How to have a happy period
Lifestyle coach and nutritionist Naini Setalvad
Say goodbye to PMS and bloating at ‘that time of the month’.
Are you plagued with period pain, irritability, fatigue and chocolate cravings that turn you into a zombie for the week? The solution, say well known nutritionist and public speaker Naini Setalvad, could well lie in your diet. Ms. Setalvad learned the hard way the damage that poor eating habits and faulty food choices can do. “At one time my weight ballooned to 160 kilos,” she recalls. Countless crash and fad diets later, she realized the solution lay in food, “good, wholesome, nutritious foods; in short vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds.” Today a svelte 60 kilos she counsels hordes of patients that stream through her clinic daily. “There is no magic pill, whatever the ailment,” she says, adding, “Food is the blue print of your life and it’s your best friend when it comes to curing disease or lifestyle conditions.” Ultimately providing the right nutrition to your body can eliminate disease. And as far as Pre Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) is concerned, upgrading your diet is the first step to fighting the period blues. “By eating right you can boost your energy levels, beat cramps, banish moodiness, and much more,” she says.
While frequent or heavy blood loss, irregular bleeding or unusual levels of pain should be investigated by your doctor, minor discomfort can be easily managed by making some dietary changes, according to Setalvad. “The reason you suffer from mood swings and discomfort is because the body undergoes metabolic and hormonal changes that typically start mid-cycle or in the week before the period is due and then dissipate once menstruation begins.” These include backaches, headache, water retention, cramps, breast tenderness, irrational behavior, mood swings, anxiety, depression and poor concentration.
Replenish your iron levels.
Anemia is particularly common among Indian women, especially vegetarians who don’t always get the iron they need from their diets. This saps their energy and makes it difficult for them to concentrate. “If you have a particularly heavy flow it’s important to eat iron-fortified whole-grain cereals and squeeze lemon juice on all protein—including pulses, channa and rajma to improve iron absorption from food. Dried apricots, raisins, beetroot, soya beans, pumpkin seeds and dark leafy greens are also good sources of iron. If you’re a non-vegetarian, aim for least two servings of fish or chicken daily, especially when you’re having your periods.
Beat the bloat .
Studies show that Vitamin B6 rich foods counter premenstrual depression, lethargy, and water retention. “A bloated stomach, swollen fingers and toes and tender breasts are common problems during PMS,” says Setalvad. The trick is to eat your fill of leafy greens, sunflower seeds, walnuts and bananas, all good sources of Vitamin B6. Similarly, eating Vitamin E rich cold-pressed oils and wheat germ, almonds, flax seeds and avocadoes can reduce breast tenderness.
Boost your energy levels.
“You tend to crave chocolate and sweets when you’re having your period because your body is low on energy and craves simple sugars and simple carbs. “But a quick fix of sugar is the worst thing you can have to lift your mood,” says Setalvad. Instead, she suggests eating fiber-rich complex carbs to keep your energy levels up.” Take your pick of oatmeal, sweet potatoes, whole wheat pasta and brown rice. In fact, brown rice should be your fave food during PMS because it’s loaded with magnesium that prevents bloating. Plus it’s a natural diuretic.
Feel naturally cheerful.
The best way to do away with PMS irritability is to stock up on lentils (daals and spouts). Lentils are a rich source of complex carbs that boost serotonin levels in the brain and help you feel calm and relaxed. “They’re also loaded with fiber, protein and B vitamin Thiamin that soothe you for hours,” says Setalvad. Add it to salads, mix cooked daal with atta to make rotis or eat it with brown rice. “Chamomile herbal infusions are also excellent for reducing water retention and depression,” she adds.
Setalvad feels there’s been a sharp upswing in the number of women suffering from PMS, and one of the reasons is the presence of pollutants (chemicals and pesticides) in food. PMS is also related to the production of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone that control the monthly cycle. And the final consensus – both by orthodox and alternative medicine practitioners—is that PMS symptoms can be eased by a wholesome, low-fat diet devoid of preservatives, pesticides, additives, artificial color and caffeine. “It’s hard to abruptly stop drinking tea and coffee, but the best way to do it is gradually reduce the number of cups you drink and replace it with herbal infusions such as ginger, peppermint or green tea which have 50% less caffeine.”
Her final advice on beating PMS: “Eat small meals regularly to stabilize blood sugar levels. Avoid alcohol because it aggravates mood swings. And pamper your sweet tooth with an occasional til ladoo or magnesium and calcium rich-dried figs.”