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Eating to Support Your Cycle

Eating to Support Your Cycle

If you want to learn about a woman, study her menstrual cycle. No, really: length, hormone levels, symptoms, and many more factors can be key data points to understand underlying health issues that seem to be unrelated to reproduction. In fact, the state of a woman’s cycle is considered to be a sign of vitality, and can be measured once a woman begins to menstruate.  This is why it is so important to eat to support your cycle.

There are many ways to approach supporting a woman’s cycle. This post will focus on a holistic approach aimed at using foods to rebalance the interplay of vital hormones that, when in harmony, can bring a woman to a new level of balance and overall health.

First, let’s take a trip back to middle school health class. I know, this is probably not one of your favorite memories, but bear with me. Though everyone is unique, a typical woman’s menstrual cycle begins with the menstrual phase in which the endometrial lining sheds for around 3-5 days. This kicks off the follicular phase (days 6-15) in which the follicle produces a high level of estrogen with low levels of progesterone. This causes the body to release GnRH, FSH and LH. The peak of LH stimulates ovulation (the release of an egg) around day 14. At that point, we enter the luteal phase (days 15-28) in which progesterone levels peak and work with estrogen to build and maintain the endometrial lining. If the released egg is not fertilized and implanted, the endometrial lining sheds in menstruation, beginning the next cycle.

Food to Support the Menstrual Cycle

Here are some key nutrients and accompanying recipes to consider incorporating into your diet to support specific phases of your cycle.

Foods to Support the Menstrual Phase (days 1-5):

This is a time for nourishing and resting. Eating iron-rich, anti-inflammatory foods can support this phase in which there is excess bleeding and higher levels of inflammation. Vitamin K deficiency can be a cause of heavy bleeding; if this is your case, consider including it in your diet or supplement regimen.

If you have low iron and need to supplement, it’s important to use whole food forms such as Floradix, to prevent constipation.

  • Iron-rich foods: red meats, fish, poultry, shellfish, eggs, liver, pork, legumes, whole grains, dried fruits, leafy green vegetables
  • Vitamin K-rich foods: leafy green vegetables, liver, egg yolks, lard, hard cheeses from pastured animals
  • Avoid inflammatory foods, such as refined carbohydrates, fried foods, soda, and sugar
  • Vegetables: beets, kale, kelp, mushrooms


Foods to Support the Follicular Phase (days 6-14):

This is a time of preparation for the body. At this phase, estrogen is high as luteinizing hormone increases to eventually bring about ovulation (the release of an egg). As the follicle matures, it’s best to prioritize nutrient-dense foods. Prioritizing Omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce levels of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), which research shows can help prevent diagnoses such as PCOS. Magnesium is an important nutrient to incorporate, since it is at its lowest in the follicular phase.

  • Omega-3 rich foods: fatty fish (salmon), nuts, seeds, avocado, eggs, plant-based oils (olive and avocado)
  • Magnesium-rich foods: nuts, legumes, whole grains, dark green vegetables, seafood, seaweed, chocolate/cocoa, hard water/mineral water
  • Vegetables: artichoke, broccoli, carrot, parsley, green peas, string beans, zucchini


Foods to Support Ovulation (days 14-18):

This is a time of peak fertility, in which the body is most open to generating life in a particular way. Timing and length vary by individual, and this phase overlaps with the luteal phase. As hormones exit from the follicular phase, it’s best to boost detoxification pathways.. Antioxidant-rich foods, probiotics, and fiber can support this phase.

  • Antioxidant-rich foods: berries, bell peppers, brussels sprouts, spinach
  • Detox: dandelion, turmeric, green tea, flaxseed
  • Probiotics: sauerkraut, kefir, coconut yogurt, miso
  • Vegetables: asparagus, brussels sprouts, chard, escarole, scallion, spinach


Foods to Support the Luteal Phase (days 14-28):

This is a time of work for the body – and can also be a time of premenstrual symptoms. To avoid those, support the detox pathways and increase magnesium-rich foods and high-quality protein to support sleep. It’s important to avoid sugar and excess carbohydrates at this phase especially since both can exacerbate premenstrual symptoms.

  • Magnesium-rich foods: nuts, legumes, whole grains, dark green vegetables, seafood, seaweed, chocolate/cocoa, hard water/mineral water
  • High-quality protein: animal meat proteins, collagen protein powders, eggs, rice and beans, quinoa
  • Vegetables: cauliflower, collard greens, daikon, onion, parsnip, radish, squash, sweet potato


By now hopefully, you feel ready and armed with the knowledge, recipes, and tools to know what to eat to support your cycle!


About the author: Lisa Driscoll is a student at NTI’s Nutrition Therapist Master Program. Having studied journalism and vocal performance in undergrad, she enjoys using her voice to share the benefits of living a holistic, integrated lifestyle in writing. You can find more of her writing in the Baltimore Sun, Classical Singer MagazineCapital News Service, and FOCUS blog.

About Nutrition Therapy Institute’s Holistic Nutrition Certification

NTI is committed to creating optimal wellness through nutrition education.  We value our students and honor their desire to enact change within their own lives and the lives of others. Our curriculum is diverse and rigorous, covering the topics most needed to help understand how nutrition plays a role in the health challenges of today. Graduates from NTI are prepared with the knowledge and skills necessary to generate maximum impact on day one after graduation.  If you are ready to start making a difference in your community, you can apply for the Nutrition Therapist Master Certification program, or learn more by attending an informational webinar.


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