The female body goes through a lot in a 4-week cycle – hormone fluctuations, ovulation, loss of blood. So, it’s not surprising that your nutritional needs also change. Maintaining a harmonious hormone balance helps to boost your energy, improve your mood and even alleviate cramps, fluid retention and belly bloat.
Along with omega 3s, healthy fats are the ultimate anti-inflammatory to effectively regulate hormones responsible for muscle contractions. During your period – when you’re likely feeling a little crappy – choosing oily fish (salmon, tuna and sardines), turmeric or ginger will help to soothe inflammation. Given you’re losing blood, it’s also a good idea to team your healthy fats with plant sources of iron (found in green leafy vegetables) and vitamin C (found in citrus fruits, red capsicum and tomatoes).
…and not the ones from a bottle. Foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, legumes, artichokes and whole grains contain fermented fibres – known as prebiotics. While probiotics introduce good gut bacteria gut, prebiotics act as a fertiliser for what’s already there – a key to a well-functioning digestive system, which in turn will help reduce the incidence of bloating.
More than just a plumber for your pipes, fibre helps to balance your blood sugar and insulin levels. The best bit? Lower insulin aids your ability to burn body fat – reducing excess puffiness. Fibre-rich foods also help to keep hunger at arm’s length. The trick is to opt for quality sources, like slow-burning carbohydrates. Think quinoa, oats, brown rice or barley. Top tip: aim to up your fibre around two weeks after your period (the ovulatory phase) as it assists in metabolising estrogen, which is at an all-time peak.
In the lead up to your period (the luteal phase) it’s common to look like you’re three months pregnant. Once again, estrogen is to blame. As it surges through your body, it triggers the retention of fluid. The solution? Opt for high-potassium foods like bananas, sweet potato, spinach, legumes and nuts. Not only do they help de-bloat, they also help regulate your fluid levels and counterbalances the effects of eating or drinking too much sodium (a prime bloating culprit).
A lot of women are wary of water – especially during ‘that time of the month’ – as they think it makes fluid retention worse. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, H2O is basically the holy grail. Its ability to assist basically every bodily process – from digestion to energy production – means it actually helps to improve circulation and eliminate waste.
And while we’re on the topic of fluids, be savvy with your substances. Diuretics, like coffee and alcohol, can be detrimental in many ways – enhancing PMS symptoms, irritating your bowels (causing bloating) and dehydrating you, which can make the body retain more fluid. Soft drinks are also best to limit. While the fizz can give you a buzz, they mess with your blood sugar levels, mood, and dehydrate you to the point you’re battling the bloat once again.
Kathleen Alleaume is a nutrition and exercise scientist and founder of The Right Balance. Follow her @therightbalance_.
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