I have been meaning to do a what I eat in a day for my hormones post for a long time. Truth be told I have not spent a lot of time thinking about the different foods to eat for my menstrual cycle phase and I have not done a tonne of research into it so I’m not entirely sure that what I am eating right now is that well adapted to my phases. However, I am really enjoying the process of tweaking my meals and my diet to better suit my hormones at each phase of the month and I am a work in progress.
For many years my focus had nothing to do with eating for my menstrual phases because my diet was so poor that I had a long way to go before I could start tweaking my diet the way I am now. I first needed to learn to eat enough and to eat a diversity of whole foods (which I wasn’t eating before) and finding a way to add them to my diet in an enjoyable manner. I also had to learn proper eating habits to best support my digestion and my nutrient absorption and lifestyle. Once I did this I became well on my way to becoming an intuitive eater. Now that intuitive eating comes naturally to me, it is interesting to see that my body already asks for the foods that are appropriate to the menstrual phase that I am in (more or less) and so changes or additions to my diet have not been very major at all.
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. The phase can also be split into menstrual and follicular, menstrual being the duration of the period and follicular being from the end of the period to ovulation. I like to split it up this way because I find that the foods I eat on my periods actually vary a fair bit to the foods that I eat once my period is over. For the purpose of this blog post, I will be focusing on the foods I eat from the end of my period to ovulation. 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.
This phase is generally characterized by decreased appetite (because estrogen is a natural appetite suppressant) and an increased need for calcium and zinc in particular as these two nutrients are utilized more heavily in the follicular phase (of course other nutrients are also important). High fibre green vegetables and cruciferous vegetables are also indicated in this phase to help proper estrogen metabolism, these vegetables contain a compound called DIM, which helps the liver flush out excess estrogen. Sometimes if the liver is not working optimally, the excess estrogen 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. Symptoms of estrogen excess generally show up more often in the next phase (luteal phase post ovulation) but it is important to take care of estrogen during the follicular phase in order to have a smoother menstrual cycle all around. (Note, greens and vegetables are important all month long as we are constantly producing estrogen and need it to be metabolized properly).
In my case, I have a tendency towards low estrogen and I find that during this phase my body naturally craves foods high in phytoestrogens (which can help increase and decrease estrogen) as well as lots of greens (I crave fresh salads and green juices) and tofu. I definitely eat a lot less during this phase and sometimes worry that my appetite can drop too much, but I remind myself that I make up for my lower calories in the next phase. Adequate calories and fat are important especially for women like me that have a tendency towards low hormones but it is still important to metabolism estrogen well in the liver even if hormones are low. As a general rule, I never snack so none of the recipes I share will include snacks. I aim for about 4-6 hours between my meals. I do this to help stabilise insulin which is important to keep other hormones in check and also to help with good digestion and better assimilation of nutrients.
Here is an example of the meals I tend to gravitate towards in my follicular phase:
During breakfast, I am recently getting in the habit of having a fresh-pressed juice right after a big glass of water. During the follicular phase, I crave green juices. I try to have a green juice about 15 minutes before I eat my breakfast, I sometimes add green powder to it or some olive leaf powder extract for my immunity (this is a new thing, I haven’t been doing this for long). I like to incorporate seed cycling during breakfast ( the practice of cycling different seeds for different phases of the menstrual phases). I have only been trying this for two months and although I don’t see too many improvements yet, I enjoy the practice as a good way to bump up my zinc intake. During the follicular phase, the recommended seeds are ground flax seeds and pumpkin seeds. I generally add 1 tablespoon of frozen ground flax seeds to all my breakfast and also add about 1-2 tsp worth of ground pumpkin seeds. One of my go-to breakfasts is Peanut Butter Oatmeal that I usually top with a sprinkle of hemp seeds, strawberries, raspberries and sometimes figs. You can find the link to my recipe here:
Scrambled tofu is one of my most favourite ways to consume tofu! Tofu is high in calcium and iron and I find that I crave it more during my follicular phase. I usually serve it with a side of rocket (for extra greens) avocado and wholemeal, spelt or rye sourdough bread as well as a good sprinkling of kelp flakes for extra iodine. I also love to sprinkle on some sesame seeds on my avocado for extra calcium. Without fail, after lunch, I will always have two pieces of dark chocolate, usually 85% or raw chocolate. You can find my recipe for scrambled tofu here:
Dinner in my follicular phase is generally lighter than some of my other meals. A big family favourite for us is a simple tomato pasta served with wholemeal penne homemade cashew parmesan or a hemp parmesan and a side of rocket, pear walnut, and pomegranate (if I have some, if not I leave it out) salad made with olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. I also like to sprinkle some kelp flakes on this meal for extra iodine. Recipe for the rocket salad is coming soon, but I will link the pasta recipe and cashew parmesan recipe here. I’ve recently swapped out my canned tomatoes for chopped cherry tomatoes. It makes the meal less acidic and I can worry less about chemicals leaching from tomato cans (canned tomatoes are the worst for leaching chemicals because they are so acidic)
In all honesty, I am usually too full after dinner for dessert in the follicular phase (as I said my appetite is usually much lower so I don’t really feel like it. I generally eat all the dessert in the next phase) but I wanted to include a dessert that is great for the follicular phase of the cycle. It is loaded with zinc and calcium and phytoestrogens. I have a lot of different desserts stashed in my freezer at all times because of my blogging so I will have some when I feel like it, and if I don’t feel like it, which I usually don’t, I just have some more dark chocolate and that’s it for me for the day.