It’s that monthly companion that we just can’t seem to shake, the uninvited friend to the party, or the reason we suddenly understand why we snapped at our partner over the missing jar of peanut butter in the cupboard: PMS.
PMS can make us feel not completely ourselves. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to manage the condition, such as eating the right foods to combat your PMS symptoms. Here’s more about what PMS is and the top foods that can help with PMS.
What is PMS?
PMS, or Premenstrual Disorder, is a condition recognized by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. It can affect anyone who menstruates and it’s thought to be caused by the the drop in estrogen and progesterone levels that occurs after ovulation.
If you’re someone who gets PMS, you might notice that your symptoms appear after ovulation and before your period begins. Then, they resolve within a few days of your period beginning. This is because of the change in hormone levels that occur with the menstrual cycle. Hormone levels rise at the start of the cycle, then decrease right before our periods if pregnancy isn’t achieved.
Everyone who menstruates may experience PMS differently and some lucky individuals might sail right through the periods without a change in their mood. But for those of us who do get PMS, the symptoms can be severe. From emotional symptoms like irritability to intense sadness and physical symptoms like bloating and cramping, they can disrupt our daily lives. In some people, the PMS symptoms can be so severe that they are classified as a larger, more serious disorder called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
The exact cause and treatment for PMS is not completely understood, but it is known that certain key nutrients, including magnesium, calcium, Vitamin B6, and omegas 3s and 6s, all play a crucial role in decreasing PMS symptoms. To best combat PMS, you’ll want to incorporate foods with these nutrients into your diet.
8 Top Foods to Eat with PMS
1. Ground Sesame Seeds
Because PMS is caused by a drop in estrogen and progesterone levels, it’s thought that eating foods that support those hormone levels can help relieve PMS symptoms. Sesame seeds can help keep estrogen and progesterone levels more balanced during the second phase of your cycle, when PMS occurs. Sesame seeds also are packed with other PMS-friendly nutrients, such as vitamin E, iron, zinc, lignans, selenium, calcium, and manganese. Try sprinkling sesame seeds on stir-fry, as a taco topping, or ground in a sauce.
2. Ground Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds contain the same lingans as sesame seeds, so they’re great for balancing hormone levels, but they’re also rich in calcium, a nutrient recommended to help with PMS symptoms of fatigue, depression, and cravings. In fact, just one serving of sunflower seeds contains a whopping 109 milligrams of calcium.
Sunflower seeds are also packed with feel-good nutrients including vitamin E, thiamine, magnesium, selenium, protein, and linoleic fatty acids as well as antioxidants (like phenolic acids and flavonoids). You can eat sunflower seeds as a snack on their own or mixed in smoothies, spread with nut butter on a whole-grain piece of bread or as a topping with fruit.
3. Leafy Greens
Greens such as kale and spinach are rich in magnesium, which supports hormone production and balances out the stress response in the body, as well as Vitamin B6, which helps get serotonin and dopamine–the “happy” hormones–where they need to go in the body. For a PMS-blasting superfood, mix up a smoothie with sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and a generous handful of leafy greens.
Many different kinds of seafood can be helpful to eat before and during PMS. For instance, shellfish contains selenium, which is helpful in supporting progesterone production during the luteal phase. Other kinds of fish, including sardines and salmon are also rich with Vitamin B6 and Omega-3s, which help cut down on inflammation. (Bye, bloated stomach!)
Sure, it might sound boring, but staying hydrated is extra important if you suffer from PMS. If you can swap out your daily caffeine and nightly glass of wine for water instead, even better. Water will help balance your hormones, fight bloating, and keep your digestive system–which can also be affected by your period–happier.
6. Dark Chocolate
Would it even be a post about PMS if we didn’t talk about chocolate? Don’t be afraid to indulge in an ounce or two of dark chocolate when you’re battling PMS–not only is it delicious, but thanks to the fact that it contains plenty of antioxidants and magnesium to decrease cramping and bloating, it’s also a secret weapon against your symptoms.
Noshing on nuts can be an effective strategy for banishing PMS. Reach for magnesium-rich almonds, selenium-containing Brazil nuts, and walnuts that are full of Omega 3s. Omega 3s and 6s have been shown to reduce PMS symptoms and cramps.
Eggs contain both Vitamin B6 and selenium, so they’ll help balance hormones and support your mood. Plus, they’re full of protein, so they can help keep you full and banish cravings for those salty, fried foods that will only make you feel worse.
Other Ways to Manage PMS
Along with incorporating foods like seeds, nuts, leafy greens and plenty of calcium into your diet, there are other ways you can help stop PMS symptoms from taking over your life. You can try strategies such as:
- Regular exercise. Finding an activity that you enjoy is key and moving your body can help fight off depression and fatigue, as well as bloating and irritability.
- Get plenty of sleep. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: sleep is vitally important. When we don’t get enough sleep, every hormone system in our body is affected and that throws everything out of whack.
- Avoid caffeine, salt, and sugar. It’s especially helpful to cut salty foods and caffeine out of your diet around ovulation, right when PMS symptoms begin.
- Manage stress. Move your body, find a relaxing hobby, talk to a therapist, or take up journaling–there are so many options for managing stress that can be enjoyable too.
- Eat dark chocolate. Oops, did that get mentioned twice? It’s just that important, so be sure to treat yourself well with PMS and anytime of the month.
Rocha Filho EA, Lima JC, Pinho Neto JS, Montarroyos U. Essential fatty acids for premenstrual syndrome and their effect on prolactin and total cholesterol levels: a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study. Reprod Health. 2011;8:2. Published 2011 Jan 17. doi:10.1186/1742-4755-8-2
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. FoodData Central, 2019. fdc.nal.usda.gov