what to eat during each phase of the menstrual cycle

Even though food is a necessity for every single human, it can often be one of the most confusing aspects of our lives…particularly when it comes to its effect on the menstrual cycle.

In this article, I’m going to try my very best to simplify and demystify all things related to what to eat during each phase of the menstrual cycle.

Now, before we get into the details it’s really important to keep a few things in mind:

  • Everything we’re going to cover is general.
  • Regardless of what this article or any other article states, listen to your body. Because if there’s one thing the body is good at, it’s communicating (via symptoms). So, get into the habit of paying attention to the foods that improve or worsen your symptoms. And then make changes to your diet accordingly. Your body will always give you the most reliable feedback!

Now, let’s get into the details of what to eat for your period.

Follicular PhaseFocus on whole (or minimally processed) foods that are easy to digest and rich in iron.

Soups, Buddha bowls, Fruits, Veggies, Fresh-pressed juices, Smoothies, Whole grains, Legumes, Fatty fish, Eggs, Raw nuts, Raw flax seeds and pumpkin seeds, Fermented veggies
Ovulatory PhaseSame as follicular phase
Luteal PhasePrioritize nutrients that support progesterone production: magnesium, zinc, B-vitamins, essential fatty acids.

Also, focus on foods that support estrogen regulation: cruciferous veggies, and fermented veggies.

If sugar cravings are more intense rely on fruits, sweet vegetables and dark chocolate.

WHAT TO EAT DURING THE FOLLICULAR PHASE

what to eat during the follicular phase

The follicular phase starts on day 1 of your period and ends just before ovulation occurs. 

Generally, this phase lasts anywhere from 12 to 14, although it can be shorter or longer for some women, depending on lifestyle, current health status and other factors (source).

Within the follicular phase, there are two sub-phases:

  • Menstrual phase.
  • Proliferative phase.

1. Menstrual Phase

The menstrual phase starts on day 1 of bleeding and ends when your period stops.

During this phase:

  • progesterone drops significantly, causing the uterine lining to shed.
  • estrogen starts out low.

So, overall, both progesterone and estrogen start out low during the menstrual phase.

Now, from an energetic perspective, the menstrual phase is very intense because, after all, you’re losing blood for about an entire week.

And the fact is that blood loss is exhausting, both physically and emotionally. In situations that are not related to the menstrual cycle, we as humans understand that when someone is losing blood, they need rest and healthy foods to re-nourish them. But unfortunately, as women we’re not always taught to apply this same basic principle to ourselves.

But the truth is, this is the one time of the month when you really want to take it easy and pamper yourself in every way possible…especially when it comes to food.

WHAT TO EAT:

When choosing foods to eat during menstruation, you want to go for the most nutrient dense foods you can find. 

In addition, you also want foods that are:

  • easy to digest.
  • in whole form (or very minimally processed).
  • rich in iron.

Here are examples of foods and meal types to focus on during menstruation:

  • Soups (particularly those made from legumes and root vegetables, which are very grounding)
  • Buddha bowls
  • Fruits (fresh, frozen and dried)
  • Veggies 
  • Fresh-pressed juices
  • Smoothies (avoid protein powders and stick to whole fruits and veggies)
  • Whole grains (quinoa and brown rice, for example)
  • Legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans)
  • Lighter animal foods like fatty fish and eggs.
  • Raw nuts
  • Seed cycling seeds (flax seeds and pumpkin seeds)
  • Fermented veggies

WHAT TO AVOID:

Losing blood and keeping you alive is already a lot of work for your body. So, it’s super important that you minimize the consumption of foods that create more work and stress on the body. 

This means avoiding things like:

  • Heavily processed foods or fast foods: white bread, soft drinks, store bought treats (cookies, cakes, chips and so on), zero calorie or “lite” foods.
  • Artificial ingredients: colorings, artificial flavors (usually labeled as “natural flavors”), artificial additives and preservatives.
  • Alcohol.
  • Caffeine.
  • Pro-inflammatory foods and common allergens: dairy, corn, soy, gluten, peanuts.

Furthermore, for some people nightshade foods (white potatoes, bell peppers, eggplant and cayenne, for example) can be pro-inflammatory. 

Since these foods increase inflammation for some people, that means they also trigger more cortisol production. And more cortisol can lead to issues with blood sugar, estrogen and other hormones.

So, if you’re sensitive to nightshade foods, then you want to stay away from them during this delicate time of your cycle.

2. Proliferative Phase

Once bleeding has ceased, you’re now in the proliferative phase of the menstrual cycle.

This is called the proliferative phase because the endometrium (which you just got done shedding) is now proliferating (multiplying or thickening) again.

Now, in order for the endometrium to thicken, you need more estrogen (source).

So, not surprisingly, estrogen levels steadily rise during this phase (while progesterone remains lower).

From an energetic standpoint, this is a time when you’re more likely to feel vibrant, driven, confident and strong (physically and mentally).

WHAT TO EAT:

Continue eating the same foods from the menstrual phase, while adding in heavier meats like beef, chicken or turkey.

If you’re going to eat less nutrient dense foods, processed foods or pro-inflammatory foods, then this is a better time to do it (in moderation, of course). This includes things like:

  • White bread
  • Gluten-containing pasta
  • Processed foods,  junk foods and all the items that are on the “What to Avoid” section of the menstrual phase

FOODS FOR THE OVULATORY PHASE

Lasting just 16 to 32 hours, the ovulatory phase is the shortest phase of the menstrual cycle (source).

This phase is characterized by a peak in estrogen levels as well as a surge in LH (luteinizing hormone). 

About 10 to 12 hours after the increase in LH occurs, an egg is released. 

Once the egg is released, the ovulatory phase is officially over.FSH (follicle stimulating hormone)

WHAT TO EAT:

This phase is basically a transition out of the follicular phase and into the luteal phase.

Since it has a very short duration, there’s no need to make major changes to what you eat. Continuing with the foods from the follicular phase is the most practical approach.

EATING DURING THE LUTEAL PHASE

eating during the luteal phase

During the luteal phase, your body is preparing for one of two potential outcomes:

  • Pregnancy.
  • Another period.

During this phase:

  • progesterone starts to rise and eventually peaks.
  • estrogen is lower.
  • the endometrium stops thickening and starts preparing for the potential attachment of a fertilized egg.

If fertilization of the egg doesn’t occur, estrogen and progesterone both drop, leading to the start of a new period.

WHAT TO EAT:

The luteal phase is progesterone-driven and having very low progesterone can contribute to a variety of premenstrual symptoms (source).

It’s worth noting that progesterone has a calming effect on the body. Therefore, having too little progesterone can contribute to anxiety and other mood-related symptoms during the menstrual cycle.

So, during this phase, it’s a good idea to prioritize foods that support progesterone production, such as foods that are rich in:

  • Magnesium (such as spinach, legumes, brown rice, dark chocolate, nuts, blackstrap molasses).
  • Zinc (such as beans, nuts, whole grains, chia seeds, sunflower seeds).
  • B-vitamins (such as beans, leafy greens, eggs, seafood.
  • Essential fatty acids (such as nuts and seeds. During this phase sesame and sunflower seeds are particularly helpful).

In addition, it’s a good idea to consume cruciferous veggies (kale, arugula, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower) and fermented vegetables since they help with eliminating excess estrogen.

Remember, that we want to maintain healthy levels of progesterone during this phase and that means keeping estrogen in check.

Lastly, if cravings for something sweet become more intense during the luteal phase, reach for healthier sweet options like:

  • Fresh fruit
  • Dried fruit
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Semi-sweet (about 50% cacao) or bittersweet (about 70% cacao) dark chocolate.

As for less wholesome foods (you know pastries and such) you can still eat those sparingly. While they don’t provide much in terms of nutritional value, there’s no denying that a good chocolate cake nourishes the soul in ways that we can’t put into words 🙂

WHAT TO AVOID:

Just like with the follicular phase, it’s a good idea to minimize consumption of:

  • Heavily processed foods or fast foods.
  • Artificial ingredients
  • Alcohol.
  • Caffeine.
  • Pro-inflammatory foods and common allergens.

CONCLUSION

As you can see, eating for your menstrual cycle really boils down to just eating more whole foods throughout the month.

The goal is to find more balance in your diet. More balance in your diet means more balance in your hormones.

Also, please note that just because a particular food isn’t listed in the guidelines of what to eat during each phase, that doesn’t mean you have to avoid it totally.

This article is simply highlighting what you should prioritize during each phase. It doesn’t mean you’re limited only to those foods.

As always, practice moderation. And most of all, take the time to listen to your body. 

It will always tell you what’s working or not working 🙂

pin image of smoothie bowl for what to eat during each phase of the menstrual cycle

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