To recap, the follicular phase is the first part of the menstrual cycle starting on day one which is the first day of the period and leading up to ovulation. The phase lasts roughly 14 days but can vary as ovulation can happen at different times for different women and can change especially under stress, travel, or illness. This part of the menstrual cycle is estrogen dominant. Our hormones are at an all-time low during the start of our period but slowly begin to increase the closer we get to ovulation. Both estrogen and testosterone are on the rise during this phase and reach their peak at ovulation. No progesterone is secreted from the ovaries during this phase. Read my article about understanding the menstrual cycle here: https://hazelandcacao.com/understanding-the-menstrual-cycle/
How to eat Plant-based for the Follicular Phase
This phase is generally characterized by decreased appetite (because estrogen is a natural appetite suppressant) and an increased need for calcium, zinc, vitamin E, selenium, and lots of antioxidants. These nutrients are utilized more heavily in this part of the cycle as they help with follicular development and also help improve egg quality. Appetite during this phase is naturally lower and blood sugar is naturally more stable. Digestion is also more regular. You will find you can get full on less food and last longer in between meals. This is the phase in the cycle where carbohydrates are utilized most effectively by the body. It is also important to focus on detoxifying foods during this stage because the liver is needed to process excess estrogen out of the body. High fibre green vegetables and cruciferous vegetables are indicated in this phase to help proper estrogen metabolism. Cruciferous vegetables contain a compound called DIM, which helps the liver flush out excess estrogen and other toxins. Unlike progesterone which easily gets excreted out of the body, estrogen is not as easily metabolized and can “get stuck” in the liver.
There are many exogenous estrogen sources in our environment that we need to be mindful of. These include estrogens found in meat and dairy as well as xenoestrogens in our beauty products, cleaning products, and plastics, etc. Sometimes if the liver is not working optimally, our own estrogen production does not get properly metabolized and recirculates in the body leading to estrogen excess. This is also a problem with poor gut health because we need our gut to excrete the excess estrogen out of our bodies. We need to be having regular daily bowel movements in order to get our excess estrogen out. Other toxins can cause excess estrogen by burdening the liver and not allowing it to do its job. For example, one standard alcoholic drink can double estrogen levels in the body. This is because the liver must prioritize detoxifying from the alcohol and so estrogen and other toxins must take a back seat. This is can also true for other drugs and medicines. If you do choose to drink alcohol (I do not drink any) limit alcohol consumption during the follicular and ovulatory phases. Note that it is important to support the liver with estrogen metabolism even if you have a tendency towards low estrogen. External estrogens can send a message to the brain that there is too much estrogen. The brain can downregulate ovarian estrogen production which can lead to low estrogen symptoms. Each woman will respond to external estrogens differently.
Having a well balanced plant-based diet is already quite high in fibre and much lower in exogenous estrogens as there is no consumption of meat and dairy. This will naturally help with estrogen detoxification, however, choosing foods that contain nutrients that are most needed for this phase can help with overall energy and a smoother menstrual cycle all around. Both calcium and zinc are nutrients that many plant-based/vegans can be deficient in without special attention. If you are already plant-based focus on adding these nutrients into your diet and limiting/avoiding alcohol and exposure to environmental xenoestrogens.