Rosanna Davison: Best foods to reduce PMS
One of the topics I've been asked most frequently about by female friends and clients is how to control or lessen their pre-menstrual symptoms using simple dietary changes.
Some women barely notice a thing in the lead up to their period, while for others it can be up to two weeks of tiredness, unstable moods and spotty break-outs. It's estimated that three out of every four women experience PMS to some extent, with symptoms including irritability, increased hunger, food cravings, headache, fluid retention, bloating and breast tenderness.
Generally women will experience only a few of these symptoms, which can begin up to 14 days before a period and typically go away when it starts. Interactions between your hormones and neurotransmitters (brain chemicals), plus stress and poor diet and food choices are generally thought to trigger or worsen PMS. But there are certain foods and nutrients which help ease the symptoms and boost feel-good endorphins.
1. Eat Regular Meals and Snacks
Eating a small meal or snack every three to four hours really helps to keep blood sugar levels stable and boost energy levels throughout the day, which can also stabilise your mood. It can be easy to get so caught up in work or study that we forget to eat regularly, so stopping every few hours to focus on how you feel and eat something if you notice a drop in energy can really help to keep emotions stable. The best type of meal or snack to lift a PMS mood contains protein, fibre and healthy fats. Some of my own favourites include vegetable crudités with hummus, oatcakes with guacamole and apple wedges with almond butter.
2. Eat Magnesium-Rich Foods
Magnesium is known as nature's sedating nutrient, as it helps to calm a stressed nervous system, relax muscles, regulate blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar levels, maintain nerve function and ease PMS.
Ever wonder why you crave chocolate just before your period? Ounce for ounce, dark chocolate contains more magnesium than any other type of food. Magnesium levels may fluctuate throughout a woman's cycle, with higher levels of oestrogen or progesterone leading to lowered magnesium levels. A magnesium-rich diet can help relieve PMS-related symptoms such as headaches, bloating, low blood sugar, dizziness, fluid retention and sugar cravings.
Apart from chocolate, good food sources of magnesium include leafy green veggies, almonds, cashews, avocado, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and buckwheat.
3. Indulge in Chocolate
Many of us crave chocolate to help distract us from painful cramps and boost our energy, but chocolate can actually be helpful in easing symptoms. However, it's the chocolate in its raw and unprocessed form that helps the most. Raw cacao powder is loaded with magnesium, plus other essential minerals including calcium, sulphur, zinc, iron, copper, potassium and manganese, as well as antioxidant flavonoids to protect our cells, and a range of the B vitamins, protein and fibre.
4. Load up on B Vitamins
B vitamins including thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), B3, B5, B6 and folic acid, are in a large range of foods, such as vegetables, oats, nuts, seeds and beans. They're essential for so many biochemical reactions in your body, including energy production. A US study published in the online edition of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that women with higher intakes of thiamine and riboflavin in their diet suffered fewer PMS symptoms.
B vitamins can also ease PMS by helping to synthesise brain neurotransmitters. Riboflavin is necessary to activate vitamin B6, which is a co-factor in creating serotonin. And plunging oestrogen and progesterone during PMS may cause serotonin levels to decrease, which is linked to anxiety and carbohydrate cravings. Thiamine is needed to create a neurotransmitter called gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), and low levels of GABA are associated with anxiety.