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Foods to eat and avoid during your period cycle

For a relatively painfree period cycle, pay attention to your diet. An expert shares advice on foods that can alleviate physical pain and bloating

While it's natural to crave for salty or spicy foods during your periods, it's best to stick to home-made meals
While it's natural to crave for salty or spicy foods during your periods, it's best to stick to home-made meals (Pexels/Nathan Cowley)

Periods can be one of the most draining times of the month for a woman, both emotionally and physically, accompanied by mood swings, menstrual cramps, bloating, and abdomenal pain. Diet plays a crucial role in alleviating physical pain and strain during menstruation. And from old wives tales to friends and family, to the internet and doctors, everyone has an opinion on how to ‘hack’ your period. Here, Mumbai-based obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Divya Vora helps you understand what to eat and avoid for a pain-free, happy period.

Foods to eat
It is best to stick to simple, homemade food that may not satiate your cravings, but will surely reduce most of the menstrual symptoms. A few ingredients when added to your regular food routine can help relieve any bodily pain and bloating.

  1. Jaggery (Gudd)
    The International Journal of Chemical Studies states that jaggery reduces any weakness caused due to menstrual blood loss. “Packed with essential nutrients such as salt and potassium, it relieves bloating by maintaining the acid balance in the body,” says Dr. Vora. Jaggery also has anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic effects that alleviate uterine cramps. 

    Chew on a small piece of jaggery if you experience mood swings, abdominal pain, and cramps during your period.

    Also read: Why young women are prioritising fitness
  2. Carom Seeds (Ajwain)
    During periods, many women feel bloated along with experiencing period cramps. Loaded with high amounts of protein and fibre, carom seeds have excellent medicinal properties and are often used to relieve bloating and are great to treat period cramps. Dr. Vora adds, “Ajwain has the thymol compound to combat flatulence, cramping, and bloating.” 

    Take a teaspoon of ajwain, boil it in water for some time, and drink this warm water for relief.
  3. Fennel Seeds (Saunf)
    Fennel seeds aid digestion, hence, most Indian meals end with a spoonful of these magic seeds as mouth freshener. Fennel seeds have anti-inflammatory properties that relieve water retention and aid in regulating female hormones. It proves beneficial during periods, too, as many women complain of feeling bloated during this time. “Fennel seeds help reduce gas issues, and consequently, bloating diminishes,” states Dr. Vora. The book 'Healing Spices' by Dr. Bharat B Aggarwal explains that fennel seeds are packed with a volatile oil called anethole and some other potent phytochemicals, such as phytoestrogens, which are estrogen-like compounds usually found in plants. The combination of the two is most effective in reducing period cramps. 

    It is best not to boil fennel seeds as it kills the nutrients. Instead, put them in a tea infuser, pour boiling water over the seeds, and let it stay for five minutes. Strain and consume it hot.

Besides these three ingredients, Dr. Vora suggests eating a lot of green leafy vegetables, bananas, healthy fats like salmon and avocado, and green tea to nourish the body during this time of the month.

Also read: How Ayurveda can help you deal with PMS

Foods to avoid
Chocolates, a bar of your favourite ice cream, and salty chips may be your go-to foods to satisfy cravings during periods, but some foods can do more harm than good. Research shows that a diet high in inflammatory foods like oil, sugar, meat and salt can add to those excruciating period cramps.

Spicy and salty food
You may crave that extra dash of red paprika on your sandwich or the favourite Indian street food, golgappes, but consuming such spicy and salty food can upset the stomach and cause diarrhea along with pain and nausea. Also, excessive salty food can lead to water retention, which could cause bloating, a common woe during periods.

Many of you might start your day with a cup of your favourite coffee, but during this time of the month, coffee is best avoided as it causes excess water retention and leads to bloating. It could also cause digestive problems. But if you must, reduce the intake of coffee. Ideally, switch to Chamomile tea or green tea for those few days.

Alcohol has numerous adverse effects, including dehydration, which can cause headaches and bloating. It can also be the cause of an upset tummy and nausea. In addition, a hangover can play havoc with your emotional well-being during these days.

Red meats
During the menstrual cycle, the body produces prostaglandins, a compound that helps the uterus contract and shed the uterine lining, leading to menstrual flow. However, high levels of prostaglandin can cause cramps too. Red meats are high in this compound and can cause painful cramps.

“Besides eating right, a key factor to keep in mind during menstruation is to ensure that you are listening to your body. And while every period experience is unique to the individual, there are some general tips that can be followed. The most basic and fundamental is menstrual hygiene (changing frequently enough, staying as clean down there as possible). Additionally, you could try to see if light workouts like walks are helpful. It is essential to de-stress, be it relaxing baths, a walk, curling up and taking rest, or just sleeping. Sleep is another factor that helps as the better rested you, the better you can tackle your period,” advises Dr. Vora.

Shweta Dravid is a self confessed explorer who writes on travel, health, wellness, mindfulness and life truths.

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