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Dr Anne Henderson, Consultant Gynaecologist
Your period is due in a few days and suddenly you feel like there isn’t enough chocolate, ice-cream or sweets in the world to satisfy your cravings. It’s like your body has reverted back to your sweet-scoffing childhood, except now you’re more conscious of your expanding waistline!
So, why do you crave chocolate when you’re on your period? Blame your hormones.
After ovulation begins, your body adapts and goes through the usual cycle of shedding its uterine lining and related toxins. Levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin drop and insulin levels go up.
This dangerous combination leaves you reaching for mood-boosting foods like chocolate – that sweet mix of sugar AND fat – while glucose-levelling insulin leaves you craving a sweet treat to raise your blood sugar.
At the same time, a drop in progesterone and oestrogen production makes you more hungry than usual, especially for comfort food containing sugar, carbs and calcium, which would explain why you’re craving chocolate on your period. Drops in oestrogen are linked to changes in insulin resistance, which also trigger cravings and weight gain. This is more prevalent during the second part of your menstrual cycle.
But you are not alone. Many women report feeling an intense need to eat chocolate in the days leading up to their periods. If you already love this treat, it’s not surprising that you would want a chocolate fix when you are feeling bloated or blue. Hormonal changes inevitably make you reach for foods that comfort you.
To help alleviate chocolate cravings, add more complex carbohydrates to your diet. Not only are they healthier, they also help you to feel fuller, moderate your blood sugar levels and alleviate cramps. Think whole grains and legumes.
For a double dose, pick foods that are also rich in magnesium and calcium, such as leafy greens and porridge made with milk.
While it is not ideal to binge on junk food, a treat to make you feel better is fine if it truly does make you feel better. Just be aware of how much you eat and try to opt for healthier comfort foods as well.
If you need an incentive, a stimulant in chocolate – theobromine – can make pains worse if you are already dealing with cramps. No one needs more uncomfortable cramping, and the extra sugar would likely make you more emotional as you deal with PMS mood swings.
A mix of the stimulant, the sugar and the caffeine can really heighten your unhealthy cravings at a time when you do not need it. Instead, try a calcium supplement to tide you over.
While sugary chocolate can knock you off-balance, you can find some comfort in dark chocolate. With fewer sweeteners and more cocoa, it satisfies your desire for a dose of magnesium, without the sugar high and subsequent crash.
It also helps your muscles relax, which can ease your cramps, and reduces other pains by boosting endorphins.
Another positive is that dark chocolate’s omega-3 and omega-6 components help you to stay in a good mood and lower your stress levels. It can even improve your skin and boost your iron levels, giving you more energy.
In short, small doses of sugary chocolate may help you to feel better in the short term, but opt for dark chocolate if you really need a fix. It may help you to cope with some of the other downsides of PMS.
Disclaimer: This information aims to answer some of your questions or concerns. If you are worried about your health, talk to your family doctor or your gynecologist for professional medical advice.