Women's Health

The PMS Diet

Premenstrual syndrome is such a regular occurrence for many women that they consider it a normal part of getting their period. The Mayo Clinic estimates about 75 percent of women get at least some form of PMS. Although the causes of PMS aren’t well understood, “fluctuating levels of hormones and brain chemicals are thought to play a role. What a woman eats and drinks can also have an effect,” says Christopher Calapai, a Manhattan osteopathic physician board certified in family and anti-aging medicine. He shares with us eight do’s and don’ts for getting through PMS as pain free as possible. 

Do get more calcium. Some studies have shown calcium levels are lower in women with PMS, and that those with the highest intake of calcium reported the mildest PMS symptoms. Calapai suggests sourcing your calcium from foods such as low-fat milk and dairy, calcium-fortified breakfast cereals and orange juice, and leafy greens.

Don’t consume excessive salt. Salt increases water retention, so if you suffer from premenstrual bloating, do limit the amount of sodium you consume in the run up to your period. Eliminate the salt shaker and cut back on the canned foods, processed foods and condiments, all of which are overflowing with sodium.

Do drink more water. “Although this sounds counter-intuitive,” says Calapai, “water can actually alleviate PMS-related fluid retention. Drink plenty of H2O—aim for eight to 10 glasses a day; more when you exercise—to flush toxins out of your system and reduce premenstrual bloating.”

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Do eat dark chocolate. Craving sugary confections like chocolate and cupcakes is totally normal. Try and reach for dark chocolate when you need to satisfy your sweet tooth. A bonus: It will boost your mood.

Don’t consume coffee. While you may need that daily cup (or two) to be functional, studies show that caffeine increases levels of anxiety. Calapai explains, “Your blood vessels contract when caffeine is present in your body, which worsens menstrual cramps. Also, for those with loose stool while on their periods, adding caffeine to your diet will make it difficult for your body to retain water and worsen diarrhea.”

Do eat greens. Losing a lot of blood can cause iron deficiency, which can cause lightheadedness or nausea. To counteract this problem, Calapai recommends stocking up on darker greens, like spinach, kale and broccoli, to get your iron levels back up, but avoid eating them raw. Sauté spinach with minced garlic and olive oil for a warm, flavorful bundle of nutrients.

Don’t drink alcohol. It will only worsen feelings of depression and moodiness. One study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology also found that regular alcohol consumption increased length of and severity of cramps in women who experience cramps during PMS.

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Do eat bananas. Sleep disturbances right before your period are the norm for many women. Plus, experts at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found that too little sleep made women more susceptible to pain (meaning those cramps will feel even worse). So make sure to get your Zzs by eating bananas, which contain melatonin—a sleep-aid hormone that’s secreted at night and helps regulate our body’s natural rhythms.

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