Most women tend to think about their monthly cycle in a very binary way. You’re either menstruating or you’re not. What’s more, we think that uncomfortable periods and painful PMS are normal because they’re so common.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Your monthly cycle is actually divided into four distinct stages, and each phase of your cycle has it’s own set of dietary needs. Most women have no idea that they can dramatically and positively impact their cycle with some simple dietary changes. Are you eating the right foods to support your cycle?

The four stages of your monthly cycle

Do you think your period is the “end” of your cycle? The opposite is actually true. In fact, the first day of your period is actually the first day of your menstrual cycle. In order to know which foods to eat during each phase, let’s take a look at the four distinct stages of your cycle, beginning with menstruation.

Phase #1: The bleeding phase, or menstruation

  • Your body during menstruation

On the first day of your period, the hormone progesterone dramatically drops and this is what causes the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) to shed. In other words, you get your period. For most women, menstruation takes about three to seven days. And this is a time to slow down, rest up and relax.

  • What to eat during menstruation

During menstruation, a woman’s body releases a lot of blood, and with that, a high amount of iron and magnesium. And since most women run the risk of being deficient in both of these essential minerals, women can become even more depleted when they have their periods.

Alisa Vitti is the founder of Flo Living, an organization that empowers women to regain control of their bodies and their cycles via nutrition and functional medicine. Vitti recommends the following foods to boost your magnesium levels during menstruation:

  • Dark, leafy greens, such as spinach or Swiss chard
  • Root vegetables, like beets, sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin and carrots
  • Sesame seeds
  • Avocado
  • Almonds
  • Dark chocolate

These five foods can help you increase magnesium levels without eating an unappealing salad – you get to eat chocolate.

When it comes to iron-rich foods, try to incorporate these into your meals:

  • Seaweed, especially in a warm bowl of soup
  • Liquid chlorophyll
  • Grass-fed, organic beef
  • Lentils
  • Spinach

Phase #2: The follicular phase

  • Your body during the follicular phase

This phase is like a long connecting bridge between menstruation and ovulation. It begins on day one of your cycle and goes until ovulation. During this phase, the Follicle Stimulating Hormone, gets released, and estrogen and testosterone levels increase, too.

As you can probably infer, this hormone helps the ovarian follicles to mature – between five to 20, to be precise. These tiny cysts each contain an immature egg, and one of them will mature for the next phase.

During the follicular phase, you feel more energetic, have a higher libido, and aren’t as afraid to put yourself out there and take risks.

  • What to eat during the follicular phase

Viti suggests incorporating more sprouted and fermented foods into your diet. These foods can help your body metabolize estrogen. And when it comes to the top fermented foods for a healthy diet, consider some of Dr. Axe’s recommendations:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Bean and broccoli sprouts
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Yogurt or kefir
  • Miso
  • Natto
  • Tempeh
  • Pickles

You don’t have to go crazy with these fermented foods. In fact, it’s probably best if you incorporate small amounts so you don’t offset the gut flora in your digestive system. You can add a small serving of any of these foods into your meals to support your follicular phase.

During your monthly cycle, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes in your body and you can support your body for a healthier, more energetic experience. Stay tuned for our follow-up post to learn about the top foods to eat during the last two phases of your cycle.

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