Good Mood Foods: Nutritional Choices to Alleviate PMS


Tense? Tired? Tearful? Put down that club-size bag of kettle chips and check your calendar. It’s likely your next period is pushing some emotional buttons and triggering those hefty cravings.

For many women, controlling PMS symptoms is a monthly struggle. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, at least 85 percent of menstruating women have at least one PMS symptom as part of their monthly cycles.*

Whether it’s anxiety or irritability, mood swings or crying jags, the emotional effects of PMS can often be more disruptive than the physical ones. You can help tame the monthly emotional rollercoaster by going for these nutritional choices.

Go fish (and flax). Albacore tuna, sardines, salmon, mackerel, herring and lake trout are all healthy mood foods because they contain Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s can sharpen your thinking and trigger the production of serotonin, a positive mood-enhancer (and incidentally, the same chemical released by the brain when you bite into dark chocolate). Not a fish lover? Walnuts and flaxseed are also great sources of Omega-3s. Try sprinkling ground flaxseed on your morning yogurt or whole grain cereal.

Go for magnesium-rich foods. Magnesium helps our bodies regulate serotonin activity, the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitter and natural appetite suppressor. PMS can lower magnesium in blood levels causing emotional stress and cravings. Fight gloominess and gluttony with foods that are high in magnesium such as black beans, pumpkin seeds, artichokes, bananas, spinach, peanuts, cashews, brown rice, and tofu.

Go whole. Buy as many fresh foods as possible and read labels for products that contain whole nutrients. Choose whole grain breads, pasta and cereals. These complex carbs are ideal for fighting the grumpies and raising serotonin levels. They’re also loaded with B vitamins, especially B6 which helps to reduce irritability and depression. Additionally, you’ll be avoiding foods with additives and preservatives that can sometimes increase mood swings by triggering unwanted chemical reactions in the brain.

Go caffeine-free. Caffeine in any form can seriously alter your mood. And when your hormones are in high gear, that’s not necessarily a good thing. To keep your pre-period moodiness to a minimum, enjoy decaf versions of your favorite coffee or soda. Or have a hot cup of relaxing, caffeine-free herbal tea. Try chamomile tea. It reduces tension and eases anxiety.

And Now, a Word About Chocolate. You don’t need anyone to tell you that devouring that giant heart-shaped box of Valentine chocolates in one fell swoop is bad for you. Sugary snacks worsen mood swings, not to mention what processed sugars do to your waistline and wellbeing.

Still, it’s hard to deny what that first delectable bite of chocolate decadence does for your mental state (thanks again to serotonin).

For those times when you’ve just got to have it, try this quick and healthier chocolate fix: Take unsweetened cocoa powder (it’s chocolate without the fattening cocoa butter), mix it with soymilk, a bit of cornstarch for thickening and just a hint of natural sweetener, such as stevia. Heat in a saucepan, then dip fresh strawberries, bananas, pear slices, or any of your favorite fruits into the chocolatey guilt-free goodness. Voila! A healthy dose of the chocolate you crave!

Go For It! Rejecting junk foods altogether and consistently maintaining a well-balanced diet is the optimum way to alleviate your worst PMS symptoms. When life’s realities don’t make that possible, try stocking your shelves with the above good mood foods long before Mother Nature comes calling. That way, when you reach for the first salty or sweet snack you can get your hands on, you’ll improve the odds that it will be something much, much better for you.

*Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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