- To ease period cramps, you should eat a consistent diet of iron-rich leafy greens like spinach and kale, and omega-3 fatty acids like salmon.
- To get immediate relief from period cramps, you can eat foods like ginger and turmeric.
- Try to limit fried foods and caffeine or alcohol, as they may worsen period cramps.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Period cramps can be awful and often come with unpleasant symptoms like nausea or bloating. Most people reach for pain relievers or a heating pad when period cramps hit, but the foods you eat can also play a role in how bad your cramps feel. Many foods can help ease cramps, while others can actually make them worse.
Here are five foods that can help relieve period cramps and three that you’ll want to avoid.
Foods to eat when you have period cramps
Period cramps occur when the cells that line your uterus break down before being shed through menstruation. As they break down, these endometrial cells release inflammatory compounds called prostaglandins that trigger the muscles in your uterus to contract.
These muscle contractions are what you’re feeling when period cramps hit. But the foods you eat can relieve cramps by providing important nutrients that relieve inflammation or stop these muscle contractions.
Foods like ginger and turmeric act quickly on your body, so you only need to eat them during your period to ease cramps. But foods with minerals like magnesium or iron work best if you eat them regularly throughout your cycle, says Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, a registered dietitian practicing in Ohio.
Here’s how to incorporate different foods into your diet to relieve menstrual cramps:
Because your blood is rich in iron, when you lose blood during your period, your body is also losing iron. For women of reproductive age, losing blood during your period is the most common cause of iron deficiency.
When your iron levels are low, you are more likely to have painful cramps during your period, because iron helps your red blood cells to bring oxygen to your muscles. So building up iron levels with foods like leafy greens is especially important.
Some of the best greens to boost your iron levels are:
- Spinach: 2.7mg per 100 grams, 15% of recommended daily intake (RDI)
- Swiss chard: 1.8mg per 100 grams, 10% of RDI
- Kale: 1.7mg per 100 grams, 9% of RDI
In addition, leafy greens are high in phytochemicals, which are compounds in plants that may reduce inflammation, Andrews says. To get the best benefit from leafy greens, you should eat them consistently throughout your menstrual cycle.
6 science-backed health benefits of ginger and how to add it to your diet
“Ginger tea has been found to reduce abdominal cramps in the first few days of your period, when menstrual cramps are often at their worst,” Andrews says.
This is because ginger fights inflammation by slowing your body’s production of inflammatory chemicals like prostaglandins. Ginger may also help reduce nausea that can sometimes come along with period cramps.
You don’t need to eat ginger throughout the month – you only need it once your period starts. Andrews recommends making a soothing ginger tea by taking peeled, fresh ginger and steeping it in hot water with lemon.
Omega-3 fatty acids
“Fatty fish like salmon or sardines are a good source of omega-3-fatty acids,” Andrews says. Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce the pain of period cramps and may even work better than ibuprofen.
6 science-backed benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and how to add more to your diet
Omega-3 fatty acids fight cramps by helping to cancel out the effects of omega-6 fatty acids, which can cause inflammation and trigger pain. It works best if you get some in your diet every day of the month, not just during your period.
If you don’t eat fish, Andrews says that walnuts, chia seeds and ground flaxseed are good vegan sources of omega-3-fatty acids.
Chocolate may help relieve period cramps, but which type of chocolate you buy matters. A small 2019 study found that dark chocolate helped to reduce cramps, but milk chocolate had no effect.
4 proven benefits of dark chocolate and the best way to eat it
Dark chocolate may help because it provides a dose of magnesium. Magnesium has been found to possibly reduce menstrual cramps, Andrews says. This is because magnesium can help relax the muscles in your uterus and stop painful contractions.
You should only eat a few squares of dark chocolate during your period to get relief from cramps.
“Turmeric, the popular yellow spice used in Indian cuisine, has anti-inflammatory properties and may aid in relieving cramps,” Andrews says.
We don’t yet have research on whether turmeric alone can treat cramps, but studies show that it can provide extra relief when you take it with other medications.
A small 2020 study found that turmeric may help non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications like mefenamic acid (Ponstel) to work better. This is because turmeric increases NSAIDs’ anti-inflammatory effects, making them more effective against period cramps.
6 health benefits of turmeric and how to add it to your diet
Turmeric can also help relax your muscles and prevent painful uterus contractions. You can add turmeric as a spice in your food, or add it to your ginger tea whenever you feel cramps start.
Foods to avoid
While some foods can help ease period cramps, others can actually trigger cramps or make cramps more painful. Here are some of the most important foods to avoid during your period.
“Fatty foods like fried foods or ice cream can initiate chemical reactions in the body that increase inflammation and pain,” Andrews says.
This is partly because eating animal fats and oils causes you to produce more estrogen, which in turn triggers your uterus to build up thicker walls. Having to shed thicker uterine walls during your period puts you at higher risk for cramps.
Caffeine and alcohol
You should also limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol before and during your period.
“Both have a diuretic effect, which means they make you pee more,” Andrews says. “This could lead to dehydration, thicker menstrual blood to pass, and worsening cramps.”
Your diet plays an important role in how you feel during your period. Many foods can help ease period cramps and symptoms like nausea or bloating, while some foods can make them worse.
Overall, it’s best to keep up a diet full of iron, magnesium, and anti-inflammatory compounds throughout your menstrual cycle to ease symptoms. But for a quicker fix, brewing a ginger and turmeric tea can help calm painful cramps fast.
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