Top 3 foods to avoid during your period (and just before too)
Ciara Dove-Reid, RDN
Top 3 Foods to Avoid During Your Period (And Just Before Too!)
If you know much about my personal story, you know that when I was a teen and into my early 20s, I suffered from debilitating menstrual cramps. My cramps kept me out of school for days, on the floor in pain, and with constant gastrointestinal distress.
It wasn’t until I was studying nutrition in college that I realized my diet played a role in the severity of my cramps. As a Fertility dietitian, I’ve made it my mission to help women understand how diet plays a vital role in reproductive health, including menstrual issues and fertility.
For anyone who suffers from period cramps, bloating, and even more severe symptoms, I highly suggest cutting out (or at least limiting) these three food groups just before and during your period. If you give it a try, I’d love to hear from you too! Send me a DM on Instagram or sign up for a discovery call here.
Foods High in Omega-6
Omega-6 fats are healthy, unsaturated fats. They’re not bad, nor should they be avoided all the time. But, an excess of omega-6 fats can promote inflammation, which is the last thing you need close to your period.
Our bodies particularly use omega-6s to make prostaglandins, which are a group of inflammatory compounds that tell the uterus to contract. Prostaglandins also cause other surrounding tissues to be more spastic such as your colon, which is why you may have diarrhea and nausea during your period.
So if you already struggle with bad cramping, and GI distress on your period, you don’t want to eat foods that are going to worsen these symptoms even more.
Examples of foods high in omega-6s to limit:
Soybeans and soy oil
Corn and corn oil
Safflower and sunflower oil
Nuts such as cashews and peanuts
Meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy
You might look at this list and say, well who eats things like cottonseed oil and safflower oil?
Honestly, nowadays, we all do. These foods and their oils are found in almost every non-homemade product such as restaurant foods, packaged taco shells, baked goods, frozen meals, salad dressings, many brands of dairy free milks, and more.
Moral of the story? Make sure you thoroughly read the ingredients label of all products you buy.
Now if you’re wondering after looking at this list what you are supposed to eat while you’re on your period, remember that this is just a suggestion of foods to keep to a minimum during this time, use this list to think of healthy swaps you can make to lower your omega 6 intake.
Swap out your corn tortilla tacos for a taco salad and try to add minimal cheese.
Snack on low omega 6 nuts such as salted walnuts instead of peanuts which are high in omega 6.
Swap your oat milk (which usually has added sunflower oil) for a no-fat added brand of almond milk like Simply almond.
And the biggest tip of all…Cook at home! When you cook at home you can easily control the type of grain, and oils used in homemade recipes. Just as another tip, I recommend you use olive oil as your primary fat source since it does not promote inflammation. It's also a good idea to prep meals in advance to limit having to eat out during your period.
Beans and Other Fermentable Foods
Bloating before and at the beginning of your period is caused by shifts in estrogen and progesterone. These hormonal changes cause bloating in two different ways. First, these shifts can encourage the body to retain more water and secondly, it can also cause a drastic change in gut flora which encourages excess gas production.
There is a fascinating reason why your hormones affect your gut bacteria which you can read more about here.
Additional bloating causes more pressure on your abdomen, compounding the pain of menstrual cramps. So if we can limit bloating with food, we can help you feel alot better during that time of the month.
Start by avoiding foods that ordinarily cause you to bloat on your period. If you are not sure which foods cause you bloat, you can use FODMAPS as a guide of what foods you may want to keep an eye on.
FODMAPS represent a group of highly fermentable foods that produce alot of gas when digested. Limiting FODMAPS can be pretty restrictive, so it’s not recommended that you avoid them all the time. But seeing which high FODMAP foods affect you during your cycle and can be very effective in reducing excess bloating around your period.
Examples of high FODMAP foods to avoid:
Dairy products including milk, yogurt, and ice cream
Wheat-based foods like cereal, bread, and pasta
Fruits that are higher in sugar like apples, peaches, and pears
Certain vegetables including artichokes, asparagus, onions, and garlic
Isn't this overwhelming?
This list can make you feel like there is absolutley nothing you can eat during your period, but this isnt true at all. Every high fodmap food does not affect everyone. For example, after keeping track of my food for several menstrual cycles, I know that the high fodmap foods I am particularly sensitive to during my period are onions but not garlic, black beans (but not lentils or chickpeas), and apples (but not bananas). So remember, the FODMAP list serves as a good guide of foods to limit and keep an eye out for, but it doesnt mean you just avoid every single fodmap on your period, only the foods that affect you!
The majority of women find that caffeine makes their menstrual cramps worse. This is because caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, causing your blood vessels to become more narrow. One of the unknown reasons women have intense uterine cramping is due to decreased blood flow which results in the uterus being more spastic, so for some, caffeine may be the last thing you want to include.
I will add that on the contrary, women prone to low blood pressure may find caffeine to be helpful. Caffeine also has pain-relieving properties which is why it's included in a lot of period pain and headache medications. It also can relieve fluid retention since it is a diuretic.
If you find coffee and caffeine help your cramps, please continue to drink it. However, if you happen to be like the majority of women who have negative symptoms, avoid it at all cost
It's also not just caffeine but the ingredients we typically add to high caffeine beverages like coffee, that can make menstrual cramps worse. As we already mentioned, sugar and dairy creamer can create more bloating in the gut, and perpetuate inflammation, which doesn’t do you any favors.
Examples of caffeine to avoid:
Coffee (especially sweetened-so please stay away from Dunkin and Starbucks)
Caffeinated teas (black tea and green tea)
Pre-workout powders or other supplements that have caffeine
Herbal tea of any kind (be careful with peppermint as this may worsen menstrual cramps in some or bring on your period to early)
Raspberry tea (helps with cramping, read more here)
Chamomile tea (helps with cramping)
Decaffeinated coffee -If you want to sweeten it you can try Stevia, or honey and you can use Simply almond milk as creamer
Reishi drinks like Rebbl (make sure to read the labels though because some flavors do have coffee/caffeine)
Period Pain Doesn’t Have to Be a Thing
As someone who greatly reduced my period pain by diet, I love helping other women do the same!! I hope these tips help.
Try reducing or cutting out some of the foods I’ve mentioned in this article and let me know what you think! Did it help? Did you notice a difference? If you want support throughout your cycle and you’re looking to work with a dietitian specializing in reproductive disorders, let’s connect!