12 Best Foods for Fighting Menstrual Cramps
What are the best foods a woman can eat to prevent and treat painful periods and menstrual cramps? Here's a list of the best cramping-fighting foods, from bananas and wheat germ to ginger and sesame seeds! Pick your favorite anti-cramping foods and incorporate them into your eating plan before and during menstruation.
Note that this section of HealWithFood.org's Guide to Fighting Menstrual Cramps focuses on the best foods for fighting menstrual cramps and alleviating menstrual pain (dysmenorrhea). If you are interested in more general information about the nutritional approach to combating menstrual cramps and pain, go to the diet page of this guide. For healthy recipes that combine some of the best foods for fighting menstrual cramps, visit this Guide's recipe directory.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that bananas may help reduce cramps associated with menstruation. In addition to being a rich food source of anti-cramping nutrients such as vitamin B6, bananas are loaded with potassium which helps reduce water retention. This is great news if you often experience bloating during menstruation. Enjoy bananas plain as a simple snack, mix with non-fat yogurt, slice into cereal, or toss in a fruit salad. Stay away from banana chips, though; they are packed with calories and contain added fat and sugar.
#2: Wheat Germ
Wheat germ may be one of the best foods you can include in your diet if you suffer from menstrual cramps. It provides a concentrated source of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), with a mere cup of crude wheat germ providing a whopping 75% of the recommended daily intake for this important vitamin! Wheat germ is also an excellent source of other B vitamins as well as zinc. What's more, it contains very high amounts of vitamin E and magnesium. Try adding wheat germ to breads, cereals, muesli, milk shakes, or pancakes — it makes a highly nutritious, yet undetectable addition! To optimize the shelf life of wheat germ, store it in a sealed container in a cool, dry place away from exposure to the sun (wheat germ is prone to turning rancid fast because of its unsaturated fat content).
#3: Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds are an excellent addition to your diet if you suffer from menstrual cramps. These mild nutty tasting seeds are loaded with vitamin E as well as the key anti-cramping minerals zinc and magnesium. Sunflower seeds are also an excellent source of pyridoxine (vitamin B6), with one cup providing nearly a third of the recommended daily intake for this important pain relieving vitamin. The pain killing effects of pyridoxine may be linked to its role in the synthesis of the neurotransmitter dopamine. In addition, pyridoxine has been shown to promote the absorption of zinc and magnesium. When incorporating sunflower seeds into your diet, moderation should be exercised because these seeds, like most other seeds, are high in calories and fat.
This often under-appreciated vegetable is much more than just a decorative garnish that accompanies meals in restaurants. It is loaded with important nutrients, and it can be used to treat various health problems, including menstrual cramps. It contains apiol, a compound that has been shown to be highly effective at stimulating the menstrual process and relieving menstrual cramps. The ability of parsley to stimulate menstruation was already known in the Middle Ages and was therefore used to induce abortion.
Turbo-charge your anti-cramp diet by regularly eating pineapple. Pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme that is thought to help relax muscles and thus help with menstrual cramps. Be aware, however, that most of the bromelain in pineapple is in the stem which is not as tasty as the flesh but which is nevertheless edible.
#6: Fenugreek Seeds
In Asia, these little seeds with a pungent-sweet flavor are a popular remedy for menstrual pain. They are available as whole and ground in most grocery stores. It is advisable to buy whole seeds and, if you want them in powder form, grind them just prior to using as they become stale rapidly once ground.
Even before the term 'superfood' was coined, ginger has been enjoyed throughout the ages for its aromatic, pungent flavor and its health promoting properties. In traditional Chinese medicine, ginger has been widely used as a remedy for menstrual cramps, and a large body of anecdotal evidence from around the world validates the use of ginger as an anti-cramping remedy. Fresh ginger, which is said to be the most effective form of ginger, is available year round in the produce section of supermarkets.
If you look at the nutrition facts label on bag of walnuts, you'll learn that they are very high in fat. But that should not be a reason to shy away from these delicious nuts that are widely used in sweet and savory dishes alike. Consuming walnuts in moderation can confer great benefits to women who suffer from cramps during menstruation. Walnuts are rich in the healthy omega-3 fatty acids which are known to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties but which are often in short supply in modern diets. In addition, walnuts are loaded with vitamin B6, with one cup of chopped walnuts providing 31% of the recommended daily intake for this potent pain-relieving vitamin. They also contain substantial amounts of magnesium. It is best to buy walnuts in the shell as the shell protects them, to some extent, from rancidity. Walnuts in this state can also have a relatively long shelf life if stored properly, that is, in an airtight container in a cool, dry place away from exposure to the sun. Walnuts can be eaten on their own as a snack or as an ingredient in various sweet and savory dishes.
#9: Sesame Seeds
When it comes to foods that help ward off menstrual cramps, it's hard to beat the sesame seed. Sesame seeds are loaded with nutrients that have been shown to reduce cramps associated with menstruation. They are a very good source of vitamin B6, with half a cup providing more than a quarter of the recommended daily intake for this vitamin. Furthermore, they are an excellent source of plant-based calcium and a great source of magnesium. They also contain certain healthful fatty acids that may help relax muscles and thus reduce cramping further. On top of that, they provide a very good source of zinc. Sesame seeds, which are available throughout the year, add a delectable nutty flavor and a slight crunch to many Asian dishes.
Listen to Popeye and eat your spinach! The nutritional profile of spinach makes it an excellent health food and an important vegetable for women who suffer from painful menses. It provides an ample supply of many nutrients that have been shown to fight menstrual cramps, including vitamin E, vitamin B6, and magnesium. Spinach is available in most large supermarkets throughout the year, but it is best in March-May and September-October when it is in season.
Eating a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast is a great way to start a day off right. Oats are loaded with the anti-cramping mineral magnesium. They are also one of the best sources of dietary zinc for women who suffer from painful periods. Before eating oats, it is advisable to soak them for several hours. Untreated oats, like other grains, contain phytic acid which can block the absorption of calcium, zinc, and magnesium in the intestines. Soaking allows enzymes to break down and neutralize phytic acid and thus improve the nutritional value of oats.
Most of the nutritional and health benefits of kale are well known today, but what many people don't know is that this green leafy vegetable is one of the best plant-based sources of calcium. Anecdotal evidence, as well as an increasing number of scientific studies, suggest that calcium can alleviate menstrual cramps. However, the exact mechanisms by which calcium reduces cramping are not fully understood. Some experts believe that calcium's ability to alleviate pain associated with menstruation could be related to the role of this important mineral in maintaining normal muscle tone. The tender young leaves of kale can be eaten raw, for example as a substitute for iceberg lettuce in salads. This beautiful, green leafy vegetable can also be transformed into a hearty warm dish by sautéing the leaves and mixing them with chopped onions, crushed garlic and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. When buying kale, it is advisable to choose organically grown produce whenever possible. According to research, conventionally grown kale is among the most contaminated vegetables in terms of pesticide and chemical content).