The Charger Blog

Nutrition Sciences Major Discusses Periods and Nutrition

Beatrice Glaviano ’26 was curious: How does nutrition impact menstruation? She discusses the role of food and self-care when it comes to hormones and the discomfort that can come with periods.

November 2, 2023

By Beatrice Glaviano ’26

A plate of food at Piccola Cucina in New York
Beatrice Glaviano ’26 enjoys a bite at Piccola Cucina in New York.

[Typing into Google post push day] Why am I craving bananas on my period?

Google: Bananas are rich in minerals such as Vitamin B6 and Potassium.

Me, an intellectual: Dope.

The menstrual cycle has been a part of womanhood since the beginning. Perhaps there was a point in our evolution where it wasn’t like the one we know nowadays, but that doesn’t tend to come to mind when I’m hangry and hating the world. Speaking of that, I’ve become increasingly curious as of late how nutrition may impact one’s period. It’s fairly well known that eating foods high in iron (leafy green vegetables, red meat, beets, etc.) can help us make up for the amount lost, but there are other factors to consider as well.

Before the – as a friend called it – “parting of the red sea” begins, there are significant hormonal changes happening within the body. For context, hormones act as our body's messengers. As neurons (affector) send electrical signals throughout the body through action potentials, the muscles and glands (effectors) receive these signals and morph them into chemical ones.

Following this, hormones – chemical messengers – act as the little messengers that run around the body telling cells, tissues, and organs how to operate. According to “Physiology, Menstrual Cycle” by Dhanalakshmi K. Thiyagarajan, Hajira Basit, and Rebecca Jeanmonod, if pregnancy doesn’t occur, the “serum levels of 17-beta-estradiol and progesterone decrease rapidly” (Thiyagarajan et al., 2019) leading to the shedding of uterine lining.

When we’re looking at blood as a whole, it’s not just “blood.” It’s a combination of plasma, leukocytes (white blood cells), erythrocytes (red blood cells), and platelets, and it is transported by hemoglobin to the tissues to provide oxygen to them. However, it’s the plasma of the blood that may be determining the severity of signs and symptoms one may experience during their cycle. As said by the Cleveland Clinic, the plasma is a combination of water, proteins, salts and minerals, and immunoglobulins (Cleveland Clinic, n.d.).

So, we aren’t just losing blood; we are losing micro and macromolecules that perform vital functions for our body system. A loss in water, salts, and minerals may lead to headaches or general sluggishness as the latter are responsible for conducting the electrical signals throughout the body. This actually relates to why I was craving a banana, which are notably high in potassium and are known as a “happy” fruit due to their color. The Na+/K+ pump of the body allows sodium and potassium to create membrane potentials that send out an electrical signal through an active potential. Without having adequate amounts of these minerals, our body’s ability to transmit these signals effectively may be impacted.

A cannoli.
Beatrice Glaviano ’26 enjoys coffee and a cannoli.

Which may explain the splitting headache I have currently, lol.

Essentially, if the body lacks the means of achieving homeostasis balance, we are going to inversely feel the side effects. From this, it can be assumed that what we eat during our menstrual cycle – and in general – can impact how we are (physically, mentally, emotionally, etc.) on a daily basis.

Before diving into menstrual nourishment, I’d like to remind everyone of the importance of water in the diet. Seeing that water makes up a large part of our blood as a whole, it’s easier to become dehydrated on our period than it would be on a regular basis. So, grab your stickered-up water bottle and take a sip: you probably need it.

Moving onto menstrual nourishment: There is a lot of food to go around. Many times, we don’t really take into consideration why we may be craving certain foods and instead we just tend to go for the easiest option that will satisfy that craving. However, if we look more in-depth at the chemistry and physiology of menstrual nutrition, one can ascertain the best foods to eat for themselves.

Very briefly: iron. Fe. We’ve been told from a young age that this is the most crucial mineral to stock up on during our period, but why? According to Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health, iron isn’t just important for proper blood distribution throughout the body (hemoglobin), it’s also responsible for healthy brain development and hormone function (Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, 2019). Wait, hormones? Didn’t we already talk about how they’re chemical messengers? With varying levels in iron, the ability for our body to communicate may be hindered (though this would be very slight; if you were suffering from a major arterial bleed that would be a different story).

In simpler terms, your “mail” would be dropped down at the address next to yours by hemoglobin (your mailman) as they didn’t have their morning coffee (iron) yet. Additionally, there are two types of iron: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is found in animal-based sources, such as beef or pork. Non-heme, on the other hand, is found within plants such as spinach, kale, and various legumes (i.e., lentils) and tends to be in lower concentrations. Either way, consuming proper amounts of either will suffice in helping your body maintain its iron levels.

[Author blinks] Looks like that wasn’t that brief. Oops. Onwards!

Aside from losing a lot of iron, our bodies also tend to go through a lot of agitation during that phase as tissue is being shed from an internal organ. So much energy, time, and dedication are put into the possible creation of something and, well...

Uterus: *Squinting* “The thing didn’t do the thing.”
Brain, looking up from its laptop: “What? What do you mean?”
Uterus: “There’s nothing to fertilize! Why?”
Brain: “Birth control.”
Uterus, aghast: “Birth Control?!”

Of course, cramp pain can vary on things such as how heavy a bleed is or the individual’s genetics. Though, we’ve certainly gotten better at managing it given that this is the modern century. Nutritionally speaking, cramps can be – as stated by Healthline – treated through “Omega-3s [which] can reduce the intensity of period pain” (What to Eat during Your Period: Fish, Leafy Greens, Yogurt, and More, 2019). Omega-3s, for background, are a type of polyunsaturated fat that is found outside of the body commonly in the form of fish and a wide variety of seeds.

"What we eat and how we think have been inextricably linked for a long time."Beatrice Glaviano ’26

Oftentimes, a certain vitamin or mineral isn’t limited to one or two food groups but is found in different concentrations instead. For example, milk is more well-known as a source of calcium than, say, broccoli (which has 47 mg per 100g). At the end of the day, however, modifying one’s diet may only do so much to help with period cramps. If you feel compelled, the addition of a heating pack or even gentle stretching (I prefer yoga) can do a lot. Additionally, it’s recommended that one talk with their physician about looking toward birth control and other types of hormone medications.

Finally, the next topic I’m going to touch upon is going to be mood swings. These are mostly caused by the hormone fluctuations going on within one’s body, but it can also be because Stop & Shop ran out of your favorite ice cream (mine is between S’mores and cookie dough). Whatever the case, I hate being moody. I hate everything, everything is terrible, and, oh my god my coffee just boiled over. Hang on.

[Author ditches laptop momentarily to save coffee].

Alright, I’m back. Before, this was supposed to be a serious paper; now it’s boiled down to a podcast of sorts. Anyhow, what we eat and how we think have been inextricably linked for a long time. Some even go so far as to define the digestive system as the body’s “second brain” given how interconnected the two are. There is also the presence of the gut microbiome to take into consideration, which is a collection of neutral and ‘good’ bacteria, archaea, and other microorganisms that live in the gut.

Apparently, as said by “Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing?” written by Joseph Firth, James E. Gangwisch, Alessandra Borsini, Robyn E. Wootton and Emeran A. Mayer, the gut microbiome “interacts with the brain in bidirectional ways using neural, inflammatory, and hormonal signaling pathways” (Firth et al., 2020). The thing here that stands out to me the most – is that our gut interacts hormonally with our brain.

Essentially, if we aren’t getting enough of our daily required nutrients, our gut microbiome and hormones may act erratically, creating further confusion within the body about what to do with itself. Neurally, this would most likely explain why one’s emotions fluctuate so easily during a period. If I recall correctly, anytime a human being is in a heightened state of emotion (happiness, sadness, or anger), we are capable of switching among them very easily. This tends to be the reason why babies can go from screaming one moment to laughing as though nothing has happened. Freaky.

Given all of this, understanding the cues of one’s body and being conscientious of what foods make your body (as well as your heart) feel good is very important. This would go for outside of one’s menstrual cycle as well; having a better understanding of what your body likes to consume may apply more naturally to some rather than others, and it’s perfectly okay to not always know what to go for. For this, my advice would be to be observant. What foods give you energy? Which don’t? What foods fuel your heart? What about your mind? Paying attention to what you put in and the output of that can really put things into a new perspective.

At the end of the day, though, eating that ice cream or crying over an animal documentary (I love David Attenborough) isn’t going to doom your health or anything. This article is mainly about spreading awareness about being aware of how the body works physiologically and chemically with the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, and I realize that may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

To those who like this sort of tea, I hope you’ve enjoyed my evidence-based rant. I think that there will be more of them to come in the future.

On that note, I hope everyone had a lovely fall break and returned to campus refreshed and ready to take on the challenges of the remaining semester. If anyone would like to reach out with any questions, comments, or blog ideas, my email is and I look forward to seeing you all in the next one.

Peace, love, and all the peanut butter,
Beatrice <3
Beatrice Glaviano ’26 is a nutrition sciences major at the University of New Haven.