Leafy green vegetables
According to Dr. Christine O'Connor of The Gynecology Center, leafy greens (think kale or Swiss chard) can benefit your body several ways during that time of the month. Not only are they rich in iron and B vitamins; their high fiber count also can help with digestive issues often associated with your menstrual cycle.
Another food to aid your period-related digestive problems is fruit. Stock up on your favorite fresh fruit before your flow begins to ensure a healthy digestive system.
Just like fruit, the fiber in whole grains can help you stay regular, especially during your period. Whole grains also include complex carbohydrates, which provide important vitamins and minerals.
It's important to increase your iron intake during your period to make up for what's lost each month. "A diet high in iron helps avoid anemia and symptoms that can go along with it," said Dr. Sharon R. Thompson of Central Phoenix Obstetrics and Gynecology. "Women who eat red meat will be able to get sufficient iron from food." However, if you're not a meat-eater, Dr. Thompson recommends taking a supplement to maintain adequate iron stores.
In addition to a healthy diet, Alyssa Dweck, MD, recommends regular aerobic exercise, yoga, meditation and breathing exercises to help alleviate period symptoms.
Foods to avoid
As tempting as those freshly baked cookies are, it's best to resist your period-induced urges.
"Many women have the urge to snack on junk food and empty calories," Dr. O'Connor explained. "This ends up not being nutritionally filling, and can lead to an uncomfortable, bloated feeling."
In addition, Dr. O'Connor recommends steering clear of foods and beverages with high sodium content, which can also contribute to bloating.
Every woman is different
Dr. Thompson points out that it's important to keep in mind that every woman is different. "There can be a lot of variation among women in terms of how foods affect their symptoms," she said. "For example, some women may notice that decreased salt intake reduces bloating with menses, while for other women, this makes no significant difference. The same is true for mood symptoms, pain with menses, amount of menstrual flow, etc."