What are the nutritional requirements during menstruation? How does lack of proper nourishment affect health?
Menstrual health management commonly sheds light upon the need for proper sanitation, adequate amenities and accessible resources for menstruation, but often, the nutritional needs tend to be overlooked. Healthy and balanced nourishment, though a constant necessity, becomes more crucial during menstruation. The nutritional requirement for a menstruator is heightened due to several factors. As the body loses blood, it loses certain minerals with it. At this point, it is essential that the minerals are replenished within the body through adequate nutrition so as to ensure that there is no permanent damage to the menstruator resulting from decreased vitamin and minerals levels. Hormone levels also fluctuate at such times, which can cause mood swings and irritability. A well-balanced, nourishing diet can certainly help prevent some of the undesirable symptoms that accompany menstruation.
A menstruator typically loses about 1/4th cup of blood each cycle, which leads to a sudden drop in Iron. Iron is an essential mineral required for growth and development. A female typically needs 14-15 mg of Iron per day, which jumps to 17-18 mg per day during menstruation. If this requirement is not fulfilled, the menstruator runs a risk of developing anaemia, heart conditions, or muscle weakness. In order to counteract the effects of minerals lost during menstruation, menstruators must adhere to a healthful and wholesome diet.
Foods one must have during menstruation-
- Iron- Green leafy vegetables, Pomegranates, Beetroot, Beans, Peas, Fortified Cereals, Dried fruits- apricots and raisins, Egg Yolk, Chicken, Red Meat, Seafood are all excellent sources of Iron. Vegetarians tend to be more iron deficient than their counterparts since plant-based iron is tougher for the body to absorb as compared to meat-based iron. Vegetarians must therefore pay added attention to fulfilling their iron requirements.
- Vitamin C- Citrus fruits; oranges and lemons, Pineapple, Broccoli, Yellow Peppers are rich in Vitamin C. Vitamin C, when consumed along with Iron rich foods, drastically increases the iron absorption within the body.
- Vitamin B6 and B12- Fish, Potatoes, Chickpeas, Milk, Cheese, and Starchy Vegetables are a good source of Vitamin B. Vitamin B helps in regulating metabolism and improving the immune system, thereby relieving the symptoms of PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome).
- Magnesium- present in Fennel Seeds, Chamomile Tea, Cinnamon, is hugely beneficial in helping with depression, anxiety, and water retention during menstruation.
- Anti-inflammatory foods- include Ginger, Turmeric, Cinnamon, Cilantro, Parsley, Garlic. These foods help in combating cramping and inflammation resulting from menstruation.
- Foods like dark chocolate, avocado, almonds, and nuts are also great relievers of cramping.
Foods to Avoid during menstruation-
- Foods that are heavy on salt (sodium) or sugar- Foods with high salt content can cause water retention and bloating. Sugar may lead to a temporary sugar rush in the body, however, the crash after the rush can lead to excessive fatigue and weakness especially during menstruation.
- Foods that are gassy- Brussel Sprouts and Cauliflower- can make one feel uncomfortably bloated.
- Spicy Foods
- Coffee and Alcohol
- Processed and Canned foods
- Refined Flour and Bakery products
Lack of proper nutrition and exercise during menstruation can adversely impact the body in the long run.
- Iron deficiency can cause heart palpitations, itchiness, ulcers.
- Low levels of Vitamin B12 can lead to fatigue, dizziness, and nerve problems.
- Calcium and Magnesium are vital for bone and muscle development. A lack of either can cause osteoporosis, irregular heartbeat, muscle weakness, asthma.
It is a common myth that one must not exercise during menstruation. On the contrary, doctors advise menstruators to regularly exercise in order to ensure a healthier and more regulated period. Moderate exercise during menstruation reduces cramping, mood swings, and other physical side effects. This can partly be attributed to the fact that exercise helps in the release of the ‘happy’ hormones such as dopamine and endorphins. Exercising also strengthens the muscles and the core, thereby improving the ability of the menstruator to deal with the pain associated with menstruation.
Educating menstruators about the cruciality of good nourishment is an integral aspect of menstrual health awareness in India. While the focus of NGOs working on menstrual hygiene has typically been to ensure adequate sanitation facilities for the menstruators, menstrual nutrition has oftentimes been side-lined. Nutrition, a vital component of menstrual hygiene education, should be given due importance to safeguard the menstruating population from both, mental and physical infirmities.
If you would like to spread awareness about menstrual health and take part in the menstrual products distribution activities, please join the movement.