During reproductive years, some 80 percent of young women have to cope with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In up to 8 percent, PMS is incapacitating. Happily, for most women, symptoms are mild. PMS describes a cluster of symptoms that gang up on a woman in the days before her periods only to ebb at the onset of menstrual flow. They include fluid retention, abdominal bloating, headaches, breast tenderness, low back pain, constipation or diarrhea, fatigue, insomnia, sugar cravings, forgetfulness, irritability, decreased self-esteem, social withdrawal, anxiety, and mild depression. The cause of PMS remains a medical mystery. Clearly, monthly oscillations in reproductive hormones have something to do with it. Risk factors include psychological stress, being overweight, and smoking.
1. Pre-Attack Snack Mix
How it works: Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is thought to account for at least some PMS symptoms. Keeping your blood sugar steady with healthy snacks can also help you resist sugar cravings.
- ¼ cup (36 g) raw almonds
- ¼ cup (25 g) raw walnut halves
- ¼ cup (35 g) raisins
- ¼ cup (21 g) banana chips
- ¼ cup (21 g) dried apple slices or (32.5 g) apricots
- ¼ cup (44 g) carob chips
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C, or gas mark 4).
Mix the nuts and spread them on a baking sheet. Toast for about 10 minutes, stirring after 5 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool, and pour into a bowl. Toss in the dried fruit and carob chips. Store in an airtight container.
- YIELD: 6 SERVINGS
2. Crunchy Blood Sugar Balance
How it works: As stated previously, hypoglycemia is thought to account for at least some PMS symptoms. Keep your blood sugar steady with healthy snacks like this one. In addition, the fiber in the apple and celery will avert constipation, a PMS plague.
- 1 apple
- 1 celery stalk
- 1 to 2 tablespoons (16 to 32 g) peanut butter
- DIRECTIONS: Slice the apple, with its peel, into multiple pieces. Slice the celery width-wise, so you retain the dip in the center. Put a dab of peanut butter in each piece of celery and each apple slice. Crunch away.
- YIELD: 01 SERVING
- NOTE: Keep your peanut butter servings to dabs, as it is high in calories and easy to overdo.
3. PMS Super Salad
How it works: Some health experts believe that high-fiber, low-fat diets may reduce PMS symptoms. In theory, such diets improve the elimination of estrogen. The fats to avoid are hydrogenated (trans) fats (in many processed foods) and fat subjected to high heat (present in chips and other fried foods). Healthy fats include monounsaturated fats (e.g., olive oil) and polyunsaturated fats (flaxseed oil, fish oil, evening primrose oil, borage seed oil, and black currant seed oil), which benefit you by reducing inflammation.
- 1 cup (47 g) torn romaine lettuce
- 1 cup (28 g) torn red leaf lettuce
- ½ cup (50 g) torn escarole
- ½ cup (10 g) torn arugula
- ¹∕3 red onion, sliced thinly
- ½ red bell pepper, seeded and sliced thinly
- 4 cherry tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
- 1½ teaspoons (8 ml) balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) fresh lemon juice
- Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
- DIRECTIONS: Toss together the leafy greens. Add the onion, bell pepper, and tomatoes. In a separate small bowl, beat together the oil, vinegar, and lemon juice to make a vinaigrette. Add a pinch of black pepper. Drizzle over the greens and toss. Serve.
- YIELD: 2 LARGE OR 4 SMALL SERVINGS
4. Juice It Away
How it works: In addition to providing fiber, dark green leafy vegetables contain calcium and magnesium. Low levels of these two minerals are one of the postulated theories about the cause of PMS.
- 1 cup (235 ml) low-sodium tomato or V8 juice
- 1 cup (30 g) torn baby spinach, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup (67 g) torn kale
- Salt-free herbal seasoning, such as
- ½ teaspoon (0.5 g) herbes de Provence
- Freshly ground black pepper
- DIRECTIONS: Pour the tomato juice into a blender. Gradually add the spinach and kale, mincing it a little at a time so the leaves don’t clog the blades. Once minced, blend at high speed to fully pulverize the greens into a liquid. Add more tomato juice if the mixture is too thick. Pour in a tall glass and season to taste with salt-free seasoning and black pepper.
- YIELD: 2 SERVINGS (ABOUT 2 CUPS [475 ML])
5. Friendly Fat Salmon-FlaxAvocado Melt
How it works: Some studies have shown that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils, avocado, nuts, flaxseeds, and olive oil can help reduce bloating and discomfort associated with PMS. One recent study showed that women who ate 25 grams of flaxseeds every day had reduced premenstrual breast pain. A possible explanation is that flaxseeds contain lignans, which act as phytoestrogens (natural estrogen-like substances).
- 1 can salmon, (4.5 ounces, or 127.5 g) drained
- ¼ cup (30 g) diced celery
- 1 tablespoon (10 g) minced red onion
- 1 teaspoon (4 g) coarsely ground flaxseeds
- 1 tablespoon (15 g) low-fat plain yogurt
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) wine vinegar
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 slices whole-wheat bread
- ½ avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced
- DIRECTIONS: In a bowl, mix together the salmon, celery, onion, flaxseeds, yogurt, and vinegar. Top each slice of bread with half of the salmon mixture. Spray a skillet lightly with canola oil cooking spray. Cook the open-faced sandwiches over low heat for about 5 minutes until the bread is toasty. Top each sandwich with avocado slices.
- YIELD: 2 SERVINGS
6. Milk-It Ginger-Sesame Smoothie
How it works: Some studies suggest that calcium supplementation eases PMS symptoms. Sesame seeds contain a whopping 120 milligrams of calcium per 1-tablespoon (8 g) serving. Also, a higher dietary intake of vitamin D may be helpful perhaps, in part, because it increases calcium absorption.
- 1 large banana, cut into pieces
- 1½ cups (355 ml) calcium-fortified soy milk
- 1 tablespoon (6 g) minced fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon (8 g) crushed sesame seeds
- or crushed almonds
- 3 ice cubes
- DIRECTIONS: Place the banana, soy milk, ginger, and sesame seeds in a blender and blend. Add the ice cubes for a final blending.
- YIELD: TWO 8-OUNCE (235 ML) SERVINGS OR ONE 16-OUNCE (475 ML) SERVING
7. B-Rich Burritos
How it works: Several of the B vitamins, including B6, are needed to make brain chemicals, some of which influence mood and may have to do with PMS. A recent study found that women who consume more B vitamins from food sources had a lower risk of PMS. Beans, lentils, whole grains, avocados, and bananas are good sources.
- 3 cups (516 g) cooked pinto beans
- 1 cup (260 g) salsa
- 3 tablespoons (30 g) chopped onion
- 1 cup (195 g) cooked brown rice
- 1 ripe avocado, pitted, peeled, and sliced
- 8 tortillas, preferably whole wheat
- DIRECTIONS: Mix together the beans, salsa, onion, and rice. Fill each tortilla with about 3 tablespoons (185 g) of the mixture. Top with avocado.
- YIELD: 8 SERVINGS
8. Nutty Rice Regulator
How it works: Brown rice and almonds are among the foods highest in magnesium content, supplying a hearty 100 milligrams per serving. Supplemental magnesium has been shown to help with mood swings and fluid retention during PMS. Chickpeas are high in B vitamins, which also help reduce PMS.
- 1½ cups (292 g) uncooked brown rice
- 1 cup (100 g) crushed almonds
- 1 cup (240 g) canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2½ cups (570 ml) water
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil
- 1 teaspoon (1 g) salt-free herbal seasoning
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C, or gas mark 5).
Stir together the rice, almonds, and chickpeas, and pour into a medium-size glass baking dish. In a saucepan, bring the water, olive oil, and seasoning to a boil. Pour the boiling water over the rice mixture and stir. Stir in the crushed garlic. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil. Bake for 1 hour on the oven’s middle rack.
- YIELD: 6 TO 8 SERVINGS
Fact or Myth?
- CHOCOLATE JUST MAKES PMS WORSE. Myth—when eaten in moderation. A moderate amount of dark chocolate actually has health benefits. Avoid milk chocolate and other candy bars laden with sugar and fats, which will only make you feel worse. A small piece of dark chocolate as dessert is fine.
- WHEN YOU’RE FEELING CRAMPY AND BLOATED DURING PMS, IT’S OKAY TO SKIP MEALS. Myth. You’ll feel better if you keep your blood sugar steady with healthy foods. Plus, skipping meals can lead to overeating later.
- Drink water. Extra fluids will help flush your system. Drink at least eight 8-ounce (235 ml) glasses a day or add more water-laden fruits and veggies, such as watermelon and cucumbers, to your diet.
- Chill on the caffeine and alcohol, which may aggravate some of PMS symptoms.
- Get outside in the sun. sunlight helps produce vitamin d in the body, and also some studies suggest that it helps regulate your menstrual cycle. Also, consider taking a vitamin D supplement. Even though sunlight and diet (such as salmon and fortified milk) are tops for vitamin d intake, it’s hard to get enough vitamin D from diet alone. Take a multivitamin with D as a daily supplement. Many calcium supplements also contain vitamin D.
- Reduce the sugar and salt in your snacks and meals. This will help decrease bloating, especially in the hands and feet. Snack on fruits and veggies instead.
When to Call the Doctor
- You have recurrent PMS unabated by home remedies.
- You become significantly depressed or anxious prior to your menses.
- PMS impairs your ability to function.
- You also have severe headaches around the time of menstruation.