Foods and the Menstrual Cycle

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, women commonly experience periodic and alternating symptoms of blood deficiency and qi stagnation due to the menstrual cycle.  Blood deficiency occurs when blood loss from monthly menses is not replenished by nutrition or sufficient rest. This may manifest as fatigue, pale complexion, lips and nails, dizziness, poor or blurry vision, and dryness. Qi stagnation in this case can be summed up as pre-menstrual syndrome. As blood collects or stagnates in the uterus, signs of qi stagnation may be experienced such as emotional mood swings, irritability, depression, distended and painful breasts, cramps before or during the period, among other symptoms.

Altering the diet at the onset of the period and at mid cycle (ovulation) can assist with replenishing blood or moving stagnation. This is done by eating blood building, heavier foods from day 1 to day 14 (ovulation), and lighter, non-congesting, eliminative foods from day 15 to day 28 (or onset of period). The following dietary suggestions are based on the “Planetary Diet” and are not meant to dramatically change at mid-cycle, but subtle changes in the diet can make a difference.

Foods that tonify blood (Day 1 – Day 14)

  • Eat more building foods and heavier proteins
  • Meat, especially red meat and beef liver (organic is best). A little goes a long way. Meat can be marinated in rice wine or rice vinegar, and cooked in ginger and garlic to decrease toxicity and make it easier to digest
  • Eat more complex carbohydrates or “full sweets” including whole grains, legumes and sweet potatoes. Buckwheat specifically tonifies blood
  • Foods high in chlorophyll-spirulina (also detoxs liver), chlorella, dark leafy veggies
  • Beets, cherries, carrots – all red-orange vegetables
  • Sea vegetables are particularly high in iodine and iron (helpful in building blood). Dulse has the highest iron content of all sea vegetables
  • Molasses is also very high in iron and trace minerals. (1Tbsp/day)

Foods that move stagnation (Day 15 – Day 28)

  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco, coffee, refined sugar and excess meat, dairy or raw, cold foods. These can contribute to stagnation
  • Eat more eliminative foods – vegetables, fruits, juices
  • Salty flavored foods – sea vegetables, miso, tamari, gomasio – the flavor of the water element help to soften the wood element (an excess of the wood element causes stagnation)
  • Spicy flavored foods – curry, ginger, basil, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, black pepper – help control the wood element

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