How Can Diet Help with PMS and Painful Periods?
Purabi Gunjal (she/her)

Purabi Gunjal (she/her)

Jun 01Nutrition

How Can Diet Help with PMS and Painful Periods?

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

Premenstrual syndrome or PMS typically starts 1-2 weeks before your period begins. This condition, affecting more than 90% of menstruating people, comprises various emotional and physical symptoms. Although the exact reason for PMS is not yet clear, research suggests that it could be due to hormone fluctuations during the entire menstrual cycle. Depending on the phase of the period cycle, the female hormones estrogen and progesterone would either rise or fall. PMS is also known to affect serotonin levels, our well-being and happiness hormone.

Emotional symptoms of PMS include:

  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Appetite changes
  • Food cravings
  • Irritability or anger
  • Insomnia
  • Crying spells
  • Lack of concentration

Physical symptoms of PMS include:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Back pain
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Acne
  • Weight gain
  • Breast tenderness


Painful period

If you experience severe period pain and discomfort that interferes with your daily activities, it could be a sign of a painful period. In this case, you must consult a doctor to diagnose the cause of your painful period. The possible cause of severe cramping can be nutrient deficiencies or underlying conditions such as PCOS, endometriosis or fibroids.

Can your diet make a difference?

An unhealthy diet and lifestyle choices could intensify your PMS and pain during periods. However, every person will experience different combinations of symptoms in varying intensities. For some, period days would be like any other day. But for some, it would be severe and unbearable. Hence, nutritional advice and treatments will be based on your particular symptoms.

What should you eat during your period?

A general piece of advice would be to eat fresh, home-cooked food during your period. Avoid eating processed or packaged foods, salty and sugary foods, alcohol and excessive caffeine. If you experience any specific symptoms, certain diet additions and changes can help you.

If you experience pain anywhere

Whether it is abdominal cramps, lower back pain or headaches, these diet tips will help tackle all.

Water: Dehydration can be one reason for cramps, hence ensuring enough water intake is crucial.

Magnesium: Add a good amount of magnesium to your diet. It helps in relaxing the muscles, thus relieving the pain. Magnesium-rich sources include dark chocolate, unsweetened cocoa powder, all nuts like almonds, walnuts, cashews, and bananas.

Calcium: If you experience severe cramps, start incorporating calcium-rich foods in your diet 10-12 days before your period starts. Sesame seeds, ragi, yoghurt (curd), amaranth, broccoli are all good sources of calcium.

If you experience mood swings 

Going through mood swings, feeling irritated and angry are common PMS symptoms. You may continue to experience these symptoms once your period begins too. The following two foods can help you feel better.

Dark chocolate: It is a great mood lifter. It not only tastes good and satisfies your sweet cravings but also makes you feel good. Having 1-2 pieces of dark chocolate can improve your mood.

Bananas: Bananas are also beneficial in enhancing the mood and alleviating other PMS symptoms.

If you experience bloating 

Bloating can cause discomfort, pain and even loss of appetite. Some simple tips can help you reduce it.

Water and water-rich foods: Increasing your water intake can help you significantly reduce bloating. Apart from that, you can eat fruits and vegetables with a high water content such as all melons, strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes and bananas. Coconut water is also beneficial as it has a diuretic effect. These foods will help to flush out the excess water, thus reducing bloating and water retention in the body.

Avoid high-sodium foods: Sodium retains more water in the body so, you will feel more bloated. Hence, refrain from adding extra salt to your food. Also, avoid eating processed and packaged foods because they have a high amount of sodium content.

If you experience diarrhoea or upset stomach 

Do not eat any food outside or heavy foods if you have diarrhoea. Keep all your meals light and take plenty of fluids.

Probiotics and prebiotics: Probiotics and prebiotics help to keep the gut healthy; take enough of both. Good sources of probiotics are curd, kefir, kombucha, small amounts of homemade pickles, and probiotic supplements. All fruits, vegetables and whole grains are prebiotic foods.

Low-fibre foods: Eating low-fibre foods like rice, red pumpkin, bottle gourd, sweet potatoes, bananas will help reduce the loose motions. These foods delay gastric emptying, hence are beneficial to treat diarrhoea. Do not eat high fibrous foods like wheat or other millets.

Water: During diarrhoea, you lose a lot of water as well as electrolytes. Hence, consume a lot of water to replenish the fluids. If your diarrhoea is severe, you can have ORS too.

Sugar-free jelly, jam or gelatin: Jelly, jams or gelatin help in binding the stools in case of severe diarrhoea. But make sure they are sugar-free.

Avoid natural laxatives: You must avoid foods such as milk, papaya and other natural laxatives. Consuming these foods can worsen diarrhoea.

Avoid tea and coffee: Tea and coffee are dehydrating drinks. You already lose a lot of water from the body when suffering from diarrhoea. Hence, it is better to avoid it until your condition resolves.

If you experience constipation

Constipation along with cramps, bloating or headaches can increase the pain and discomfort. Eating a suitable diet can provide relief.

Probiotics and prebiotics: As mentioned earlier, probiotics and prebiotics are necessary to keep your gut healthy. Hence, include them in your diet if you have constipation.

Soluble and insoluble rich fibre: All vegetables, okra, beans, whole grains, rolled oats legumes are soluble fibre foods that help in the proper formation of stools. Insoluble fibre rich foods add volume to the stools to make sure they can easily pass. These include all dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, fenugreek, amaranth, etc. If it still does not help your condition, then taking supplements can also be beneficial.

Water: Drinking enough water is crucial if you have constipation. It will ease the difficulties in passing motions.

Laxative: Natural laxative foods such as papaya, pineapple, dried figs are good to eat when dealing with constipation. If necessary, you can even opt for an OTC laxative or consult a doctor before taking it. For example, Isabgol is a popular laxative for relieving constipation. You can consume it by mixing it with water.

Avoid tea and coffee: As these two are dehydrating beverages, consuming them can harden your stools and make it more difficult and painful to pass them. Reduce their intake if you cannot completely stop.

If you experience fatigue 

Fluctuating serotonin levels affect your energy levels, leading to fatigue and tiredness. Eating foods to enhance your mood can help. Apart from that, focus on eating healthy, nutritious food to gain the energy you need.

Eat enough: Your appetite does fluctuate during periods. It is possible that you may not feel like eating how much you usually eat. But, do not completely stop eating as that can aggravate your fatigue and tiredness. Eat enough food to get enough energy to stay active and carry out your daily routine.

Eat home-cooked food: Secondly, eating fresh, home-cooked food will ensure that you get the maximum nutrients your body needs.

If you experience food cravings 

You will observe that you crave either sweet or salty and fried foods. Indulging in these foods once in a while will not increase your symptoms. But if it becomes an everyday habit, it could have repercussions on your weight, skin and hair. Hence, the below-mentioned tips would help!

Have a glass of water: Whenever you crave any foods, first have an entire glass of water. Think if you can eat the food you are craving without distractions like working, studying, using your phone, watching TV, etc. If you think you can, then you must be genuinely hungry. Go for it, but don’t forget to eat mindfully.

Practice mindful eating: It is okay to crave foods, but managing them is equally important. Whatever foods you decide to consume, do it without any distractions. It will prevent you from overeating.

Wait for 20 mins: If you realise that your cravings are driven by emotions and not hunger, then wait for 20 mins. The feelings will automatically reduce.

Consume fibre and protein: This is the most important tip for preventing future food cravings. When your diet lacks fibre and protein, you frequently feel hungry and crave certain foods. Therefore, make sure all your meals have enough fibre and protein so that you feel full for a longer duration.

If you experience appetite changes

Some people observe an increase in their appetite, while some do not feel like eating at all. Both these situations are normal and happen due to hormonal fluctuations.

If your appetite increases, you can practice mindful eating. It will prevent you from eating more than you require. Also, ensure protein and fibre in all your meals to reduce snacking in between meals.

If your appetite reduces, try eating enough to have the energy required for performing your tasks. But, eating less should not increase your fatigue or affect your menstrual cycle.

If you experience weight gain

Hormonal changes also affect your weight. Before your periods, you may notice an increase in your weight, which is normal. Usually, ten days after the period ends, the weight returns to normal.

If you experience acne

Getting 1-2 pimples around your periods is normal. But if the acne is inflamed, painful and cystic, you must consult a doctor. Some dietary changes may help.

Reduce dairy products: Scientific research has proven that dairy increases sebum production in the skin, leading to acne. Furthermore, milk protein is inflammatory. Animal-based dairy products are loaded with antibiotics, hormones and may even contain pus cells. Hence, it is better to avoid these products. If you wish, you can have plant-based milk like almond milk, coconut milk, cashew milk, oat milk, rice milk or soy milk.

Reduce refined oils, refined sugars, and refined flour: Reducing refined products will stabilise your insulin levels. This can prevent oil production and breakouts.

Can these diet changes prevent PMS and painful periods? 

Each person’s symptoms and intensities vary. There is no guarantee that diet changes will prevent PMS and painful periods altogether. But, you may definitely observe some changes in your symptoms. After all, you know your body better than anyone else. You must definitely try incorporating these dietary changes to determine what benefits you.

Bottom line 

Even though there is no absolute cure for PMS and period pain, your diet can make a difference to your symptoms. Eating a wholesome, healthy and nutrition-packed diet remains the principal advice. You can ease specific symptoms with appropriate diet changes. But most importantly, you must follow a diet that supports your health. If your symptoms are too severe every month, consult a doctor for further advice.

Disclaimer: This information is educational and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before making any dietary changes or adding supplements.

Proactive For Her is a digital clinic for women, offering accessible, personalised, and confidential healthcare solutions. We offer out-patient care, diagnostic services and programs for various health concerns of Indian women, across their lifetime - from puberty to pregnancy to menopause.