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Can changing your diet help relieve your PMS symptoms?

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Your brain says chocolate, but your body may benefit from healthier options.

woman laying on the couch

For most women who get their periods, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is inevitable. In fact, over 90 percent of women say they experience one or more PMS symptoms, whether they’re physical, like uncomfortable bloating and cramping, or emotional, like mood swings.

There are already many proven ways to ease PMS symptoms. For physical symptoms like cramps or backaches, you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever like Advil to soothe the pain. A good workout can help manage symptoms like depression, difficulty concentrating, and fatigue, while getting enough sleep each night can prevent your emotional PMS symptoms from getting worse.

Another thing you may want to try? Paying attention to your diet. Just like certain foods can keep you full longer or help with your energy, some foods and nutrients may help ease PMS symptoms. Below are a bunch of science-backed dietary changes you can try that might do the trick. (Plus, they’re good for your body in general, so it’s a win-win either way.)

Plant-Based Foods

A small study found that a low-fat vegetarian diet was found to reduce the duration and intensity of dysmenorrhea (the medical term for menstrual cramps) and premenstrual symptoms related to behavioral change, bloating, and concentration. The researchers suggested that dietary influences—like eliminating animal fats and focusing on fiber-rich plant-based foods—could influence how much estrogen the body produces (FYI: Fluctuating estrogen levels can affect PMS symptoms). Plus, eating fiber-rich foods can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your risk for heart disease and diabetes. If you’re not up for going vegetarian just for the sake of your menstrual cycle, that’s totally fine; just be sure to add in more plant-based foods before and during your period. (Think: whole-wheat pasta with sautéed broccoli and tomatoes instead of a pepperoni pizza.)

Foods Rich in Calcium and Vitamin D

Aside from being important for bone health, a high intake of calcium and vitamin D—around four servings per day—may reduce the risk of PMS, researchers found in one study. Make sure you’re getting enough calcium from like yogurt and skim or low-fat milk (or topping that veggie pasta with plenty of parm). If you’re sensitive to dairy, you can get calcium from fortified orange juice, vegetables like kale and bok choy, and even tofu. And you can find vitamin D in fish like salmon and tuna, or fortified in products like plant milk alternatives, yogurt, and cereals.

Foods with Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is a nutrient that’s essential for your nervous and immune system function, and may also relieve PMS symptoms like moodiness, irritability, forgetfulness, bloating, and anxiety. It’s easy to find this vitamin in whole foods like fish, poultry, potatoes, fruit (but not citrus fruits), and fortified cereals.

Foods that Provide Fatty Acids

You can also consider filling your plate up with healthy fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6. In one study, participants who took a supplement with one to two grams of polyunsaturated fatty acids saw an improvement in PMS symptoms. Not to mention, fatty acids—particularly omega-3—are beneficial for heart health, and omega-6 can help maintain your cholesterol and blood sugar levels. You can find these kinds of fatty acids in foods like flaxseed, nuts, fish, and green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale.

Foods with Magnesium

Speaking of green leafy veggies, those are also rich in magnesium. One study found that this mineral could be effective in reducing PMS symptoms, especially if you’re prone to menstrual migraines. Magnesium is also crucial for muscle development, bone, and heart health. It’s also easy to get magnesium from nuts, whole grains, and fortified cereals.

What Foods to Avoid

It’s not just about what you should add to your diet; certain foods can make PMS symptoms worse. A recent study found that drinking sodas and eating meat were risk factors for menstrual cramps. Salt and caffeine can also exacerbate PMS symptoms—salt causes your body to retain fluid, which can cause bloating, breast swelling, and pain, while drinking too much caffeine can cause irritability, poor sleep, and menstrual cramps. All the more reason to curl up with a nice cup of tea and a blanket; while there’s no study on it, we hear the cozier the blanket, the better you’ll feel.