How should one actually think when it comes to food, hormones and the menstrual cycle? That is exactly what we will go into in this post. You will gain insight into which parts can have a positive effect on your hormones and menstrual cycle, such as why it is important to get enough food and nutrition, how important a balanced blood sugar is and a functioning gut. Perhaps you recognize yourself in experiencing that your hunger and cravings change during the course of your menstrual cycle? We will also share tips about how we and other women in our community relate to the changes during the phases of the menstrual cycle when it comes to food in particular.
Food for hormones
When it comes to food for hormonal balance, menstrual cycle and fertility, there is no one way of eating that will suit everyone. Exactly what to eat, how much and when is more or less individual and based on factors such as genetics, background, how well your stomach and intestines work, any intolerances, if you have a specific period-related challenge and what your life situation looks like. For example, if you have PCOS , it is beneficial to eat in a different way than if you have hypothalamic amenorrhea . In the case of PCOS, for example, it may be important to focus more on getting in protein and fat, but a smaller proportion of carbohydrates, which can otherwise cause your blood sugar to rise. In other words, there are differences depending on who you are, however there are certain cornerstones that most of us can benefit from for a healthy and strong menstrual cycle and fertility.
The basis for a functioning body is that you get enough food and nutrition. Constantly eating too little (unconsciously or not) signals to your body that there are not enough resources to prioritize your menstrual cycle. The body is smart and will always choose survival over fertility. If you do not provide the body with enough resources, in this case in the form of energy (food), it will affect your hormonal balance. There will not be enough energy for the body to be able to produce hormones, which can be expressed in many different ways in the menstrual cycle in the form of, for example, low levels of sex hormones, missed periods, irregular ovulation or worsening PMS symptoms.
Stable blood sugar
A blood sugar that rides a roller coaster is not favorable from a fertility point of view as it affects several of the hormones that regulate our female reproductive system. Having an unbalanced blood sugar becomes a form of physical stress for the body where the body needs to invest a lot of resources to get it back into balance. If this happens several times a day, there will be less resources left for other functions in the body, such as prioritizing our sex hormones. The best thing about blood sugar is that it can be largely influenced by diet, above all by eating enough high-quality fats, protein and fibre. A trick we ourselves like is to eat a breakfast with plenty of protein and fat so we start the day with a stable blood sugar.
Get your body's building blocks
In addition to getting enough food, it is important that we eat what the body needs to function optimally. For example, it is important that we get enough high-quality fats, which are crucial to being able to produce and create hormones, full-quality protein, which is part of and builds up everything in the body, and to get a certain amount of carbohydrates in order for the body to feel safe enough to ovulate. Exactly how much and what types of carbohydrate sources you need and feel good about is individual, as is the amount of fat and protein.
The nutritional advice and diets that are recommended today are rarely based on the female body. For example, how many women have not grown up learning that a low-fat diet is the best? Ingesting too few healthy fats unfortunately goes directly against what our female biology needs to function optimally and support fertility.
Getting a variety of vitamins and minerals is important for our body and menstrual cycle to function as it is meant to. Important nutrients that we need to get from what we eat (or through supplements) that have a decisive function for a functioning menstrual cycle include: iron, zinc, magnesium, omega 3 and vitamin D. If you want to dive more deeply into the impact of nutrition on the menstrual cycle, we recommend you read our book A life in sync with your female biology .
Another important aspect that several of our experts have seen among their clients is that many women who eat a vegan diet after a few years may experience hormonal imbalances and menstrual-related problems. This may be linked to the fact that certain nutrients are difficult to satisfy with a vegan diet. This does not mean that you cannot eat vegan, but that there are certain nutrients that may be more difficult to obtain through a vegan diet, which you may therefore need to pay attention to. If you eat vegan and experience symptoms linked to the menstrual cycle, it may be important to pay attention to whether or not you are getting enough nutrition.
Not entirely unsurprisingly, gut health is also of great importance for hormone production and the menstrual cycle. When the gut does not function optimally, it may be that we cannot absorb or assimilate the nutrients in what we eat. When we cannot assimilate the nutrition, the body does not get the building blocks needed to produce enough hormones, which can lead to hormonal imbalance.
A functioning gut is also important for us to be able to get rid of leftover and used-up hormones, which otherwise continue to circulate in the body and disrupt the natural hormonal balance. Eating foods that can contribute to increased inflammation in the body, such as a large intake of white sugar, white flour and heavily processed food, can affect intestinal flora and hormone balance. It can be expressed in symptoms such as everything from sore breasts to mood swings and heavy bleeding.
Food during the different phases of the menstrual cycle
As a woman, it is not uncommon for appetite and cravings to change during the month. Do you recognize yourself in feeling an insatiable hunger during one part of the menstrual cycle and not thinking about food at all in another part? This can be a natural part of being cyclical as a woman. Often it is information from the body that there are hormonal changes and that specific nutrients may need to be added. Below we have summarized some insights that we and women in our community have experienced during the different phases of the menstrual cycle. This is primarily for you to gain a greater understanding of yourself and your body.
Before we dive deep, we want to highlight once again that the basis for balanced hormones is that you get enough energy, that you eat things you can tolerate, get enough nutrition and keep your blood sugar balanced. When it comes to food, it's also important to eat things you enjoy. Stressing about food can do more harm than good. So an important reminder is to see food for what it is! We love to follow the 80-20 philosophy, that is, 80% of what we know is good for us, and 20% that we eat because it's enjoyable. In that philosophy there is room for everything that nourishes us both physically, emotionally and spiritually.
If you are not familiar with the different phases of the menstrual cycle, we recommend that you start here with the phases of the menstrual cycle .
Phase 1 of the menstrual cycle = the days you have your period
When you enter phase one, the body enters a new cycle, which can often be reflected in which foods you are drawn to. We associate a new cycle with a fresh start. At the beginning of phase one, you may feel cravings for sweet, salty and fatty foods as a continuation of phase three. The further into the phase you get, the more the craving subsides and you may be drawn to other types of food and flavors. Some women share that they often feel an increased desire for "fresher" and "lighter" options and do not experience the same hunger as they did during phase three and at the beginning of the period, which is an effect of the rising estrogen.
Below are some of our favorites that we like to stock up on during phase one:
When we bleed, it can be beneficial to top up with extra iron. Iron is mainly found in animal products such as red meat, liver, wild meat and oysters, but is also found in vegetable foods such as pumpkin seeds, lentils and cocoa. However, the absorption of iron from animals is significantly higher than from vegetables. One tip is to combine iron with vitamin C to increase the absorption of iron.
Various cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage in all their forms contain fiber and a substance called DIM that can help the body get rid of leftover and used-up hormones so they don't continue to circulate in the body. Plus, they're nutritious and filling!
Remember that it is not unusual to feel a little more tired than usual at the beginning of your period. It usually goes away as the period subsides and you give the body what it needs. If you want to dive more deeply into which foods contain specific vitamins and minerals that can be beneficial in each phase of the menstrual cycle, we write about it in chapter 6 of the book.
Phase 2 of the menstrual cycle = the day after the last day of menstruation until ovulation
Phase two is often the phase that many people find themselves feeling more extroverted than usual. Perhaps you feel an increase in self-confidence and that your body feels extra light and strong. It is common to experience less hunger as a result of the rising estrogen which lowers the appetite. This means that you can be most inclined to choose food that you feel really makes you feel good. As ovulation is the central event of the menstrual cycle, it is important to give the body the nutrition it needs to push ovulation through.
Some tips that were valuable for us in phase two:
As said, it is not unusual to experience an increased energy level in phase two. Sometimes you can experience that the high energy can turn into stress. Therefore, a tip can be to be vigilant about your caffeine intake so as not to stress the body further. It is during phase one and phase two (and the months before of course) that largely affects how our phase three will be (that phase many experience various symptoms linked to the menstrual cycle such as PMS). If you recognize yourself as having irregular ovulation, it may be especially important not to expose the body to various stressors, but instead to focus on the body having enough resources to ovulate.
Phase 3 = the day after ovulation until menstruation
Phase three of the menstrual cycle is the phase in which hormones shift the most, which can be reflected in the physical, emotional and mental swings you may experience. In phase three, progesterone increases, which increases metabolism and it is not uncommon to experience increased hunger. Sometimes you may feel a strong craving for fast carbohydrates. If that happens, it's your serotonin that drops, which can cause you to turn to foods that can create a similar feel-good effect in the brain, such as from fast carbs and sugar. Therefore, during phase three, it becomes extra important to fill the fridge and freezer with food that makes your body happy.
Some of our favorites that can support the body extra during phase three of the menstrual cycle:
Focus on getting enough high-quality fats and complete protein to help balance blood sugar while keeping you full. Through a balanced blood sugar, you reduce the risk of energy dips, huge sweet cravings and mood swings. If you want to get inspiration and simple tricks on how you can stabilize your blood sugar, you must not miss this post: Small tricks that can have a big effect on blood sugar and thus what symptoms you may experience during this phase. Fat sources we love include: eggs, salmon, meat of various kinds, ghee, avocado, full-fat coconut milk, walnuts, parmesan and real butter.
Regardless of how much food you eat, in this phase (at least we do) you can feel that you need something really chocolatey and tasty. In other words, cocoa is always in our pantry in phase three. Cocoa contains several important minerals such as magnesium, potassium and zinc which some studies have shown can prevent and ease PMS symptoms linked to phase three. In other words, it is perhaps not surprising that many people experience a great craving for the chocolatey flavors during this phase – the body is smart! Here's a recipe for chocolate balls that we think are perfect before your period. They contain cocoa, fibers from Chicca Roast, ghee and protein from collagen.
Perhaps you are one of those who feel more sensitive to stress in this phase? Then a tip might be to cut back on caffeine, as caffeine activates our stress hormones. If you are curious to read more about women's experiences when they have reduced and/or completely excluded caffeine from their diet, we recommend you go to our instagram @women.sync and look under our story highlight Caffeine . There, women in our community share the positive effects they experienced from quitting caffeine.
Effects of syncing nutrition to menstrual cycle
When it comes to nutrition linked to the menstrual cycle, research is limited. We therefore think it is incredibly powerful to lift up women's own experiences (and our own), and on Womensync's social media we receive loads of first-hand stories directly from women that we collect. These are effects that we and other women have experienced by syncing nutrition to the menstrual cycle:
With the WS philosophy on nutrition, we have been able to:
- Balance the shifts that are expressed physically, emotionally and mentally during the phases of the menstrual cycle .
- Prevent and reduce menstrual problems.
- Feel more satisfied and satisfied after a meal when you have given yourself and your body what it needs.
- Experience increased energy.
Eating is something you do several times a day, which provides many opportunities to influence the outcome of your menstrual cycle. There is incredible power in listening to the information that the body signals through cravings, hunger and menstrual-related complaints. The body is smart - dare to listen to the wisdom it contains.