Do you get monthly food cravings? Nutritionist, Marianna Sulic explains what could be causing them.
During the two weeks prior to your period there is a big hormone shift - simply your hormones become unbalanced, your oestrogen levels increase and progesterone levels decrease. At the end of your cycle the body needs to break down and process any extra hormones floating around and excrete them from the body. This process is done by the liver and bowels. If everything is working smoothly then these hormones should be cleared efficiently and no PMS symptoms should occur, however, when the body has a hard time responding to the changes in hormones than an excess amount of estrogen can be left creating estrogen dominance. One study found that women with higher estrogen levels also had higher levels of the hunger hormone leptin and stronger cravings for sweet and carbohydrate rich foods, while the women with lower estrogen levels had lower leptin levels and reported fewer cravings.
As it’s your digestive system and liver processing the excess hormones, it’s also important to look at your gut health and the types of foods you crave the most. Food cravings and bowel changes such as constipation that occur during the two weeks prior to your period starting is a sign that your digestive system is on the weak side. If the answer to your food cravings is wheat, flour, bread, pastries, biscuits, fizzy drinks and coffee then you may well have leaky gut and fungal overgrowth problems, such as candida, as well as food intolerance's. Common food intolerance's include refined carbohydrates, wheat and possibly gluten, caffeine, sugar or alcohol. Gluten found in grains is very hard for the body to digest. Eating gluten foods can trigger overeating because you are not absorbing the nutrients that you should be from the grains. The vitamins and minerals found in grains are zinc, magnesium, selenium, vitamin C and B vitamins. You will get the calories but not the corresponding nutrition and energy, which makes you crave these foods even more.
Sugar cravings can also occur if you have an unbalanced blood sugar level or are deficient in chromium or magnesium, which are nutrients required by our cells to take up sugar (glucose). So, if you are low in these nutrients than glucose is not getting into the cell as efficiently to be used for energy and our body craves even more sugary foods. Chocolate tends to be a top choice – chocolate does contain magnesium so it’s beneficial in that respect, but it is also high in saturated fat and refined sugar. The occasional small piece of dark chocolate is fine, but don’t think you’re going to top up your magnesium levels by eating chocolate! It is better to take a multi-vitamin that includes both chromium and magnesium or take these nutrients in individual supplements.
Nutritionally, eat plenty of soluble fibre from vegetable sources, especially cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts. Including soy foods, such as tofu, miso and tempeh into your diet can help balance hormones naturally. Good sources of chromium include nuts, seeds, buckwheat, broccoli and peas; and foods rich in magnesium include green leafy vegetables, broccoli, figs, avocado, banana, and nuts and seeds. Good quality proteins, such as fresh fish, eggs, skinless chicken and turkey, cottage cheese and cooked tofu added to each meal will help regulate your blood sugar levels and support the liver to process hormones. It is essential to consume adequate protein throughout the day, not just at one meal. Lentils, beans and pulses, brown rice, oats and sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds, are also rich in fibre, protein, B vitamins, magnesium and essential fats.