As a menstruating person, your hormones swing pretty wildly from week to week—leading not only to crazy cravings (allllll the ice cream) but nutritional needs that you maybe/probably haven’t given much thought to. However, the food you eat during your luteal phase can contribute directly to the intensity of your PMS symptoms (think: sugar, coffee, wine and resulting fatigue, mood swings, bloat and headaches—ugh).
The luteal phase occurs in the 10 to 14 days before your period every month, and is typically the time when premenstrual syndrome (PMS) sets in. During your luteal phase, progesterone and estrogen are at their highest points, which can actually bring on those mega cravings and mood swings. But sugar, coffee and low-quality dairy can all wreak havoc on your hormonal balance. To help rather than hinder, start fueling your body with vitamin and mineral-rich foods that’ll get you back to your grounded self.
It’s important to note also that your metabolism increases during this phase, so say bye to any strict diets or harsh detoxes, says Alisa Vitti in her book, In The Flo: Unlock Your Hormonal Advantage and Revolutionize Your Life. Skipping meals or following a “cleanse” might inadvertently lead to low energy and mood issues, so eat light meals at regular intervals (every three to four hours) and recognize that your body needs more calories *and* more nutrients to keep up with the uptick in hormones.
Your body uses high amounts of B vitamins to create progesterone, which is steadily increasing during this phase, says Vitti. The Bs are also naturally depleted when you’re stressed (so, um, all the time—which is why supplementation can be helpful, too). Replenishing these wells will make your cycle feel much smoother, so start stocking up on eggs, legumes, beef, chicken, salmon, broccoli, sunflower seeds and nutritional yeast.
Your PMS Plan: Stew cannellini beans with tomatoes and broccoli rabe into a sauce for whole wheat pasta, sprinkle your popcorn with nutritional yeast, and make up a batch of hard-boiled eggs to snack on between meals.
Studies have shown that women who have adequate levels of calcium and vitamin D have fewer PMS symptoms. But there are other sources of calcium beyond dairy, much of which is loaded with sugar (hello, all those cute yogurts) or is so processed and refined that it’s super inflammatory. Seek out grassfed, plain, full-fat varieties (grassfed butter or plain whole-milk kefir are our favorites) if you’re doing dairy, but don’t skip past leafy greens, broccoli, nuts, and seeds, too.
Your PMS Plan: Add broccoli florets and sliced almonds to your kale salad at lunch, and try dipping apple slices in tahini, a savory spread made from sesame seeds that has 128mg of calcium in two tablespoons (12% of your daily recommended amount!).
Helpful in reducing cramps and fluid retention, magnesium is a must-have throughout the month, but especially during your luteal phase. In fact, you know you’re deficient in magnesium if you take a supplement around your period and your cramps vanish (try it!). This mineral is also depleted by stress, so it’s helpful to stock up on whole food sources and still supplement, as well. Good sources of magnesium include pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, avocado, tofu and spinach.
Your PMS Plan: Dark chocolate daily, duh. But also add pumpkin seeds (aka pepitas) to soups and salads, eat your fill of avocado toast and add baby spinach to your smoothie.
Just before your period, estrogen levels plummet, leading to a drop in serotonin (a neurotransmitter in the brain), which can increase your cravings for simple carbs—the body uses these for more serotonin production, Vitti writes. But noshing on cookies and candy can contribute to higher blood glucose and insulin levels, eventually leading to a sharp crash and keeping you on that emotional-energy roller coaster. Instead, fill your plate with complex carbs like oats, millet, brown rice, and sweet potatoes.
Your PMS Plan: Swap that breakfast bacon, egg and cheese sandwich for baked sweet potato topped with maple syrup, grassfed butter and toasted walnuts.
Foods rich in fiber such as beans and legumes, apples, berries, chia seeds and walnuts (complex carbs count too!) help your body flush out excess estrogen and also keep your bowels moving regularly, which is highly important as progesterone can trigger constipation. Keeping your plate full of fiber makes sure that you’re ridding your system of extra hormones while also staying regular and fighting off bloat, too.
Your PMS Plan: Whip up a chia pudding to keep in the fridge for a sweet, fiber-filled treat, add lentils to pasta sauce and top salads with chopped walnuts.
Packed with calcium, magnesium and B vitamins, cooked leafy greens are a three-in-one punch for PMS prevention. These nutrient-dense greens are also helpful in flushing out excess estrogen, reducing breast tenderness, improving skin issues, while also reducing bloat and constipation. Try spinach, kale, escarole, chard, and watercress.
Your PMS Plan: Stir in some spinach into your morning scramble, sauté some kale or escarole as a side, and add some watercress to miso soup.
Abdi F, Ozgoli G, Rahnemaie FS. A systematic review of the role of vitamin D and calcium in premenstrual syndrome. Obstet Gynecol Sci. 2019;62(2):73–86. doi:10.5468/ogs.2019.62.2.73
Takase B, Akima T, Uehata A, Ohsuzu F, Kurita A. Effect of chronic stress and sleep deprivation on both flow-mediated dilation in the brachial artery and the intracellular magnesium level in humans. Clin Cardiol. 2004 Apr;27(4):223-7.
Vitti, A. In The Flo: Unlock Your Hormonal Advantage and Revolutionize Your Life. 2020. New York:Harper Collins.
Vitti, A. Woman Code: Perfect Your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge Your Sex Drive and Become a Power Source. 2013. New York:Harper Collins.
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