Bothered by premenstrual moodiness, irritation, the blues or anxiety–and get cravings for carbohydrates? Go ahead and indulge! Women who eat more carbs during their pre-period week have fewer bothersome premenstrual symptoms than those who eat little to none, several studies show (such as this, this, this and this).
That’s because carbohydrates help form tryptophan, which is a building block of serotonin–a neurotransmitter that improves mood and sleep quality. Carbs also provide a good source of fuel for your brain, revving alertness and sharpening memory.
Worried that just reading the word “carbs” will make you need to loosen your waistband? Well, carbs come in different forms:
There’s the kind that comes with lots of sugar or lacks beneficial nutrients and fiber, like doughnuts, cookies and white pasta. Obviously, these aren’t the kind of carbs you want to load up on on a daily basis. Sure, they give you a quick mood boost because they hit your bloodstream fast and trigger reward sensations in the brain. However, they can take the place of more nutritious foods filled with vitamins and minerals that can also help ease premenstrual woes. Plus, they can cause weight gain, bloating and acne that can worsen your pre-period week. These high-sugar/low-fiber carbs can also end up making you blue, tired and hungry by causing your insulin to rapidly spike and fall.
Then there are the healthier carbs that are starchy and full of fiber, such as beans, peas, lentils, potatoes, nuts, seeds, whole fruits, whole vegetables and whole grain oats, barley and rice. These pack a one-two punch against PMS troubles: Not only do they help the brain produce more tryptophan, they’re filled with magnesium, vitamin B6 and other nutrients that are proven to slash premenstrual symptoms. More bonuses: All that fiber helps counter premenstrual constipation. Plus, it makes you feel fuller longer and stabilizes blood sugar levels, making these foods good companions to many weight loss plans. Clearly these are the kinds of carbs you want to fill your plate with on pre-period days.
Tip: Carbohydrates are more readily absorbed when they don’t compete with protein (such as meat, fish and dairy) in the brain. So, for the biggest PMS-busting punch, consider having one regular daily meal that consists mainly of healthy carbs–such as fresh fruit and cooked rolled oats for breakfast or whole grain rice and steamed veggies for dinner–during your premenstrual week.