You’re crampy, you’re bloated, you’re completely miserable. Time to curl up on the couch and pop a . . . wild salmon filet? Okay, we know, you were probably thinking along the lines of extra-strength ibuprofen. But the right foods can actually help to stave off your worst PMS symptoms—no meds needed! Here’s how to avoid that monthly dose of misery, just by changing what you put on your plate.
Fend Off Inflammation
When you’re hit with cramps, achy joints, or a splitting headache, your first instinct may be to pop an anti-inflammatory. But before you make a beeline for the medicine cabinet, rethink your diet. Studies have shown that cutting back on carbs can help to soothe inflammation. That may not be the best news when you’re feeling crabby and craving pizza—but do your body a favor and reach for healthier fare. “You want to avoid anything that’s going to trigger inflammation—bagels, cupcakes, muffins,” says Dana James, C.N.S., director of Food Coach NYC. “Those foods can exacerbate cramping and breast tenderness.”
Skip the Salt
No one really knows why you retain water before you get your period, but bloating is a common PMS symptom. The good news is that you can battle the monthly muffin top by limiting your sodium intake, since salt can make water retention worse. Of course that means resisting your potato chip cravings, but don’t forget to also watch for sneaky sodium in canned goods and frozen meals.
Load Up on Minerals
If you’re ready to bite someone’s head off, reach for a banana. “Potassium can reduce PMS mood swings,” says Rania Batayneh, M.P.H., author of The One One One Diet. (If you’re not a banana fan, cherries are another great source of potassium.) Crabby and crampy? Mix some kale into a smoothie, or add the powerhouse veggie into a salad. “Kale is an incredible source of magnesium, which causes muscle relaxation,” James says. “It’s also really rich in sulforaphane, which is going to help regulate those hormone levels.”
Get Your Vitamins
You already know vitamins are important, but a few in particular can help alleviate PMS symptoms. Make sure your meals are loaded with these three helpers:
- Vitamin E. “Avocados are rich in this vitamin, which helps to regulate hormone levels and decrease cramping,” James says.
- Vitamin D. “Vitamin D has been shown to be helpful in reducing cramping and breast tenderness by up to 40%,” James says. Find it in wild salmon, fortified juice, or some mushrooms.
- Vitamin B6. “Studies suggest that vitamin B6 can reduce PMS cravings,” Batayneh says. Reach for a handful of nuts, eggs (keep the yolks!), or sweet potatoes.
Don’t Forget the Omega-3s!
Their anti-inflammatory properties can work wonders—especially when you combine them with helpful vitamins and minerals, “In a nutshell, if you take magnesium, B complex, and omega-3 supplements, you’ll alleviate cramps, muscle aches, headaches, fatigue, and crankiness,” James says. “Not kidding. It’s a simple solution.”
Ditch Your Vices
You liver plays an important role in regulating your hormone balance, so try not to tax it with coffee or alcohol. Can’t imagine starting your day sans coffee? Pour a cup of herbal tea instead. A few naturally decaf varieties—like chamomile or raspberry tea—can even help regulate hormones and soothe anxiety during that time of the month.
Recharge with Iron
If you find yourself feeling run-down, iron can help. And the important mineral doesn’t just fight off fatigue—a recent study at the University of Massachusetts found that women with iron-rich diets were up to 40% less likely to develop PMS in the first place. The theory is that iron not only reduces muscle fatigue, but also helps with the production of serotonin, the brain chemical that helps to regulate your emotions. To reap the benefits, look for iron-rich foods like spinach, tofu, red meat, or cooked beans. *An important note: Don’t take iron supplements without your doctor’s approval, as they can be toxic to a very small percentage of the population. But, don’t worry – you’ll never get sick from eating food sources high in the mineral.