Sure, those snacks may soothe your soul when you feel crummy, but they're not likely to make your body feel much better. Luckily, there's a whole other realm of foods that can not only comfort you in the throes of PMS, they can actually soothe your symptoms over time, too.
It's all about eating to support your hormones, explains holistic health coach Magdalena Wszelaki, author of Cooking for Hormone Balance. As she explains it, PMS is often a sign of a common condition called estrogen dominance. This can mean that your body isn't doing a good job of filtering out certain estrogenic metabolites—the byproducts of estrogens that have been broken down—or it might mean that you're low in progesterone.
"PMS is a first signal that your body is telling you, 'I'm struggling here with estrogen issues.'"—Magdalena Wszelaki
Either way, PMS symptoms are often the end result, along with other conditions like fibrocystic breasts, thyroid nodules, endometriosis, and even estrogen-positive breast cancers down the line. "PMS is a first signal that your body is telling you, 'I'm struggling here with estrogen issues,'" says Wszelaki.
The good news? You can fight back against estrogen dominance by choosing foods that support your liver's detoxification process while helping your body produce the right amount of progesterone. You might still notice small changes in your mood or energy levels just before your period, but brutal PMS doesn't have to be part of the package deal. "It can be very manageable—something you sail through easily, rather than going through a storm," says Wszelaki.
Scroll down for 7 foods that will help ease your PMS symptoms when eaten regularly.
You've probably heard buzz over beets' ability to boost your workouts, but they're also an incredible pre-period food. "In a lot of cultures, they call beets a 'blood cleanser,'" says Wszelaki. "[Of course], what actually cleanses blood is the liver, but beets are hugely supportive for liver detoxification." Beets are ultra-high in antioxidants and nutrients including betalains and betaine, which aid in liver function, ultimately helping your body eliminate estrogenic metabolites it doesn't need.
Add a quarter-cup of raw beets to your diet every day starting about five days before your period, suggests Wszelaki. They can be juiced, tossed into a smoothie, or added to a salad—whatever you fancy.
Think of carrots as a perfect pairing for those beets. While beets aid in liver detoxification, carrots contain high amounts of vitamin A, which helps with progesterone production, optimizing the ratio of progesterone to estrogen. "There's no food that actually contains progesterone, so instead, what we can do is provide our body with sufficient nutrients so that our corpus luteum produces progesterone," says Wszelaki. (The corpus luteum is a hormone-producing structure that forms in an ovary after ovulation, and if you're not pregnant, it dissipates just before your period.)
Just like beets, start eating a quarter-cup of raw carrots daily starting five days before your period, Wszelaki suggests.
Think foods like arugula, kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli. Broccoli sprouts in particular are a great choice—they contain an active compound called sulphoraphane, which supports liver detoxification. "There can be between 20 to 100 times more sulphoraphane in broccoli sprouts than there is in broccoli," says Wszelaki.
That doesn't mean other cruciferous vegetables aren't worthwhile, though. These veggies also contain a substance called DIM (or diindolylmethane), which also helps out with liver detoxification. While your liver is really doing the work to eliminate estrogenic metabolites, using arugula as a base for your go-to salad or putting a handful of broccoli sprouts in a smoothie can helps give it the tools it needs to do its job.
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, and keeping inflammation in check is key for a balanced hormonal environment, especially just before your period.
"Inflammation creates a natural form of stress in the body, and stress depletes us of progesterone," explains Wszelaki. This all comes down to a hormone called pregnenolone, which is responsible for making both cortisol—a hormone released during stressful times—and progesterone. "On a daily basis, the body makes a decision: How much of that pregnenolone do I want to channel towards cortisol production, and how much do I want to channel toward progesterone production?," explains Wszelaki. When the body's under stress, cortisol wins. Ultimately, this throws your estrogen-to-progesterone ratio out of whack.
Fight inflammation with omega-3 fatty acid sources like walnuts, wild-caught salmon, and chia seeds—and cut back on inflammation-causing foods like alcohol, coffee, and sugar.
Fermented foods like kombucha, kimchi, and kefir are also highly anti-inflammatory. "They support the gut microbiome, and the healthier and the more diverse your gut bacteria is, the more it helps with inflammation in the body," says Wszelaki. Again, that's important for keeping progesterone levels where they should be.
Sesame and sunflower seeds
Okay, this isn't just a PMS remedy—it's actually part of a larger protocol called seed rotation, which can be helpful for estrogen dominance when you follow the plan throughout the month, says Wszelaki.
Here's how it works if you've got a 28-day cycle: For the first 14 days, starting from the first day of your period, you'll eat one tablespoon each of freshly ground flaxseed and pumpkin seeds every day. "Flaxseed contains a lot of phytoestrogen, so you're giving yourself the good estrogen that you need during the first phase," says Wszelaki. Bonus: Flaxseed is also high in anti-inflammatory omega-3s.
On day 15, you'll switch over to one tablespoon each of freshly ground sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. "They're high in zinc and vitamin E, which are super important nutrients for progesterone production," says Wszelaki. Seeds are also high in fiber, which helps keeps your bowel movements regular—a vital step in eliminating those estrogenic metabolites you don't need.
Seed rotation may sound a little too good to be true, but Wszelaki says she's seen amazing results using the plan with her clients. (She has a larger guide on her website.)
Red meat and liver
While this doesn't have much to do with hormone balance, red meat can help you feel like, well, a person again if your energy's low before or during your period. "If you are craving a burger, absolutely give into that, because your body is telling you something," says Wszelaki. When you're losing a lot of blood, your iron levels go down, and red meat can help bring them back up. Just try to go for grass-fed beef when possible.
An even better option? Liver, believe it or not. Organ meats are high in iron, if you're brave enough. (Wszelaki notes that even though eating liver isn't commonplace in the US, it's pretty standard in other parts of the world, like Europe.) And hey, maybe it's a good excuse to hit up that French restaurant you've had your eye on—pâté, anyone?
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