We at Bustle love giving you tips for how to tap into your sexual potential and troubleshoot when things aren’t going your way in the bedroom. But what about finding solutions to those stressful women's health situations that inevitably crop up? Emma Kaywin, a Brooklyn-based sexual health writer and activist, is here to calm your nerves and answer your questions. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions will remain anonymous. Please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. This week’s topic: the best foods and drinks for PMS symptoms.
Q: I get pretty bad PMS symptoms, and I want to find a way to ease my crankiness, bloating, and cramps but I don’t like taking lots of pills. Are there certain foods that can help with PMS symptoms? Sometimes I’ve found that a glass of red wine helps, but maybe that’s just placebo, and an ex said he read something about dark chocolate helping and used to bring me bars of chocolate when I wasn’t feeling great — but that could have just been a cute thing he did, I never saw the research.
A: In many regards, we truly are what we eat. This means that what we put in our bodies can have a real impact on how we’re feeling — and this is particularly true for premenstrual symptoms. In fact, one nutritionist argues that 80 percent of dealing with PMS can be done through eating the right foods. That’s pretty impressive! So which foods can we eat to help us feel better in the days before our period? I’ve broken the foods down into three groups based around the three main symptoms of PMS — mood swings, cramps, and bloating. However, some of these foods help in more than one category.
The Top Foods To Help With Mood Swings
While our moods may seem to come from somewhere deep and untouchable, we can actually affect how we’re feeling by what we eat. Here are the main foods that can help balance your mood.
I know we all have been told that carbs are the nutritional devil, but they actually are important for our health (in moderation, as with most things). When it comes to mood swings, a serotonin boost can go a long way — and the fastest way to get more serotonin flowing in your body is to eat carbs! That’s right, carbs help your body make serotonin. Just make sure that your carbs don’t have fat or protein in them — sweet potatoes are a great source of pure carb (and a great option for those gluten-free folks out there), and other good ones to try include whole-grain bread and steel-cut oats.
However, if you also experience bloating as a PMS symptom, be careful with carbs. Because carbs retain water, eating them can also contribute to bloating.
Chickpeas are loaded with Vitamin B6, which helps your body lower stress and is part of creating dopamine and serotonin, your body’s two “happy hormones.” Now you know why hummus makes you happy.
Peanuts are great for your mood, because they are filled with magnesium, which helps your body regulate serotonin. Magnesium also helps prevent water retention, which means less bloating. Peanuts are also helpful in combating cramping, because they are full of Vitamin E, which helps lower inflammation.
Pumpkin seeds are also a great source of magnesium, which we now know can improve your mood and also combat bloating. They also have a ton of manganese, which research has found is great at lowering PMS irritability and stress.
Broccoli is filled with calcium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Vitamin E, potassium, and magnesium, making it a pretty great food to eat when you’re PMSing. Broccoli also has tons of fiber in it, which is a good thing to keep in your diet when you’re PMSing, because constipation can make cramps a whole lot worse.
The Top Foods To Help With Cramps
Most people with menstrual cycles experience cramps at some point in their lives (up to 70 percent according to the research). Sometimes, severe cramps are an indication that something medical is going on, but for a lot of us, cramps are just part of our cycle.
So, if you don’t want to take painkillers (or painkillers don’t work for you), what can you do to mitigate menstrual cramps? Here are the main ones to incorporate into your diet. (And if you want to learn even more, fellow Bustle writer Meghan Bassett has also done this research for you.)
Lots of people crave chocolate when they’re PMSing (guilty as charged), but the research actually shows that this is your body telling you what it needs to feel better! That’s right, chocolate is a natural muscle relaxant. Chocolate has lots of tryptophan, which you probably know is the reason you always want to nap after Thanksgiving — but what you might not have known is that chocolate also has an amino acid that helps your body make serotonin. Serotonin makes you feel happy and also relaxes your body. It also stimulates endorphins, which is our body’s home-grown painkiller. So eating chocolate will not only make you happy (which can be critical if you’re dealing with a low in your mood swings) but it can also relax those cramps.
Just make sure you get chocolate that is as dark as possible — if you choose milk chocolate, you’ll have to deal with a sugar crash later. And that’s not good for your mood!
Dairy can actually give you cramps. So how to get calcium with just the benefits and none of the negatives? Try some leafy greens! They are a great source of calcium. For instance, kale is a very calcium-rich plant, and dill has a lot of calcium in it as well. Spinach is a particularly good choice because it also has magnesium, which can lower your stress so your mood is less likely to go all over the place.
You might have been told that eating a banana after you workout will help you with muscle cramps, because if you don’t have enough potassium, your muscles will cramp. Well, your uterus is a muscle, so it may not surprise you to learn that eating a banana when you’re dealing with menstrual cramps will help you calm those cramps down. Bananas are also helpful in dealing with bloating because their potassium and Vitamin B6 both help lower your water retention.
A Glass Of Red Wine
Yes it’s true, red wine can alleviate cramps! It does this by being a muscle relaxant. Red wine contains an antioxidant called resveratrol, which combines with the alcohol to relax your smooth muscles. However, a note of caution — drinking lots of alcohol can actually make your PMS symptoms worse. It lowers your blood sugar and can make your mood swings more intense. So just drink one glass.
Lots of herbal teas have been found to calm down cramps. Green tea has been found to soothe cramps, and chamomile has similarly good success in minimizing muscle spasms and also helping with mood swings. As much as possible, try to drink tea without caffeine, because caffeine can trigger anxiety and also helps your body retain water, which contributes to bloating.
Pineapple is a natural muscle relaxant and pain reliever. This is due to bromelain, an enzyme that is an anti-inflammatory, and can diminish pain associated with the inflammation that happens when your uterus is freaking the f**k out. Bromelain also helps your body digest proteins, which can help with bloating. Also, pineapple is chock-full of potassium, which is key in combating bloat.
Pumpkin seeds are packed with zinc, which has been found to help painful period cramps. Sunflower seeds are also helpful in combatting cramping, due to their Vitamin E. Sesame seeds are full of calcium, and therefore can help cramps. Flaxseed contains omega-3s, which can help prevent cramps, and sacha inchi seeds, which are found in the Amazon, are also full of omega-3s.
The Top Foods To Help With Bloating
I’ve actually written a whole piece on how to deal with period-related bloating (and why it happens in the first place), but here are the big ones.
This is counterintuitive but so so important. Drink water! If you don’t have enough water in your system, your body panics and holds onto the water in your system, instead of letting flow through like normal. If you are someone who gets bloated, try drinking two to three litres of water a day when you’re getting close to your period. Drinking water can also help minimize cramps.
Celery is basically water in vegetable shape. If drinking water is annoying or you just don’t like it, or you are feeling munchy, munch on some celery! You’ll be getting your body hydrated (as opposed to retaining fluid like the apocalypse is coming), while also having a snack.
Avocado is another fruit (yep it’s a fruit, it has a seed, look it up) with very high potassium, making it a great thing to eat when you feel bloated. Avocado also contains healthy fat, which can actually help lower the hormones that cause bloating. Finally, there are some claims that eating avocados can help you with cramps.
Sweet potatoes aren’t just a great source of carbs, they also have a ton of potassium! So they will not only help your mood, they will also combat your bloating.
Try some of these foods out next time you're PMSing, and remember: sometimes, food really is the best medicine. Eat these, and you'll be well on your way to managing PMS without pills.