Do you crave greasy tacos, salty french fries, and all the chocolatey things before your period? Believe it or not, there is a legitimate, science-backed reason why.
Changes in hormones can seriously impact our hunger cravings. A 2016 study suggested that changing estrogen and progesterone hormone levels causes women to crave high-carb and sweet foods just before their period.
This might be because our bodies release serotonin when we eat starchy foods and sweets. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects our mood, appetite, emotions, and digestion, it can help combat symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS).
Of course, compulsive eating and sweet cravings before a period could also be signs of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). And if you’re one of the 14% of women who have irregular periods, research reveals that you might be more susceptible to binge eating.
Regardless of whether you have a salty or sweet tooth, there are plenty of snacks to satisfy period cravings that won’t leave you feeling overindulgent. Keep reading for some healthier ways to satisfy food cravings during your period.
Snacks to Satisfy Hunger During Period
Period-related cravings usually begin about seven to ten days before the start of your period. Swapping what you’re craving for healthier alternatives — or limiting your portions — can give your body what it wants without making you feel worse.
Dr. Jolene Brighten, NMD FABNE, an internationally acclaimed hormone and nutrition expert tells us that “there is a direct association between the intake of high-sugar foods, sweets, desserts, coffee, sweet tea, excess salt, fruit juice and ‘snacks’ and dysmenorrhea (painful periods).”
For that reason, she encourages menstruating women to fill their plates with vegetables, healthy fats, high-quality protein, and color. Choosing whole foods and opting for a well-rounded, nutrient-dense diet can balance hormones and optimize period health.
Additionally, Dr. Rachel Paul of The College Nutritionist says that “another way to keep your blood sugar levels and your food cravings in line is eating smaller meals more frequently.” Therefore, eating healthy snacks throughout the day can be a terrific way to combat PMS symptoms and cravings. But what, exactly, should you be eating to satisfy period cravings? The experts have spoken:
Citrus fruits are an excellent source of vitamin C – which is a nutrient that aids iron absorption. Because some women experience low iron levels during their period, eating organic lemons, oranges, limes, and grapefruit is a great way to replenish them.
If you struggle with constipation during your period, regularly consuming fruits can help combat this. According to Dr. Brighten, “Fruits are high in potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, and carbohydrates that are coupled with fiber (how they are naturally without any processing).” Plus, blending bananas, apples, mangoes, and berries into smoothies is a great way to satisfy sweet cravings during your period.
If you need help satisfying your sweet tooth, dark chocolate is the way to go. Dark chocolate is a terrific source of magnesium, and a study found that magnesium decreased the severity of PMS symptoms. (Another study found that women with magnesium deficiencies are more likely to experience severe PMS symptoms.)
Plus, dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants and minerals like theobromine – which supports our brain chemistry. So, eating just a few pieces of dark chocolate (which contains at least 45% cacao) instead of a lot of milk chocolate is a great way to get the benefits of chocolate without all the sugar.
We recommend sprinkling some dark chocolate chips over a bowl of yogurt for a healthy alternative to your favorite sweet treat.
Whole Grain Avocado Toast
When you’re craving carbs during your period, a complex carbohydrate like whole-grain bread is a fantastic alternative. Whole wheat toast provides the B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin – which support metabolism by releasing energy from fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Additionally, complex carbohydrates are a great source of fiber, which combats bloating and constipation and boosts satiety.
Popcorn is another whole grain that boosts serotonin production. Whole grains cause the body to release insulin, which promotes tryptophan absorption. Tryptophan is converted to serotonin, which improves mood, decreases depression, and supports sleep. To maximize these benefits, try combining your whole-grain source with a protein source of tryptophan. Do this by sprinkling some spices on air-popped popcorn and tossing a handful of nuts into the mix.
(Note that sticking to unsalted popcorn keeps salt-induced bloating at bay.)
Most nuts contain omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce the intensity of period pain. According to a 2012 study, women who took omega-3 supplements found that their menstrual pain decreased so much that they reduced the amount of ibuprofen they took. Another study found that omega-3s can also reduce depression, which is helpful for women who experience mood swings during their period.
Of course, nuts are a tremendous source of protein, and they contain magnesium and other vitamins. If you don’t want to eat a handful on their own, adding nut milk or nut butter to smoothies is a delicious alternative.
Quinoa Salad with Leafy Greens
Many women’s iron levels drop during menstruation – particularly if they experience heavy periods. This can lead to fatigue, bodily pain, and dizziness. However, leafy green vegetables — like kale and spinach — boost iron levels. And quinoa salads are great snacks to satisfy period cravings because they’re rich in nutrients like iron, protein, and magnesium.
Many women get yeast infections during or after their periods. If this sounds familiar, try incorporating more probiotic-rich foods into your period diet. Probiotics (like those contained in yogurt) nourish the “good” vaginal bacteria and help fight infections. Yogurt also contains magnesium and other essential nutrients, like calcium, that relieve water retention and other PMS symptoms.
Foods to Avoid During Your Period
While all foods are okay in moderation, certain food cravings can worsen PMS symptoms. Therefore, try your best to steer clear of the following during your period:
Consuming excessive amounts of salt leads to water retention, which results in bloating. While its not a make or break, avoiding adding excess salt to your meals can help you avoid ample sodium.
Sugar is fine in moderation. However, eating too much of it can spike your energy, resulting in a crash that worsens your mood. If you tend to feel moody, anxious, or depressed during your period, watching your sugar intake can regulate your mood.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals say that limiting caffeine can relieve menstrual symptoms. A 2014 study linked drinking coffee to longer, heavier periods and other irregularities.
During menstruation, your body produces prostaglandins to contract the uterus and shed the uterine lining. However, high levels of prostaglandins cause cramps. And because red meat contains ample prostaglandins, it tends to worsen period cramping.
Snacks to Satisfy Period Cravings
Keep in mind that certain cravings happen for a reason, and your body might need more calories or nutrients during your menstrual cycle. Dr. Paul tells us that, “one of the most common PMS cravings is chocolate. But if you’re craving chocolate, it might mean your magnesium levels are low. So, try eating magnesium-rich foods, and see if your chocolate craving goes away.”
While some foods are great for your period, others can worsen your symptoms. And hopefully, today’s article gave you an idea of healthy snacks to satisfy period cravings. But at the end of the day, the foods you choose to eat (or avoid) largely depend on your specific symptoms, preferences, and food sensitivities.