Women can feel so frustrated by our energy highs and enthusiasm dips, and we may have our menstrual cycle to blame. hormone fluctuations over the monthly menstrual cycle play a crucial role in our body’s responses. They affect our emotional status, appetite, thought processes, and so much more. Women generally report high levels of well-being and self-esteem during the middle of the cycle and Increased feelings of anxiety, hostility, and depression are reported before menstrual bleeding occurs.
We often think of menstruation as the main event of a cycle, but there are actually four phases in a cycle and each can be supported by a tailor-made approach that’s designed to support the easiest flow from one phase to another. The menstrual cycle is split into the follicular and luteal phases. The follicular phase, during which menstruation takes place, is characterized by low levels of estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen reaches its peak during the follicular phase, and a surge in luteinizing hormone signals ovulation.
The cycle then enters the luteal phase during which estrogen increases by a lesser degree, and progesterone reaches its peak. Both hormones begin to decrease nearing menstruation, and the cycle repeats itself.
One way to monitor your changes from phase to phase is to keep a journal or download a useful tracking app to record how you are feeling each day and what food cravings, mood or temperature changes you have.
Your diet is a great way to optimise each phase of your cycle. Not only do you get to target potential symptoms with key nutrients, but your cycle is a built-in way to rotate your foods and ensure variety in your diet.
Menstrual Phase (Days 1-5)
The first day of bleeding marks the first day of your entire cycle. Menstruation should occur from days 1-5, though your specific period length may look different. Anywhere from 2-7 days is considered normal, though most women bleed between 3-5 days.
During the menstrual phase, you are shedding your uterine lining from the previous cycle. All hormones are low for the first few days, with estrogen and FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) beginning to rise towards the end. Your body is also busy maturing several eggs for ovulation.
Nourishment for the Menstrual Phase.
A sample meal for your menstrual phase could include warm comforting soups or a veggie-filled frittata filled with protein and veg, add iron-rich spinach and healthy fats like sliced avocado. Snack on dark chocolate, berries and satisfyingly crunchy radishes that are high in antioxidants and magnesium
Foods to focus on:
Iron-rich foods: As your iron levels begin to drop, you’ll want to focus on restoring those minerals. Focus on dark leafy greens, beets, sea veggies, legumes, red meat, and seafood. Pair iron-rich foods with vitamin C to make them more effective. If your cravings lean toward salty, pair hummus with seedy crackers; and if you’re craving something sweet, opt for the peanut butter with a banana, or Greek yoghurt with berries.
Zinc can support estrogen production, so include foods high in zinc like oysters, beef, chicken, tofu, pork, nuts, seeds, lentils, yoghurt, oatmeal, and mushrooms.
Fish and other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are associated with less menstrual pain. Fruits and vegetables can be rich sources of magnesium and calcium, which reduce prostaglandin synthesis, as well as positively impact nerve activity. Fruits and vegetables are also a good source of dietary fiber, which in a number of studies was found to decrease the pain and cramping during menstruation. Sugar consumption, on the other hand, was significantly associated with increased negative symptoms of menstruation, and skipping breakfast was positively correlated with the intensity of these symptoms so steer clear of inflammatory sugary foods, but if your cravings strike for something indulgent, you can nourish your magnesium levels and your mood with a few daily squares of dark chocolate or my recipe for Healthy Hot Chocolate.
Korean red ginseng has been shown to reduce oxidative stress resulting in reduced menstrual pain and irregularity. Korean red ginseng has been found to influence estrogen receptors and gene activity. One study also helped to facilitate the detoxification of bisphenol A (BPA), a toxin that can increase reactive oxygen species in the body. Changes in BPA concentrations were seen as early as four days into the supplement regimen.
The seed for this phase is the flaxseed – eating zinc-rich foods, like flax seeds, supports the hormone as it begins to rise again in the next phase.
Follicular Phase (Days 7-16)
After you stop bleeding, you move into your follicular phase, which occurs from days 5-14 (or from the last day of bleeding to ovulation). During this time, your body selects one dominant follicle to nurture and grow in preparation for ovulation.
Estrogen rules this part of your cycle, along with luteinizing hormone to trigger ovulation. The end of the follicular phase is marked by ovulation when the follicle bursts and releases an egg ready for fertilization. Eating for the Follicular Phase
Feed the Follicular Phase
Enjoy a normal balanced diet during this phase, incorporating plenty of nourishing foods to provide nutrients to a maturing follicle.
Healthy fats: You want to focus on healthy fats rich in omega-3s, like avocados, chia seeds, walnuts, salmon, and eggs during this time. Try an overnight chia seed bowl, made with your favourite plant-based milk, some cinnamon, antioxidant fruits like berries and some coconut or greek yoghurt topped with some chopped nuts.
Micronutrient levels also fluctuate throughout the cycle. inflammation can be highest in the early follicular phase, average concentrations of zinc decrease and magnesium levels decrease too during this phase into the luteal phase.
Zinc and magnesium-rich foods: Additionally, you want to make sure you’re getting plenty of zinc to support progesterone. Shellfish especially oysters are high in both magnesium and zinc as well as Nuts and Seeds. Roasted pumpkin seeds provide the most magnesium and zinc. Legumes, Grains, and Yogurt. Soybeans are also an excellent food source of magnesium and zinc.
The seed for this phase is the pumpkinseed – a great addition to a kale salad with boiled eggs and blueberries, pair it nicely with a creamy avo mint dressing.
Pre and probiotics really support this phase so It’s a great time to make a big batch of bone broth that supports your gut to absorb all the nutrients. Snack on a cruciferous salad with sauerkraut, and pickles. Your testosterone and estrogen are peaking, maximizing your potential.
Luteal Phase (Days 16-21)
Immediately after ovulation, your body remains hopeful for a fertilized egg to implant itself in your uterus. The luteal phase lasts from the end of ovulation to the premenstrual phase, roughly days 16-21.
During this luteal phase, progesterone rises, prompting the continued growth of a nutrient-dense uterine lining ready for implantation. The dominant follicle, now referred to as the corpus luteum, is primarily responsible for secreting the progesterone that will ensure a successful pregnancy if the egg has been fertilized.
Foods for the Luteal Phase;
Incorporate plenty of fibre to ensure you’re able to eliminate properly. You may consider eating easily digestible foods since some women can start to have digestive issues during this phase. A sample meal for your luteal phase could include a pureed soup, which is typically easy to digest. A dairy-free broccoli pureed soup is a great option.
Focus on liver-loving foods like cruciferous vegetables, antioxidant-rich berries, Protein, whole grains, and gut-friendly foods: As estrogen peaks over the next couple of weeks, you want to make sure your elimination pathways are working well. So, eating protein and whole grains (fibre) is the key. Other nutritious gut-friendly and hydrating foods like celery, asparagus, broccoli, and cucumbers will further support your microbiome, as well as keep inflammation low.
You can also try eating more foods with natural probiotics such as sauerkraut and coconut yoghurt to help with any digestive issues during the luteal phase. A great way to stay nourished during this phase is to enjoy daily green juices, they’re great for digestion and high in nutritional value. Release the bloat by adding dandelion, fennel, turmeric and ginger.
The seed for this phase is the sunflower seed – they help to boost progesterone, are high in selenium and remove excess estrogen. For a fun way to incorporate sunflower seeds toss some in a blender with roast veg, a squeeze of lemon juice and a tablespoon of yoghurt for a dip that’s hummus consistency – this can be snacked on with fresh veg or crackers.
Premenstrual Phase (Days 21-28)
From days 21-28, or the week before your next period, your body has gotten the message that it is not pregnant (if the egg is not fertilized). Thus, it begins preparing to shed the uterine lining and repeats the cycle again. As the corpus luteum begins dying, it takes progesterone with it. Estrogen remains lower as well.
This phase is when many women experience premenstrual syndrome or PMS. PMS often occurs due to low progesterone levels, usually a result of poor follicle creation and/or unsuccessful ovulation (meaning the egg was not healthy enough or you did not ovulate at all.)
To help stave off cramps, headaches, and difficulty sleeping, you should definitely include magnesium-rich foods while continuing to support your detox pathways. Foods high in magnesium include nuts and seeds, leafy greens, avocado, chocolate, and bananas.
Foods to focus on:
Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich foods: After ovulation, you want estrogen to start flushing out so it does not accumulate in excess. This is why it’s important to focus on healthy eliminating foods, like broccoli seed sprouts, as well as other anti-inflammatory foods rich in antioxidants (purple cauliflower, sweet peppers, spinach, whole carrots with the skin), to fight off free radicals and continue to support your liver where estrogen is metabolized.
The seeds best for this phase are Sesame seeds: These seeds have been shown to support women’s hormones. They also contain lignans and essential fatty acids that support the hormones present during the luteal phase.
A sample meal for your premenstrual phase may include a soothing smoothie or overnight chia seed porridge made with magnesium-rich banana, cacao powder, almond butter, and avocado. Toss in some cruciferous kale or cauliflower for extra detox support.