11 Diet Changes That Help You Fight PMS

Limit salt and caffeine to control moodiness, bloating
woman eating yogurt parfait for health benefits

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can hit you out of nowhere. You can feel irritated, bloated or just plain tired. Just when you think there isn’t much you can do to keep it under control, think again.

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Exercise and a healthy diet are just a couple natural ways you can keep PMS at bay, says Ob/Gyn Linda Bradley, MD. “Exercising and eating right can control the bloating, depression, irritability and mood changes associated with PMS.” 

Dr. Bradley recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week or 75 minutes of intense aerobic activity per week, along with these 11 dietary shifts:

  1. Reduce salt. Cook your own food rather than eating fast food or processed food because salt, like sugar, is hidden in a thousand places. Try to deli meat, canned soup, pizza and sodium-filled bread. Eating less salt is particularly recommended for patients with bloating, breast tenderness or swollen hands. 
  2. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Focus on leafy greens. You want to eat from the rainbow of different types and colors for more nutrients. Vegetables like kale, turnip greens or Swiss chard are rich in iron and B vitamins, which can help ward off fatigue. Try sautéing the greens in olive oil and sprinkling in some fresh minced garlic, chopped onion and a splash of balsamic vinegar.
  3. Drink plenty of water. Fill up on that good old H20. Dr. Bradley recommends that women drink at least 64 ounces of water daily to help reduce bloating and aid in digestion. Don’t like the taste of water? Flavor your water with lemons, limes or cucumber slices. Don’t be afraid to get creative with your water.   
  4. Eat more calcium/low–fat dairy. One study suggests that calcium supplements are an effective method for reducing mood disorders during PMS. Eating more calcium — in foods like yogurt, milk, soy products and low-fat cheese — can reduce a variety of PMS symptoms, too.
  5. Get your vitamin D. Besides supplements, vitamin D is found naturally in foods like sardines, oysters and salmon. One study reported that upping your vitamin D can help reduce PMS symptoms.
  6. Snack on nuts. Instead of reaching for a bag of chips or that candy bar, snack on unsalted, raw nuts. Nuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and help you feel full longer, not to mention they have a plethora of heart benefits. Try a variety of nuts like pecans, walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts. To maximize your benefits, try sprinkling them on veggie-filled salads, too.
  7. Eat complex carbs. Foods that have complex carbohydrates consist of three or more natural sugars and are rich in fiber. These foods enter the bloodstream gradually, causing only a moderate rise in insulin levels, which can help stabilize your mood and keep your cravings under control. Try sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, lentils, potatoes and unprocessed oats.
  8. Eat whole grains. Swap any processed grains for whole grains such as whole-grain bread, pasta, cereal and brown rice. Shifting levels of estrogen and progesterone can decrease amounts of serotonin in the brain, which can affect your mood and trigger depression, anxiety or irritability. 
  9. Limit alcohol. While it’s tempting to have a drink to help you relax, the reality is that alcohol can disrupt your sleep. The effect could result in sleeping too much or have trouble sleeping. 
  10. Limit caffeine. Too much caffeine can also disrupt sleep and contribute to PMS symptoms, too. Try to have your last cup of coffee about four to six hours before you hit the hay for the night.
  11. Eat iron-rich foods such as lean meats. You need to increase iron intake before and during your period to replace what you lose each month. A diet that includes iron-rich foods like lean cuts of meat may help you avoid anemia. While cooking, make sure to cut away any excess fat. The good news is that if you eat red meat, you should get enough iron from your food. If you’re a vegan, or just don’t like red meat, ask your doctor about taking an iron supplement.

When natural ways don’t work

In some cases, eating right and exercising aren’t enough to help women. If you’ve tried natural ways to help with your PMS, your doctor may recommend fluoxetine (Prozac®) or other serotonin-enhancing medications.

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“Sometimes, women say they have PMS when, in fact, they are depressed,” says Dr. Bradley. “But with PMS sufferers, as soon as their period starts, they feel better. When someone who tells me every day of the month they’re feeling depressed, that is not PMS. But sometimes, that’s an easier word than saying they’re depressed.”​

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