How To Eat For Your Menstrual Cycle

By Rohini Bajekal, Nutritionist and Board-Certified Lifestyle Medicine Professional (MA Oxon MSc Dip IBLM)

By Rohini Bajekal, Nutritionist and Board-Certified Lifestyle Medicine Professional (MA Oxon MSc Dip IBLM)

Tracking your menstrual cycle has become an increasingly popular trend in the wellness space. For some, this hormonal monitoring informs the patterns of their diet, eating specific foods at different phases during the menstrual cycle to feel nourished all month. From the outside, this may seem intimidating - but it’s not about completely overhauling your diet. Think of it instead as prioritising different foods and healthy habits to best support your hormones (and you!) as they fluctuate throughout the different phases of your cycle.

What you need to know about the menstrual cycle

Many of us who menstruate do so for a large portion of our lives, without understanding fully how our cycle actually works. The average menstrual cycle is 28 days long; however, a healthy cycle can range in length from 23 days to about 35 days (1). It’s such an important indication of health that, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, it is now considered to be the fifth vital sign of health (measurements of the body’s basic functions monitored by medical professionals), alongside body temperature, pulse rate, respiration rate and blood pressure (2). Getting to grips with your own cycle, then, is key for unlocking more knowledge about how your own body works, and consequently how best to support and nourish it. 

The full menstrual cycle can be divided into three parts, or “phases”, which are determined by the fluctuation of your hormones: your period itself, which is followed by the follicular phase and ovulation, then finally the luteal phase. Then the cycle begins again. As the levels of your hormones shift throughout the phases, you’re likely to experience a range of symptoms such as bloating and breast tenderness. The good news is, mounting research shows that premenstrual symptoms  may be minimised by healthy diet and lifestyle changes. 

Below you’ll find a breakdown of how your body’s nutritional needs change across the cycle’s phases, as well as how you can optimise your diet through simple, achievable tweaks to best support your energy levels and mood, and decrease uncomfortable symptoms.

During your period (approximately days 1-5)

A ‘normal’ period (bleeding) lasts no longer than 7 days. In the context of your full cycle, your period is a low hormone phase in which you may experience a range of symptoms such as menstrual cramps, bloating, fatigue, and low mood. Here are some of my favourite ways you can naturally alleviate unwanted symptoms and side effects:

- Turmeric (3) and ginger have been shown in clinical studies to help with menstrual cramps. Some studies have shown ginger to be as effective as ibuprofen and mefenamic acid (an anti-inflammatory drug often prescribed to those who suffer with pain during their period)(4) when it comes to easing painful cramps.  Both turmeric and ginger work amazingly in curries, hot drinks, smoothies, and soups. Try a golden turmeric noodle broth or roasted carrot, squash & ginger soup for a delicious way to enjoy these ingredients.

- If you menstruate, you are more likely to experience iron deficiency. Iron is an important nutrient - even a mild deficiency can lead to you experience lower energy than usual, or you may find yourself less able to concentrate on your usual tasks. To prevent this, be sure to opt for iron-rich plant foods when putting your meals and snacks together. Great plant sources of iron beans, peas, soya (tofu, tempeh, edamame), and dark leafy greens (5). Foods such as these also contain fibre and other nutrients which further stabilise your energy levels, which may be lower during your period. To learn more about fibre and its importance, read our article on fibre here.

- Omega-rich foods like ground flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts have anti-inflammatory properties which can help combat premenstrual symptoms. Try adding these nuts and seeds to your smoothies, porridge, or salads for a quick and easy way to soothe inflammation.

- At this phase of your cycle, prioritise sleep as much as possible, aiming for seven to nine hours of restorative sleep a night. The trick to this is avoiding stimulants such as caffeine after lunchtime, as well as switching off from the blue light of screens a few hours before bedtime. In place of screen time, find other, gentle ways to wind down, such as a warm bath, journaling, breathwork, or a mindfulness exercise.

During your follicular phase and ovulation (approximately days 6-14)

Through your follicular phase, the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) initiates the release of an egg. This causes your oestrogen levels to rise, peaking to the highest point during ovulation. These higher levels of oestrogen tend to result in an increase in your mood and energy levels. I love to optimise this time in my cycle in several different ways:

- Make sure you include protein-rich plant foods at mealtimes such as beans and tofu. This will support higher activity levels such as strength training which you may ramp up at this time.

- Include wholegrain, complex carbohydrates, such as oats, brown rice, wholemeal pasta, and sweet potatoes. These will keep you feeling energised. Wholegrains can contain up to 75% more nutrients than refined cereals and are a rich source of fibre, B vitamins, folic acid, antioxidants and micronutrients such as iron. While carbs are often demonised, research shows that consuming whole grains is associated with a reduced incidence of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

During your luteal phase (approximately days 14-28)

As many as 80% of women experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) with physical and mental symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety, tiredness, bloating, and oily skin (6).

- To reduce bloating, opt for magnesium-rich foods. Great sources of magnesium include nuts, seeds, spinach, quinoa, cacao nibs, and wholegrains.

- If you experience PMS symptoms,  you may benefit from minimising ultra-processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, excess salt and refined sugar at this time.

-  Keep any sweet treats or desserts balanced, as cravings for sugar can be higher at this time. A great example of this would be chocolate-coated stuffed dates.

Nourishing yourself throughout the month

It should be relatively easy to predict when your next period is coming, but it is important to track your cycle using a mobile app, calendar, or diary. This makes it easier to spot any changes to your individual, personal cycle. The easiest way to start tracking is to record when your period starts (when you start to bleed) and ends (when bleeding stops), plus any symptoms you experience throughout your cycle. In this way, you will start to recognise patterns in your body’s response to the different phases of the cycle, and get familiar with how to best support yourself. 

If you feel stuck or overwhelmed, the simplest way to maintain a nourishing diet that keeps you and your hormones happy is to focus on abundance.  Don’t feel you have to over-complicate things!  Enjoy meals rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and beans; snack on nuts and seeds, and make sure you’re drinking plenty of water. Anyone who is having periods should ensure normal levels of vitamin D (7), vitamin B12 (if you follow a completely plant-based diet, you should take a B12 supplement), and iron. These nutrients support a healthy menstrual cycle. 

It’s also key to remember that everyone’s menstrual cycle is different: what is normal for you might not be normal for someone else. Getting familiar with your cycle, both in its  timings and the way you feel, will help you to spot changes early and consult your GP as needed.

Rohini Bajekal, Nutritionist and Board-Certified Lifestyle Medicine Professional (MA Oxon MSc Dip IBLM)


1. NHS Choices (2019). Periods and fertility in the menstrual cycle - Periods. [online] NHS. Available at:

2. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 651: Menstruation in Girls and Adolescents: Using the Menstrual Cycle as a Vital Sign. (2015). Obstetrics and gynecology, 126(6), e143–e146.

3. Tabari, N. S., Kheirkhah, M., Mojab, F., & Salehi, M. (2020). An Investigation of the Effect of Curcumin (Turmeric) Capsule on the Severity and Duration of Dysmenorrhea in Students of Iran University of Medical Sciences. Journal of Evolution of Medical and Dental Sciences, 9(46), 3445+.

4. Ozgoli, G., Goli, M., & Moattar, F. (2009). Comparison of effects of ginger, mefenamic acid, and ibuprofen on pain in women with primary dysmenorrhea. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 15(2), 129–132.

5. A Practical Guide for Dietitians: Other Sources of Iron. (n.d.). British Dietetic Association. Retrieved July 28, 2023, from https://www.bda.

6.  NHS (2019). PMS (premenstrual syndrome). [online] NHS. Available at:

7. Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) (July 2016) Vitamin D and Health Accessed July 2016.

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