Updated 31 July 2013

Beat PMS with diet

It's that time of the month again and you are feeling grumpy and miserable. Does the answer lie in what you eat?

It's that time of the month again and you are feeling grumpy and miserable. Does the answer lie in what you eat?

Step 1: Understanding the relationship between Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and food

About 80% of women experience some features of PMS. Fortunately, only a minority (estimated at 10%) of women have severe enough PMS symptoms to impact their work, relationships or lifestyle in a significant way.

Proper diet, exercise and lifestyle changes can help symptoms before resorting to over-the-counter or prescription medications. Most women can control their PMS symptoms successfully so that they do not interfere with their leading healthy and productive lives.

Step 2: Adopting new healthy habits

  • Make dietary changes (see Step 3).
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise can help relieve some of the symptoms of PMS. Aerobic exercise for 30 minutes should be done three to five times a week. Swimming, walking and dancing are "low-impact" aerobic activities. They avoid the muscle and joint pounding of more "high-impact" exercises like jogging and skipping. Benefits include cardiovascular fitness, muscle tone, weight control or reduction, decrease in fluid retention and increase in self-esteem.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and refined sugars.
  • Increase intake of complex carbohydrates, magnesium and zinc, vitamins A, E and B6.
  • Do daily relaxation and breathing exercises to reduce stress.

If there is no relief of symptoms and PMS significantly interferes with functioning, medication may be necessary.

Step 3: Understanding the basic principles of a diet to reduce symptoms of PMS

  • Never skip meals. To maintain your blood sugar levels, it is better to eat small amounts more often.
  • When you are premenstrual, your calorie requirements increase by 500 calories a day.
  • Eat two snacks per day in addition to your usual three meals.
  • Eat protein at both lunch and supper.
  • Reduce fat and sugar consumption.
  • Drink eight glasses of water a day.
  • Make sure you eat at least three portions of fruit and vegetables (preferably green leafy ones) every day.
  • Avoid eating large amounts of refined sugar (sweets, cakes and biscuits).
  • Rather stick to dried or fresh fruit.
  • Keep salt consumption to a minimum as salt makes your body water-retentive.
  • Make sure you eat a diet rich in magnesium, zinc and chromium, essential fatty acids and vitamins B, C and E. Eat fish at least twice during this time.
  • Increase your intake of complex carbohydrates (for example, pasta and rice).
  • Avoid caffeine, which is found in coffee, tea, cola drinks and chocolate.

Dr Ingrid van Heerden is a registered dietician and holds a doctoral degree in Nutrition and Biochemistry. She believes that "we are what we eat" and offers free nutrition and weight loss advice via her DietDoc service on Read more of her articles.


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