Dana James featured in Elle.com
With a few easy diet hacks, that time of the month could be your best (and prettiest!) ever. Here, experts reveal the miracle foods that are scientifically proven to reduce the symptoms of PMS. BY VICTORIA DAWSON HOFF
Water retention is usually exacerbated by dehydration, since your body then tries to hold on to what little water content it has. The best way to combat this, in addition to chugging as much H2O as possible, is to fill up on fruits and veggies with a high water and fiber content. Nutritionist Dana James, MS, CNS, CDN recommends cucumbers, “they’re loaded with potassium and this acts as a natural diuretic to decrease bloating and swelling,” she says. She also recommends citrus fruits like grapefruit and lemon. Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN also touts dandelion greens, which also act as a natural diuretic. Finally, keep salt intake to a minimum.
“Dark green leafy veggies are a good source of vitamin A, which may help maintain a good complexion, and adequate hydration is critical for good skin any time of month,” says Rebecca Blake, MS, RD, CDN, and clinical director of nutrition at Mount Sinai in NYC. James suggests focusing on orange fruits in particular like papaya, apricot, and peaches. “The yellow pigments in these summer fruits help to increase skin cell turnover to decrease breakouts caused by excess oiliness from hormonal changes,” she says. Sprinkle that fruit with some cinnamon, which is a natural anti-inflammatory and can help stabilize blood sugar levels that might trigger breakouts. She also recommends artichokes, which can help keep your digestive flora in check. “A healthy microbiome means radiant, clean skin!”
Finally, they’re best known as a notorious aphrodisiac, but Glassman notes that oysters can also put our skin in a good mood. “The high zinc content decreases oxidative damage and may keep your skin clear of irritants,” she says.
Cramps are essentially muscle spasms, so soothing and relaxing those muscles is key to finding relief. Sadly there isn’t a lot that can be done through diet alone, but just like a heating pad can be hugely helpful, heating your body from the inside out can make a difference. Start with a mug of hot mint tea, since mint also has an antispasmodic effect on muscles and has been shown to soothe cramps, advises James. She also recommends a simple, nourishing bowl of warm soup—”it may be psychosomatic, but if you get cramps you know this makes you feel better,” she says. Glassman adds that tossing in some grated ginger could provide some additional relief, thanks to its warming and anti-inflammatory properties. Also consider taking a calcium supplement, since some studies suggest that keeping levels high can help to dull menstrual pain as well as other PMS symptoms.
And while crankiness and exhaustion might tempt you to drown yourself in caffeine, note that the acidity in coffee tends can cause gas and digestive pain—so, cramps on cramps. But! Keep reading to find out how to boost your mood so that your cup of joe won’t even be necessary.
“Nuts, spinach, and eggs are high in non-heme iron, which is found in anything other than animal meat, and can keep hormones at bay,” says Glassman. Nuts are also rich in fatty acids, which Blake notes can also help improve mood. “Fatty acids can also help mitigate the irritability by flattening peaks and dips in blood sugar levels,” she adds.
James recommends spaghetti squash and blue potatoes. “Spaghetti squash mildly stimulates insulin which helps to transport tryptophan into the brain so that it can be converted to serotonin to boost the mood,” she says. “Potatoes help to activate serotonin in the brain, and the anthocyanins—aka the blue pigment— help protect the neurons from damage so that the brain can listen better to serotonin, making you feel less irritable.”
Filling up on omega-3 fatty acids can also help reduce puffiness and inflammation, in addition to giving your mood a boost. Again, salmon and nuts are great sources, and avocado toast is also a tasty option if you’re also looking for a carb fix. “Avocado is rich in vitamin E, which has been shown to reduce breast tenderness by decreasing the prostaglandins that exacerbate swelling,” says James. Pumpkin seeds also have a similar effect. “They’re abundant in both zinc and magnesium as well as anti-inflammatory omega-6s, which all help to regulate hormone levels that trigger breast tenderness,” she adds.
Finally, edamame is a great way to get your fill of unprocessed soy, which has been shown to help specifically with breast tenderness in premenstrual women.