The Healthiest Foods to Eat During Every Phase of Your Monthly Cycle

As a person with a period, you’re likely acutely aware of how your own body and mood change throughout the course of a month. But you may not know that what you eat (and drink) also has an impact on the intensity of symptoms and overall experience of each phase of your cycle, from menstruation to ovulation, and beyond.

Believe it or not, the natural hormonal fluctuations that occur during the menstrual cycle can impact various aspects of metabolism, including metabolic rate, insulin sensitivity, and appetite regulation, explains Brea Lofton, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian and nutritionist for Lumen. “Estrogen and progesterone, the primary hormones involved in the menstrual cycle, can influence energy expenditure, macronutrient utilization, and hunger signals,” she says. “These effects can have significant implications for weight management, energy levels, and mood regulation.”

Experts break down the most important nutrients needed throughout each distinct phase of the menstrual cycle, healthy foods that can help you get there, and how to support your body (and feel your best) all month long.

Menstruation Phase: Days 0 to 7 (ish)

What’s Happening to You

When we think about a cycle, the first part is menstruation—this is when you’re on your period and actively bleeding. Menstruation tends to fall roughly on days zero to seven, depending on how long your period lasts (everyone’s cycle is a bit different). During this phase, both hormones progesterone and estrogen are at their lowest levels.

“The drop in progesterone during the end of the luteal phase triggers an inflammatory response still present in these first few days of your period,” says Vanessa Rissetto RD, the CEO of Culina Health.

What to Eat and Why

  • Turn toward antioxidants. During menstruation, the body produces excess free radicals, which can contribute to the pain and discomfort associated with menstrual cramps, Lofton explains. “Antioxidants, on the other hand, can neutralize these free radicals, manage menstrual cramps and decrease oxidative stress.”1 Healthy food sources of antioxidants include green veggies, nuts, whole grains, sweet potatoes, red cabbage, berries, and green tea. As a bonus, many of these antioxidant-rich choices are also packed with good-for-you nutrients, like vitamins A, C, and E, as well as selenium, zinc, and beta-carotene.
  • Focus on anti-inflammatory foods. If you struggle with period cramps, anti-inflammatory foods may help lighten the intensity, since they can help reduce and manage inflammation within the body. “Eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce the production of prostaglandins, thereby reducing inflammation and pain,” Lofton says.2 Some ideas to inspire your meal plan include nuts, ginger, turmeric, dark chocolate, seeds, and extra virgin olive oil.
  • Reach for complex carbs to regulate blood sugar. Certain shifts in your eating patterns could make a significant difference if you tend to feel more anxious, struggle with intense anxiety, sleep troubles, and cravings when you’re on your period. The stress hormone cortisol tends to increase during this phase, affecting your appetite, Lofton explains.

    Absolutely, you should enjoy sweet (or salty!) treats in moderation to maintain a normal, balanced, pleasure-filled diet—but try not to rely on only these foods, which provide fleeting spikes of pleasure and energy, but then leave you wanting more soon after. Instead, prioritize slow-absorption or complex carbohydrates that provide a steady source of glucose to your body over a longer period of time. Sources of complex carbs (that provide lots of healthy fiber to keep you satisfied and your blood sugar more stable) include beans, lentils, whole grains, peaches, plums, and apples.

    “When we consume simple carbohydrates or sugary foods, our blood sugar levels spike quickly, providing a temporary burst of energy and pleasure—and a crash in energy levels and, sometimes, craving for more sugar,” Lofton says. “In contrast, slow-absorption carbs are broken down more slowly by the body, providing a longer-lasting energy source and helping to stabilize blood sugar levels.”

Follicular Phase: Around Days 8 to 13

What’s Happening to You

Once your period ends, your body enters the follicular phase. This is when up to 20 eggs start developing. (Of these, only one will mature completely and be released during the next phase: ovulation.)

Rissetto says this is when all hormone levels start low, and then estrogen will peak right before ovulation. Generally, this estrogen increase may make you feel happy as a clam and ready to be the cheerful friend in the group chat, she says. In short, this phase is when many people who menstruate feel their best.

What to Eat and Why

  • Eat carbs in the first half of your day—and add in healthy fats. Lofton explains that during the follicular phase, your body is more efficient at burning fat due to increased insulin sensitivity. This provides an opportunity to consume slow-absorption carbs, helping your body process carbs and use them ASAP for energy, instead of storing them as fat. Lofton recommends eating hearty, unrefined carbs like brown rice, oats, legumes, lentils, and fiber-rich fruits like pears and apples in the first half of your day. For your other meals, go for healthy fat food sources high in omega-3 and -9 fatty acids: salmon (and other fatty fish), seaweed, extra virgin olive oil, avocado, pure cacao, and eggs.
  • Enjoy alcohol, caffeine, and high-fat dairy foods in moderation. While pretty much every food has its rightful place in the diet (what’s life without some Ben & Jerry’s?), during the follicular phase, it may be helpful to avoid excessive amounts of ultra-processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, and high-fat dairy foods, Lofton says. Though not everyone is sensitive, and all bodies are different, these foods and beverages have the potential to impact energy levels, sleep quality, and estrogen levels, and may increase the instances of negative symptoms and feelings during ovulation. To see if you’re impacted, you can track your symptoms month-over-month and compare what happens when you turn down the dial a bit on these more inflammatory foods and sips.
  • Pick phytoestrogen-rich foods, like soybeans and lentils. Right after your period ends, you may feel lighter and more upbeat. However, you may still have lingering breast tenderness and the occasional mood swing. If this sounds like you, consider adding in phytoestrogen-rich foods—they contain plant compounds that have a mild estrogen-like effect in the body, says Lindsay Nakash, MS, RD, CDN, from Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York in Mount Kisco.3 “Consuming phytoestrogen-rich foods such as soybeans, flaxseeds, chickpeas, and lentils can help balance estrogen levels during the follicular phase.

Ovulation Phase: Around Days 14 to 17

What’s Happening to You

You are the most fertile during these two to three days a month known as your ovulation phase. Rissetto explains during this time, estrogen rises to its highest level in step with other important hormones—testosterone, follicle-stimulating hormone (FST), and luteinizing hormone (LH)—which also surge to trigger the release of an egg from the ovary.

What to Eat and Why

  • Choose slow-absorption carbs. Many people with periods report feeling a little extra cheeky during ovulation, while many also may experience intensified cravings. Listen to your body and let yourself indulge in the good stuff—just remember to add and/or continue to include adequate nutrient-rich foods (the other good stuff) as well to fuel your system properly. During ovulation, Lofton says it may be more challenging to burn fat efficiently as the body tends to burn more carbs for fuel due to decreased insulin sensitivity. “Aim to consume slow-absorption carbs like rolled oats, whole grains, quinoa, barley, lentils, and beans, which can help prevent insulin spikes and reduce hunger cues,” she says.
  • Stock up on anti-inflammatory foods. Reducing inflammation can improve your overall mood and well-being during ovulation, says Janet Choi, MD, board-certified reproductive endocrinologist and Chief Medical Officer at Progyny. Smart food choices include berries, vegetables of all kinds, dark chocolate, fatty fish, and almonds. Also, if you are struggling to get pregnant, incorporating foods that help your body maintain healthy blood pressure, such as peas, leafy greens, and vegetables, may help increase fertility.
  • Mind your added sugar intake. “Ingesting excessive amounts of sugar can lead to a condition called insulin resistance, which can be associated with irregular or a lack of ovulation, which is why it’s important to [limit] processed meats, sodas, and refined sugars,” Dr. Choi adds.
  • Prioritize hydration. You’re the most fertile during ovulation, and you may also be the hottest—literally. Increased body temperature and fluid loss can accompany the ovulatory phase, says Nakash, so upping your water intake is an especially important move.

    “Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water and including hydrating foods like cucumbers, watermelon, and coconut water,” she recommends. “Additionally, foods rich in electrolytes, such as bananas, avocados, and leafy greens, can help maintain electrolyte balance and support optimal muscle function.”

Luteal Phase: Day 17 to 28 (or whenever menstruation begins again for you)

What’s Happening to You

After ovulation estrogen levels drop off, and it’s progesterone’s turn to rise to its highest point right before you start bleeding again. But there’s a catch: If progesterone isn’t rising and in balance with a slight uptick in estrogen, those dreaded premenstrual (PMS) symptoms can appear, Rissetto says.

What to Eat and Why

  • Focus on anti-inflammatory foods. Yet again, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich foods can take center stage in your diet to support your body’s needs. Lofton explains that both of these options help with troublesome PMS symptoms and can help reduce acne breakouts.4 Load up on picks like salmon, avocado, radishes, extra virgin olive oil, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, onions, garlic, and berries. “These foods contain beneficial compounds such as fiber and glucosinolates, which can work in various ways to eliminate waste, detoxify, and rebalance our hormones during this phase of the monthly cycle,” she says.
  • Consume foods rich in B6 to manage PMS symptoms. Dr. Choi says it is crucial to increase vitamin B6 intake during this phase, as B6 has certain properties that minimize PMS symptoms, including menstrual cramps.5 Foods high in B6 include chickpeas, salmon, dark leafy greens, starchy vegetables (like potatoes, peas, corn, parsnips), and most fruits. “You can also consult your healthcare provider about taking a B6 supplement, but I always caution not to overdo it with supplements, as too much B6 can lead to nausea, dizziness, and even nerve tingling in your hands and feet,” she adds.6
  • Take it easy. If you want to promote robust progesterone levels, don’t put extra stress on your body during this phase, recommends Phabillia Afflack, MD, board-certified OB-GYN and a fellow at the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Now is not the time to try intermittent fasting; to put your body into ketosis by restricting carbs; or to do high-intensity interval training, she says. All of these habits put your body into overdrive—the opposite of what it likely needs at the moment.

    “You may be feeling a reduced drive or desire to push your body, which aligns with what is happening in your body at this time,” Dr. Afflack says. “Your body prefers a calmer and relaxed state, since cortisol levels can negatively impact progesterone levels. Without sufficient progesterone levels, you may notice spotting, headaches, irritability, and anxiety.”

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