Supporting your Menstrual Cycle through Food by Ellen Larsen

Supporting your Menstrual Cycle through Food by Ellen Larsen

A nourishing diet is so important to maintain health, wellbeing, energy levels, and support an active busy modern lifestyle. This is especially so for those assigned female at birth, who have a menstrual phase to contend with. The topic of eating to support a menstrual cycle really does need more research, and has currently not turned up 100% positive evidence that it does work, however if we compare feedback and other already extensive research into topics such as eating to support breastfeeding, what nutrients are required for blood-building, and hormone production, it's safe to say that eating well will support your cycle and leave you feeling better for it. Having endometriosis myself, I can vouch for the fact that what I put into my body directly effects what I get out of it and how I feel within myself - moods included! 

The Menstrual phase
A common misconception is that the menstrual phase marks the end of our cycle - when it actually marks the beginning through the shedding of the lining of the uterus. During this phase we lose blood, and therefore valuable nutrients and minerals which our body will desperately be looking to replenish. Hormones such as Estrogen and Progesterone are at their lowest levels and generally speaking, so are energy levels. Supporting the body with foods rich in iron, zinc, iodine are essential, as well as focussing on anti-inflammatory foods and those packed with Vitamin C to support the immune system which can be very vulnerable.

Food suggestions;

  • Include plenty of leafy greens and iodine rich seaweed, as well as broccoli to support hormone balancing
  • Salmon and Miso Ginger Soup
  • Fruit and Greek Yoghurt (try tamarillo, orange, passionfruit, or guava)
  • Corn fritters with hummus and green salad
  • Incorporate anti-inflammatory herbs and spices where possible - my favourite are ginger, tumeric and our NZ native kawakawa!

The Follicular phase
Once the uterus is completely shed of its lining, our bodies shift to the phase where the uterus is re-setting and the ovaries are creating follicular cysts in preperation to release eggs. The hormones that had once hit rock bottom are on the rise, and you'll start be feeling a little more human with a bit more energy to spare! You are really aiming for nutrient dense foods incoporated into a balanced diet with carbs, protein and plenty of vegetables.

Food suggestions;

  • Ground flaxseed, hemp hearts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds in a scroggin/trailmix
  • Raw seaweed/algae varieties such as spirulina, irish moss, kombu and nori.
  • Wholegrain and seeded bread or crackers topped with avocado and tomato
  • Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut and even tofu
  • A nutrient packed green protein smoothie - Supercharged Green Smoothie

The Ovulatory phase
The ovulatory phase is the shortest of all four phases being only usually 2-3 days long and the best time for conceiving. Your body is in optimal fertile territory, you'll have the most energy, feel great (and be lowkey-glowing) and with estrogen at its peak possibly a smaller appetite due to the appetitie supressing qualities of this hormone. To support this phase through food, you will want to be consuming less carbs, and more foods rich in fibre, iron, and antioxidants. Aiming for lighter meals and snacking is generally a better approach also.

Food suggestions;

  • Chicken, Kale, and cranberry salad topped with feta and walnuts
  • Fritters made with non-starchy vegetables such as carrots and zucchini
  • Incorporate plant based foods such as berries, whole grains, and legumes
  • Matcha and raspberry chia pudding - Matcha Chia Pudding 

The Luteal phase
The "PMS" era. You are bound to feel low on energy, bloated, struggle to concentrate, and experience mood swings. The intensity varies from individual to individual, is completely normal and is a result of a sharp decline in hormone levels as your body prepares for the menstruation phase. Focussing on easily
digestable, magnesium-rich foods, that are also high in iron and fibre will help support you here. Smoothies and Soups will be your best friend (honestly when are they not??), and help keep your gut motility up. As much as you will be craving them, this is not the time to chow down on highly processed foods like chips, cheese, and dairy-based icecream. Save these to treat yourself during the menstrual phase!

Food suggestions;

  • Banana & chia overnight oats
  • Chicken and vegetable soup
  • Salmon, quinoa, sweet potato and greens
  • Berry and almond milk smoothie
  • Try a new type of seaweed! Sea Lettuce is high in iron, irish moss is an all round superfood, or chuck some dulse/kelp into a smoothie for a nutrient boost.

It is important to remember to treat this advice as a guide, and not a regimented command - don't beat yourself up for "falling off the wagon" as we are all human! Instead, if you are feeling terrible, check your phase and be kind to yourself by trying to eat in a way that supports your body. If all else fails, slow down and mindfully take 5 minutes with a hormone supporting tea such as chamomile or peppermint or an antioxidant-rich matcha to help calm your nervous system.

You can see more from Ellen at @chronicallyellen_eats

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