In the days leading up to my period, I am ravenous. Insatiable, even.
My friends and I joke about the tell-tale signs that we’re on the cusp of menstruation. Two days out, without fail, I need a burger for lunch. Perhaps a steak later for dinner—extra salt. The day before, my mind wanders to sausage gravy, venison pie, and baked potatoes.
This is not a coincidence. Our bodies are intelligent beyond belief.
During our luteal phase, the phase after ovulation but prior to menstruation, our body is preparing for one of two scenarios: we’re pregnant or we’re about to start our period. Either scenario will require two things in spades: nutrients and minerals—particularly, iron.
Iron helps maintain healthy blood flow, volume, and even supports hormone health. It is essential to the uterine lining that sheds as a result of menstruation or becomes voluptuous to support and maintain embryo implantation and pregnancy. Because fetal development requires an abundance of iron, our bodies crave iron-rich foods. Our bodies also know that we deplete our iron stores during menstruation so we’re subconsciously proactive. Love that for us!
Heme iron, a more efficiently absorbed form of iron, is abundant in meat.
Foods high in heme iron:
- Chicken or beef liver
- Ground beef or bison
We can increase absorption rates by pairing iron-rich foods with acidic foods like citrus or vinegar. For example, oysters with mignonette (a vinegar-based sauce) or ground beef in a tomato sauce (an evidence-based reason to order the spaghetti bolognese). Hold the Parmesan cheese though. Dairy impairs iron absorption.
If you’re vegetarian or pescatarian, it’s slightly more challenging to bolster your iron intake before your period. It’s likely that you’ll experience amplified irritability or fatigue, which can be combated by taking an iron supplement.
Cravings are often tools.
The luteal phase presents metabolic and hormonal changes. Our blood sugar is impacted. When we slow down and listen to our bodies, we can usually hear exactly what we need—rest, nourishment, connection, or, perhaps, disconnection.
The same applies to food cravings. Craving chocolate, for example, can signify that we’re low in another essential mineral, magnesium. We should honor these cravings as messages that we need some nutritional support.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we eat three donuts because we’re about to start our period, and we’re craving something sweet. Instead, think of the sweet craving as a cry for complex carbs. Roast some sweet potato, pair it with some grilled chicken thighs, and see how you feel after. Have the donut for dessert, but chances are, you won’t be craving it anymore.
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