Here’s What to Eat for Period Cravings, Say Women’s Nutrition Specialists
Leading women's health experts share what your period cravings are trying to tell you, and how you should (or shouldn't!) feed them.
It’s mid-day, when you suddenly sense a craving kicking in: you need something chocolate, and you need it now. Yep, you think. My period’s probably due about 10 days from now. A 2016 study found women experience a 57% increase in cravings during the luteal phase, the second phase of your cycle leading up to your period. The luteal phase follows the early follicular phase, which starts on the first day of your period and lasts until ovulation. (Here we offer some cool charts to track your cycle in line with the phases we reference.)
Dr. Lara Briden, ND, author of The Period Repair Manual, says there’s a close relationship between our hormones and what foods we seek out throughout our cycle. “Estrogen is a natural appetite suppressant, so it’s normal to feel less hungry mid-cycle, when estrogen is rising,” she explains. “Progesterone is an appetite stimulant, so it’s normal to feel more hungry in the second half of the cycle, when progesterone is high. At the very end of the cycle, withdrawal from estrogen, and the corresponding drop in serotonin, can trigger intense hunger in some women.”
Kate Morton, MS, RD—registered dietitian and owner of Funk It Wellness—adds that the average menstruator burns an extra 100 to 300 calories per day in the luteal phase. “So,” Morton says, “those cravings could be your body telling you it needs more fuel.”
Should you eat for your period cravings?
When that craving just won’t let go…should you give in? Dr. Briden says it’s often OK—just keep this in mind: “The best strategy is to fill up on healthy foods, like meat, eggs or hummus, maybe with a little extra salt if that’s what you crave,” she says. (If you’re looking for a great hummus, our editors are loving Haig’s Delicacies for their all-natural ingredients.) “Some menstruating people may also crave salty food,” Dr. Briden explains, “which is fine because the body needs more salt during the premenstrual phase.” Sources suggest this is to help regulate the body’s fluids. It’s important to work with your body, and with things like cycle syncing there are ways to align your diet with phases of your menstrual cycle.
Why do we crave chocolate right before our period?
Chocolate is the number-one craving women tend to have leading up to their period…but why? According to Dr. Briden, the craving for chocolate may actually be a longing for a medicinal food. “Dark chocolate improves mood via several mechanisms, including providing magnesium, which reduces stress hormones, and providing constituents such as theobromine and phenylethylamine, which support healthy brain chemistry.”
As you probably know, not all chocolate is created equally. “Eating just a few pieces of dark chocolate, which consists of at least 45% cacao, instead of a larger amount of milk chocolate is a good way to get the benefits of chocolate without the sugar.”
What to avoid eating if you have heavy periods
Are you also experiencing heavy periods, medically known as menorrhagia? A 2016 study suggested that at least five percent to 10% of women who are of reproductive age will seek medical attention for heavy periods. The Mayo Clinic suggests hormone imbalance, uterine fibroids, anovulation and polyps are all known causes to investigate.
If you’re experiencing heavy periods, you should consult with your doctor. “The number-one food” that can sometimes be to blame, according to Dr. Briden, “is cow’s dairy, which can result in heavier, more painful periods.”
Dr. Briden also notes that if you experience very intense mood swings or cravings, this could be a sign of an underlying problem with chronic inflammation, high stress hormones or sugar addiction, “which is amplified or worsened by the natural increase in appetite at the end of the cycle. The solution is to identify and treat the underlying inflammation or sugar addiction,” Dr. Briden says.
What to eat leading up to your period and throughout your cycle
Stasha Washburn, founder of The Period Coaching School, says insulin is higher and less sensitive in the luteal phase of your cycle, so you may be really prone to getting ‘hangry’ out of the blue. She encourages people to snack liberally through luteal and menstrual phases on foods like a banana for potassium with nut butter for fat (we’re loving Once Again nut butters with our fruit!), seaweed chips, nuts and seeds or dates. Also, Washburn says, load up on good fats with richer proteins—”Think black or adzuki beans instead of white beans,” Washburn says, adding: “If you eat meat choose turkey, bison, or humanely raised beef. Make sure to have foods like avocados, olive oil, salmon, nuts, grass-fed butter or ghee, mixed with those fiber-rich veggies and beans in this phase.”
Dietitian Morton adds: “In the luteal phase, include sesame and sunflower seeds for vitamin B6, vitamin E and selenium. Support gut health with probiotic and anti-inflammatory foods. Also, don’t forget to increase protein in this phase. Listen to your body. If you are more hungry, add in healthy snacks that are rich in fat, fiber and protein to support blood sugar balance.” Also in the luteal phase, she says, cut down on caffeine and alcohol.
Dr. Briden also encourages listening closely to what your body wants. “It’s normal to feel more hungry before the period, and it’s fine to just honor that hunger by eating more—as long as you choose healthy, filling foods such as meat, cheese, guacamole and hummus.”
Washburn says fiber is another key nutrient to include in your diet leading up to your period and during your cycle. “I always say a raw carrot a day keeps the PMS away.” She also encourages sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, buckwheat, beets and any other foods rich in fiber and antioxidants to help remove excess hormones and lead to a reduction in PMS symptoms.
Seed cycling as a way to support your hormones
Seed cycling can also be a way to eat during the menstrual cycle to help with cravings. Morton shares that seed cycling is the practice of consuming different organic seeds in sync with your menstrual cycle to support your body and hormones through real food.
A study published in 2021 showed that the fatty acids from the seeds used in seed cycling helped improve hormonal disturbances and insulin resistance in patients with PCOS—polycystic ovary syndrome, which is an endocrine disorder.
“These seeds are packed with important nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, phytoestrogens, vitamin B6, vitamin E, selenium, calcium and magnesium, which all play an important role in keeping our bodies supported,” Morton says. You can incorporate these seeds into your diet by adding them into a trail mix, smoothies, salads, oatmeal or energy bites.
Can Seed Cycling Help Your Period Cravings?
Morton says she’s witnessed how seed cycling has helped improve her cravings, as well as her clients’. “I personally notice a big difference with cravings around my period,” this dietitian says. “I believe this comes from giving our bodies a daily dosage of the nutrients that support our cycles, in combination with the additional fiber.”
She adds: “We tend to demonize cravings, but a lot of times they are our bodies trying to tell us we are missing something in our diets. So I always encourage people to list out their cravings and then see if there are any commonalities. It could be an indicator that you need more of a specific macro- or micro-nutrient!”
So the next time you get that unrelenting hankering for chocolate or chips, listen to your body and find healthy options to support your hormones and satisfy your cravings.