Fatigue, acne outbreaks, stomach aches… Periods are often not an easy task. In 2014, a Canadian study revealed that 73%* of the women surveyed suffered from at least one gastrointestinal symptom before and during their periods. Is this, however, inevitable? Not necessarily. According to expert, a suitable diet can significantly improve our digestive comfort and reduce menstrual pain.
“First of all, it seems important to me to take stock of what happens during periods on a digestive level. During this period, the body undergoes several hormonal disturbances, including variations in progesterone levels. » Indeed, the higher the latter, the more likely you are to be constipated, while when it drops, you are more prone to diarrhea. “Also, a high level of prostaglandins, hormones that can have an inflammatory action and promote uterine contractions. Generally, it is these contractions that cause pain, but also digestive problems during periods. To alleviate this problem, it is therefore necessary to reduce your prostaglandin levels through diet.
What to Eat During your Period?
“In order to improve digestive comfort, but also reduce menstrual pain, it would be good to adopt an anti-inflammatory diet. The principle is to balance our consumption of omega 3 and omega 6.” The latter are so-called “essential” fatty acids, not produced by the body, only found in food. Problem, “when there is too much omega 6, the excess is transformed into arachidonic acid, a substance promoting the production of prostaglandins. » Solution, consume foods rich in omega 3 to tip the scales in the right direction.
Note that in addition to omega 3 and their anti-inflammatory properties, other nutrients are also beneficial during this period such as iron, fiber or magnesium.
>> Recommended: Understanding Menstrual Cycles: A Guide for Women
What Foods Should You Choose During Your Period?
Fruits and Vegetables
“A study on Spanish students** showed that young women consuming less than 2 servings of fruit per day had more intense menstrual pain. Eating plants in sufficient quantities could therefore reduce, or allow us to better tolerate, pain. The explanation lies in the fact that they contain antioxidants and fiber, which help fight inflammation. In fact, fiber is the equivalent of fuel for our intestinal bacteria. However, the fitter they are, the more they produce butyrate, an anti-inflammatory fatty acid, and keep our microbiota healthy.
Linseed, Olive, Walnut and Rapeseed Oil
“We favor oils with a good omega 3/omega 6 ratio such as walnut, flax and rapeseed oils. Conversely, peanut, sunflower, grape seed and soybean oil should be limited, because they contain too much omega 6. Olive oil is interesting for its richness in antioxidants.
Walnuts and Almonds
“Walnuts, rather than cashews or pistachios, have an optimal omega 3/omega 6 balance. As for almonds, they certainly do not contain omega 3, but are rich in antioxidants. Also, almonds and walnuts both contain fiber and iron.
“Like certain oilseeds and vegetable oils, chia and flax seeds contain omega 3. Pumpkin seeds will be interesting for their antioxidant and fiber content, but less balanced in fatty acids.
“Consuming fatty fish such as salmon, sardines or tuna, rich in omega 3, would be beneficial for menstrual pain. In any case, this is what a study*** from the North American Menopause Society concluded after finding that women who regularly ate fatty fish had less pain during their menstruation.
Lentils, chickpeas and dried beans are good for us. “Legumes contain iron, fiber and magnesium. The latter is particularly interesting for regulating transit. » In addition, there is no better source of protein if you do not consume any animal products.
Red Meat and Offal
“Consuming red meat and offal in moderation, no more than two servings per week is not a problem, on the contrary. They are great sources of iron and provide good protein. You simply need to avoid overconsuming it, particularly fatty meats, rich in saturated fatty acids. It’s all about balance.
“Apart from food intolerances or allergies, eggs are excellent for your health. They are both an excellent source of iron and protein. If they have the bad and undeserved reputation of increasing cholesterol, know that you can consume up to 6 or 8 per week without problem.
Foods to Limit
“I don’t like injunctions so I avoid banning anything. I prefer that we “limit” when necessary.
“Butter, cream and cold meats have a particularly unfavorable omega 3/omega 6 balance and are rich in saturated fatty acids. We therefore try to limit them.
“Coffee itself contains antioxidants, which is not bad. On the other hand, drinking a lot of coffee tends to accelerate intestinal contractions and spasms, triggering digestive discomfort.
“To summarize, an ultra-processed food is a product that has undergone numerous transformations or is composed of ingredients that are themselves processed and sometimes technological additives. Wheat flour, for example, is a primary transformation of wheat. Glucose-fructose syrup is an ultra-processed version of the cereal, which has lost all nutritional value. Consumed in excess, they are likely to promote inflammation, especially as they are generally rich in poor quality fats, sugar and salt.
“Periods generally make us irritable, making us crave comfort, preferably something sweet. Occasionally this is not a problem. But if, for a week, we overconsume sugar, by eating a packet of cakes daily, this risks increasing our blood sugar and promoting inflammation.
“If you have heavy periods, with a risk of iron deficiency, it is better to avoid drinking tea close to meals. The latter contains phytates preventing the body from properly absorbing the iron contained in food. You should therefore drink your tea 2 hours before or after eating. On the other hand, if our periods are normal, there is no reason to reduce our consumption. »
Focus On Cooking
“Ideally, high temperature cooking should be avoided because it produces pro-inflammatory compounds. » Above 160°C, foods rich in starch such as bread or potatoes for example, produce acrylamide. This chemical substance that can induce inflammation is potentially carcinogenic in humans. As for grilling, it would release carcinogenic heterocyclic amines contained in red meat.
“Instead, it is better to use gentle cooking at low temperatures such as steam cooking, en papillote and casserole.
Do Not Trivialize Pain
We would like to remind you that having intestinal problems and severe pain during periods is not normal, this should not be minimized. If the symptoms persist with the same intensity for several days, do not hesitate to consult a gynecologist and gastroenterologist for digestive problems.