Eating to Reduce Period Cramps
I used to be a blubbering, confused, anxious mess during the lead-up to my period. Then, as a nice slap in the face (or uterus), I would be hit with near-debilitating period cramps that had me in bed for a day or two, unable to do anything but groan and wonder what the hell was wrong with me.
I've since made many changes in my life that have made those days a distant memory (thank goodness), and I have to say that what I eat plays the biggest part in why my body and mind are feeling so much better these days. But why?
Our stomachs play a big part in how we feel physically and mentally
A major factor in how we feel is our stomach health. Women, particularly in the lead up to their menstruation and especially during their bleed can have especially sensitive stomachs.
The hormones released which make our uterus contract to push out our period flow can actually interact with our stomach functioning. This can give us diarrhoea, make us vomit or just generally make us feel even more crap on top of our period cramps.
If you're then also eating or drinking things which can make your stomach even more upset, it's no wonder you're suffering.
Another thing to keep in mind is that our gut health is strongly linked to our mental health. Some scientists even suggest that our stomach is like a second brain, no kidding! It's like a chicken before the egg thing; i.e., if our tummy is upset then it can affect our overall mood. On the other side of the coin, if we're feeling anxious it can affect how our stomach functions... see? But there are ways we can help smooth these things out a little. Let me explain.
Avoid these foods
- coffee and caffeine (it's incredibly acidic and harsh on our stomachs and can also amp up our anxiety)
- dairy (milk, yoghurt, cheese... all these things can be difficult for your stomach to process and increase the likelihood of cramps and or diaorrhea)
- oily foods
- overly spicy foods, especially chili
- legumes such as beans, chickpeas, lentils
- soy milk and tofu
Oh my goodness! Okay, so what can I actually eat?
Initially it may seem incredibly limiting, but with time you realise it's a great opportunity to eat fresh and light to give your body a break. Just try to eat smaller portions but more times throughout the day to make sure you have the energy you need.
Eat potassium rich foods
Potassium helps to ease muscle cramps and relieve water retention, two incredibly useful forms of relief during our period! Here are some foods high in potassium, just don't over do it....always think moderation.
- coconut water
- sweet potato
Other foods that are gentle on your stomach but will still nourish you
- long grain rice
- cooked beets
- cooked carrots
- seaweed (such as nori sheets)
- pumpkin seeds
- raspberry leaf tea
- miso soup
- nuts (only small amounts)
Meal ideas with the suggested foods
• Slice up some banana and pineapple and put in a bowl. On some buckwheat crisps (or a similar gluten-free crisp bread) spread some avocado and sprinkle with a little salt, pepper and lemon.
• After the first couple of days of my period, my stomach can handle something a little heavier like a smoothie. So I blend up a handful of cashews with a pitted date and some water. Then I add a banana, some avocado, chia seeds and frozen berries.
Lunch or Dinner
• A nice big vegetable soup: Fry up some leeks in just a little bit of oil with some mixed spice and salt. Add some celery, sweet potato, carrots and potatoes along with enough water for the right consistency. Use miso paste (a couple of tablespoons) instead of vegetable stock. This adds extra nourishment and is so gentle on your stomach. Blend to a smooth creamy consistency. You can top with some oven baked crispy kale for extra nourishment and nice colour.
• Fried rice with quinoa: in just a little bit of oil heat up some chopped carrots, capsicum and frozen peas. Once they're nicely cooked, throw in some cooked rice and cooked quinoa and stir around. Drizzle with some tamari or soy sauce and sprinkle in some salt.
• Veggie roast: mix together some beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots in an oven tray with a little bit of olive oil and salt. Slowly roast until crisp. The slow roasting brings out the natural sugars to give you energy and nourish your body.
• A light Japanese style meal: chop up some cucumber, avocado and tomato, place in a bowl and mix in with some tamari sauce and a little sesame oil. Chop up half a nori sheet and sprinkle on top. Eat this salad with a fresh bowl of steamed rice and also a bowl of miso soup.
I often crave salty crunchy foods when I'm menstruating, so I make sure to have some brown rice crackers on hand. These are pretty gentle on my tummy and it ensures I don't eat anything too oily, like potato chips. You can also roast up some pumpkin seeds with some tamari or soy sauce.
Water water water! Because our body is in "flush out" mode, it's important to keep hydrated. Dehydration can also make our cramps feel worse, so drink as much water as you can.
You can also drink some soothing warm teas like ginger, cinnamon, chamomile or raspberry leaf tea.
Just think: easy and light
I find it so simple to eat effectively for my period now. Just think, "easy and light" for your stomach to digest. As a rule of thumb, if something makes you bloated or gassy at other times of the month, it will definitely feel even worse during your period.