaglandins that can cause uterine contractions and cramping,” Shemek says. “Eating a diet high in saturated fat during the first few days of your period can lead to bloating, breast tenderness, and breakouts.”
5. Processed Foods
Trans fats, also known as hydrogenated oils, are found in processed foods such as french fries, packaged foods and desserts, and they can worsen your period symptoms. These types of fats may cause inflammation in the body, and can worsen pains you already experience while menstruating.
6. White Grains
Refined grains like white rice and white flour have a similar effect to sugar, as they can cause a drastic spike and drop in blood sugar because their nutrients have been removed.
“This leads to inflammation, cravings and hunger,” Shemek says.
Not only will dairy worsen bloating in some people, but it can also exacerbate cramping. Foods like milk, cheese, and ice cream contain arachidonic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid which can increase inflammation.
When it comes to your period, sometimes it's a good idea to look to the foods you eat to find some relief. And if the cramps and bloating are feeling particularly bad, it may be time to stay away from these foods for a short while.
Bethany Wheeler, MS, RD, LD
Dr. Lori Shemek, PhD, CNC
Barnard, N. D., Scialli, A. R., Hurlock, D., & Bertron, P. (2000). Diet and Sex-Hormone Binding Globulin, Dysmenorrhea, and Premenstrual Symptoms. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 95(2), 245–250. doi: 10.1097/00006250-200002000-00015
Mozaffarian, D. (2006). Trans fatty acids – Effects on systemic inflammation and endothelial function. Atherosclerosis Supplements, 7(2), 29–32. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosissup.2006.04.007