Are you confident, clear-headed, and physically fit throughout the month, then suddenly tearful, muttled and uncoordinated the week before your period? At the same time, are you powerless to chocolate or doughnuts? Don’t worry, you’re not crazy, nor do your problems stem from a willpower shortage. Instead, you, along with up to 90% of women, might suffer from Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). The good news is the “grin-and-bear-it” approach to managing PMS that prevailed in the days when PMS was considered “all-in-your-head,” has been replaced with a “take charge” approach that begins with eating right.
Cravings for sweet-and-creamy foods, such as ice cream, chocolate and cookies, are at an all-time high during PMS, with daily sugar intake increasing to 20 teaspoons or more.
Insufficient amounts of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain, might contribute to fatigue, poor concentration, spaciness, sleep disturbances, pain intolerance, food cravings, and other PMS-related symptoms. Carbohydrate-rich foods, such as starches and sweets, raise brain serotonin levels and improve mood.
Turning to cookies, ice cream or other sweet-and-creamy foods, however, might not solve your problems. The fat in these foods slows down digestion and interferes with the serotonin effect. To maximize serotonin levels and mood, eat a low-fat, carbohydrate-rich snack, such as honey on an English muffin or all-fruit jam on toast, on an empty stomach.
Fiber, Fat and Hormones
An imbalance in the female hormones – estrogen and progesterone – might be a contributing factor in PMS. A high-fiber diet enhances estrogen excretion and, thus, might improve hormonal balance and PMS symptoms.
While chowing down on fibrous vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes, cut back on saturated fat. The fats in meat and fatty dairy products raise blood levels of the female hormone estrogen, which might be at the root of many PMS symptoms. Substituting more fillet of sole (or better yet, legumes and tofu) for less filet mignon would help cut back on your saturated fat intake and might improve PMS symptoms.
Popping Pills for PMS
The vitamin-and-mineral poor diets of some women might contribute to PMS, while symptoms often improve when these women switch from a highly processed diet to a nutrient-packed diet.
The two most promising dietary links with PMS are calcium and magnesium. Women with PMS typically consume calcium-poor diets. Increasing calcium intake to 1,300mg to 1,600mg (the equivalent of 4 to 5 servings of milk or other calcium-rich foods) reduces PMS symptoms, such as mood and concentration problems, pain and water retention. Increasing your intake of magnesium-rich foods, i.e., nuts, wheat germ, bananas, and green leafy vegetables, also may reduce the frequency and severity of headaches associated with PMS.
Evidence for the usefulness of other vitamins and minerals is inconclusive. Low blood levels of iron, the B vitamins and zinc sometimes are found in women suffering from depression, mood swings, poor concentration and breast pain, indicating there may be a relationship between diet and PMS, especially with iron, but it is too soon to make recommendations. Vitamin B6 might help curb moodiness, headaches, and bloating, but the evidence is sketchy at best. Vitamin E shows promise in lessening some PMS symptoms, including breast tenderness, bloating and weight gain. However, the link between vitamin E and PMS is speculative, leaving women in the dark as to whether or not to supplement.
The 8-Step Diet Plan for PMS
Nutrition is your first line of defense against PMS. With the following guidelines, you should note improvements in PMS symptoms within one to two months.
1) Eat small, frequent meals and plan a carbohydrate-rich snack for your crave-prone time of the day.
2) Limit your intake of processed sugars and satisfy chocolate cravings with small amounts of low-fat, sugar-free chocolate foods.
3) Consume at least 4 servings daily of low-fat, calcium-rich foods, such as low-fat milk and yogurt.
4) Limit fat intake, but include 1 to 2 tablespoons of safflower oil in the daily diet.
5) Limit salt to minimize swelling and breast tenderness from fluid retention.
6) Consume at least 10 servings daily of fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains and/or legumes.
7) Avoid caffeine, alcohol and tobacco.
8) Consider taking a well-balanced, moderate-dose vitamin and mineral supplement that contains 100 percent of the Daily Value for magnesium, iron, zinc and the B-complex vitamins, and no more than 400IU of vitamin E.