Sugar and Your Period: The Surprising Connection
Let’s face it: dealing with your period is NOT your favorite part of each month. While PMS symptoms differ in severity for all of us, they frequently range from mildly unpleasant to downright debilitating.
How can you keep your life on track while dealing with your period? It turns out that your diet plays a significant role in how you feel. Reducing the sugar and simple carbs you eat and filling up on protein and fiber instead will make a surprising difference in the severity of symptoms during your menstrual cycle. Here’s why.
How Does Food Affect PMS Symptoms?
Pre-menstrual syndrome, commonly known as PMS, refers to a group of symptoms that occur on the days just before you get your period. Most women experience a 28-day cycle that includes four stages (follicular phase, ovulation, luteal phase, and menstruation), and each stage comes with complex hormonal changes that affect your physical functioning.
Hormone imbalances during PMS tend to heighten unpleasant side effects like severe acne, bloating, tender breasts, irritation, and a craving for sweets. And unfortunately, this desire for sugar creates a vicious cycle of unpleasant period symptoms.
Hormones and Your Menstrual Cycle
How does your period affect your body’s hormone levels? Two significant factors include your diet and your stress level. Sugar consumption is directly linked with your hormone levels. Insulin, for instance, is used by your body to process glucose that comes from sugars and carbohydrates. Too much glucose can affect the hormones that control your insulin levels, which can lead to sky-high levels of reproductive hormones like estrogen and testosterone that make your period symptoms more extreme.
Likewise, fluctuating blood glucose levels triggers cortisol production, which is a stress hormone that leads to higher levels of inflammation. In short, the food you eat affects your hormone levels in ways that lead to a less-pleasant period.
The effects of PMS can stick with you for life, even if you’re at the end of your cycle. When women hit perimenopause (the time of transition into menopause), they often find that their sugar cravings worsen as their hormone levels hit new highs and lows.
Five Food Strategies for Avoiding PMS Problems
If sugar is so bad for PMS, why do you crave sweets right before your period? This is partly explained by sugar’s quick-acting effects on your mood and its ability to promote a temporary feeling of calm and contentment. That’s why the urge for sweets often strikes in the late afternoon when your energy levels are beginning to flag. Unfortunately, these results don’t last, and you’ll be left with stronger PMS symptoms in the end.
To eat in ways that limit the impacts of PMS, it’s best to have a strategy in place so that you can stave off the worst symptoms before they start. Below are some of my best tips for the ways that you can modify your eating style so that it prevents your period from becoming unmanageable.
1. Munch on lean meats like turkey when you feel your energy flagging. I like to keep pre-sliced lunch meat in an easy-access place in the fridge so that I can grab a piece on the go. It’s surprisingly satisfying, and you won’t suffer from a carb crash later.
2. Add avocado to your smoothies to supply creaminess without a lot of sugar. As an extra benefit, avocados are filled with potassium, which prevents you from retaining water that leads to bloating and reduces your risk of developing period cramps.
3. Keep hard-boiled eggs in the fridge for an easy breakfast or afternoon pick-me-up that won’t weigh you down or contribute to period bloat.
4. When you can’t stop thinking about sugar, snack on fresh or frozen berries. Their natural sweetness will satisfy your cravings, and you’ll get an impressive boost of fiber and antioxidants in the process.
5. If the desire for sugar just isn’t going away, I recommend trying Sweet Defeat. These all-natural lozenges temporarily block sugar-receiving receptors on your tongue so that you can’t taste anything sweet. They also blunt your cravings. A smart strategy is to take Sweet Defeat in the evening after dinner so that you aren’t tempted to rifle through the kitchen for a late-night dessert.
Follow a “Protein Day” for PMS Prevention
If you want to make your period craving more manageable, I recommend completing two “protein days” in the week leading up to your cycle. This helps you get sugar out of your system so that you crave it less both before and during your period.
Here’s my recommended sample menu to combat sugar cravings.
- Breakfast: 2-3 egg mushroom omelet (and lots of water!)
- Lunch: 6-8 ounces lean grilled protein, served over mixed greens sautéed with oil and vinegar
- Snack: 12 ounces of coconut water for the potassium boost
- Dinner: 6-8 ounces of lean grilled protein (I recommend salmon) with a side of your favorite steamed green vegetable and a mixed green salad, preferably made with kale, spinach or romaine.
- Optional: Serve up half a cup of berries after dinner to satisfy that sweet tooth.
Transform Your Diet for Better PMS Management
Your body is an incredible, interconnected system, and the way you treat it will affect how well it works. Filling up on high-quality, protein-rich foods will make an impressive difference in how good you feel, especially when it comes to your period.
My clients consistently report that their PMS symptoms are less obtrusive and that they feel lighter and healthier when they follow a diet that’s low in sugar and high in fiber in protein.
While the intensity of PMS will change throughout your life, clean eating will always make a tremendous difference in the severity of your symptoms. Follow these suggestions before your next cycle, and you might be amazed by how much better you feel.
So give them a try! Your health is always worth it.