By Cory Levin, RDN
Ever wonder why one week you’re snapping selfies and ready to plan a girls weekend, but at the drop of a hat and the next you’re curled up on the couch desiring nothing but a pint of Haagen Daz and the company of your cat? As a woman, our hormones are in a state of constant fluctuation! These hormones do a lot more for us than we might think– they influence our mood, sleep, energy, sex drive, weight, fertility, digestion, and more.
Hi, I’m Cory Levin, a Registered Dietitian and women’s health expert and this is part one of a four-part series giving you research-backed, evidence-based guidelines on how to eat throughout each phase of your cycle to optimize your hormone balance and mitigate things like PMS.
Menstruation kicks off phase 1 of our cycle. During these next 3-7 days, your estrogen and progesterone (your two main sex hormones) are pretty low. You may be fighting fatigue and continued PMS symptoms but around days 3-4, your hormone levels actually start to rise! As these low levels start their ascent, they trigger the production of a hormone called Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) – which leads to the next phase, your follicular phase preparing your for ovulation.
The main foods to focus on here are ones that are going to reduce any pesky lingering PMS symptoms and ensure your depleted levels of iron are restored. Prostaglandins are the lipid compounds responsible for cramps and breast tenderness so adding in omega-3 rich foods to your diet such as salmon, omega-3-enriched eggs, oysters, and halibut are going to actually reduce the activity of those prostaglandins. In addition, adding turmeric to your dishes or making a Golden Milk can also reduce inflammation around your reproductive organs. The nutrients in these foods will ensure your period is as pain-free as possible.
Remember to focus on red meat, beans, and spinach to ensure your levels of iron are adequate to replace any blood lost. But don’t stop here- make sure you’re eating iron-rich foods along with foods high in vitamin C– vitamin C greatly enhances the amount of iron that your body is able to absorb. Top picks for vitamin-C rich foods during menstruation are strawberries, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, kiwi, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, and peppers.
Recipe for this phase - make your own Golden Milk spice mixture and keep it for the week of your period to combat cramps and breast soreness:
Blend together and keep in a jar:
- 3 Tbsp turmeric
- 2 Tbsp cinnamon
- 1 Tbsp + 2 tsp ginger
- ½ tsp cardamom
- ⅛ tsp black pepper
- Spoon 1-2 tsp of the spice mixture into a saucepan.
- Add 1 ½ cups plant-based milk or dairy milk (I use almond-cashew-macadamia nut milk), 1-2 tsp coconut oil, and 1-2 tsp honey.
- Heat over low until warm and serve. To make it frothy, can give it a whirl in a blender. Spice mixture will stay super fresh in an airtight jar for 2-3 months.
Want to learn about the other phases in the cycle? Follow these links:
Cycle Nutrition In 4 Parts: The Follicular Phase
Cycle Nutrition In 4 Parts: Ovulation
Cycle Nutrition In 4 Parts: The Luteal Phase
Cory Levin is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and women's health expert. Cory is the founder and principal of The Women's Dietitian and Instagram account @thewomensdietitian, a private practice and digital platform for women seeking nutrition support for hormone balance, fertility, digestion, and weight management. She specializes in conditions such as PCOS, endometriosis, PMDD, Hashimoto’s, and nutrition therapy for infertility and assisted reproductive technology. Cory dedicates her practice to a science-backed eating and lifestyle method she has created called "Cycle Hacking". It is through this program that she customizes nutrition prescriptions for clients phase-by-phase of their cycle to optimize hormone balance and encourage healthy hormone levels.