Eat These 5 Food to Ease Your PMS Symptoms

Good news: Chocolate is on the list!

pms-symptons-dark-chocolate
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Fatigue, acne, bloating, cravings, mood swings—sound painfully familiar? PMS can trigger a slew of physical and emotional symptoms a week or two before your period starts. More than 90% of women say they get some premenstrual symptoms, according to the Office on Women's Health.

But here's the good news: Your diet may help ease your discomfort. You may already be cutting back on sodium, sugar, and alcohol—all of which can make PMS feel worse. But did you know that eating certain foods can help alleviate symptoms? Here are five picks (including chocolate!) for that time of the month.

Avocado

If bloating, cravings, and muscle cramps are among your usual PMS symptoms, load up on avocado. This good-fat food contains potassium, a mineral that acts as a natural diuretic, sweeping excess sodium and fluid out of your body. Potassium also helps protect against muscle cramps, and it boosts feelings of satiety, so you'll be less inclined to over-nibble.

Kitchen prep: Whip avocado into a fruit smoothie, add it to an omelet or salad, snack on raw veggies dipped in guacamole, or add diced avocado to pico de gallo and toss it on veggies, fish, or beans. Or, just slice an avocado in half, sprinkle with a little lime juice and turmeric, and dig in with a spoon.

Beets and Beet Greens

A key 2011 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which tracked more than 3,000 women for 10 years, found a lower PMS risk among those with high intakes of vitamins B1 and B2. Most significant is that this held true only for people who got the vitamins from food, not supplements.

Beet root and beet greens contain both B1 and B2. And, just one cup of the root supplies about a third of your daily folate needs. Too little folate has been known to trigger mental fatigue, forgetfulness, confusion, and insomnia. (FYI: several common medications can deplete folate in the body, including birth control pills.) Fortunately, beets are in season year-round.

Kitchen prep: Boil the greens, cool, then sauté over low heat in olive oil, with garlic, sea salt, and black pepper. They make a delicious side dish or bed for fish, chicken, or white beans. Eat the beet bulbs raw to optimize their nutrients. Peel, shred, and sprinkle them onto a salad, or whip chopped raw beets into a smoothie. They're naturally sweet and will add a gorgeous hue to your food.

Sardines

Low serum levels of calcium and vitamin D were found to cause or exacerbate the symptoms of PMS, according to a 2019 review of 28 papers published in Obstetrics & Gynecology Science. Sardines contain both of these nutrients, along with omega-3 fatty acids, which may help reduce PMS-induced bloating, headaches, breast tenderness, depression, nervousness, anxiety, and lack of concentration, according to a 2013 study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine.

Kitchen prep: Roast them on a baking sheet, and chop and toss with steamed veggies. Serve over a bed of roasted spaghetti squash and fresh chopped basil.

Pulses

A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that women with higher intakes of non-heme iron, the type found in plant-based foods, had a lower risk of PMS symptoms compared to those with the lowest intakes. A top source of non-heme iron is pulses—the umbrella term for beans, lentils, and peas (like chickpeas and split peas). Pulses are also full of fiber, another key remedy for PMS which helps regulate blood sugar and insulin levels. Just a half cup of cooked black beans packs over seven grams of fiber, about a third of the minimum daily target.

If you're concerned about extra gas and bloating, research such as this 2019 study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition shows that soaking and cooking beans before eating them can significantly decrease their raffinose content (a type of non-digestible carbohydrate also found in foods like cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts). This process may help prevent gas production in the colon and subsequent flatulence.

Kitchen prep: Up your intake by adding chickpeas or black beans to an omelet or salad. Or reach for hummus with raw veggies as a snack. You can also trade your usual grain for lentils at dinner, or make a meatless meal with pulses as the star ingredient.

Dark Chocolate

It's true! Dark chocolate alleviates PMS symptoms in several ways. First, its antioxidants trigger the walls of your blood vessels to relax, lowering blood pressure and improving circulation. This treat also contains magnesium, a mineral that has been found to help alleviate PMS symptoms including bloating, fatigue, depression, and irritability. Finally, as a 2022 study published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry shows, dark chocolate consumption positively influences the emotional status of healthy adults through the gut-brain relationship.

Kitchen prep: Enjoy a few squares without any distractions (that means no phone, no TV) as part of daily "you time." Think of it as chocolate meditation. Or chop and sprinkle dark chocolate into oatmeal or Greek yogurt along with fresh fruit. Whip it into a smoothie (try dark chocolate, ripe pear, fresh grated ginger, and almond or coconut milk). Or melt and drizzle over fresh berries. You're welcome.

Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's Health's contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Yankees, previously consulted for three other professional sports teams, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Sass is a three-time New York Times best-selling author, and her newest book is Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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