PMS Diet and Lifestyle

Diet and Lifestyle tips to manage Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

5 min read

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), almost 90% of women experience it at some time in their life. And some unfortunate ones like myself experience it on and off for years!

Despite being a woman I never really gave PMS a thought as I was not affected by it for almost all my 20s and first half of my 30s! Then this one (un)fine day I was feeling kinda out of it and really low. Small things started to irritate me. My usual 20 minute walk to the work drained me out and don’t even ask me about how I felt when I had to take the stairs. I was out of the breath and felt like an invisible belt was tightening around my chest! Well it turned out that I was in fact retaining a lot of fluids, and that invisible tightening belt turned out to be my bra band (eye roll). Well, what can I say, the pain was REAL people… PMS is not a myth!

PMS is defined as a group of physical and mood related symptoms during the days before getting period. Experiencing these symptoms month after month such that it affects the woman’s routine life, is known as Premenstrual Syndrome. There are more than 150 symptoms that are tied to PMS

Some of the common ones are-

Physical Symptoms Psychological Symptoms
Breast Swelling and Tenderness Irritability
Constipation/Diarrhoea Sadness
Abdominal Cramps Depression
Bloating Anxiety
Swollen ankles and hands Increased Sensitivity
Acne Difficulty Concentrating on Tasks
Change in Appetite (Increase/Decrease) Withdrawal
Cravings for sweet/salty things Feeling Overwhelmed
Insomnia Crying Spells
Fatigue Change in sexual desire

Mild form of PMS can be treated with diet and lifestyle changes. But there is a severe form, known as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder(PMDD). It is debilitating  and needs to be treated with medications like diuretics (water pill), anti inflammatory drugs and antidepressants.

If you are someone who’s is experiencing more than 3 of these symptoms and the severity is of the extent that it is interfering with your day to day life, please don’t just read self help articles and go see a doctor!

And for the rest of the ladies, here are diet and lifestyle modifications to manage symptoms of PMS-


1. C.R.A.P.

Caffeine, Refined Sugars, Alcohol and Processed Foods, together known as CRAP are well known culprits when it comes to worsening the symptoms of PMS.


Do a quick google search on this topic and you will find tons of articles stating caffeine is BAD for you and will increase PMS symptoms. Even ACOG (American College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists) guidelines suggest to avoid caffeine. [1] But these guidelines are based upon older studies that found correlation between caffeine consumption and worsened PMS symptoms [2], [3], [4] But problem with correlations is that they show that two things are positively correlated. They do not mean one thing causes the other. Whether PMS symptoms worsen due to caffeine consumption? Or do women tend to consume more caffeine to beat the severe symptoms of PMS (lethargy, pain)? Which one caused the other one? Who knows! But now we know that some of the newer research reports no association between the two what so ever. [5]

So! Should you drink coffee or should you not drink coffee? Since the jury’s still out on this matter, how about this practical approach, “If you drink no caffeinated beverages (tea, coffee, soda) then keep it that way. And If you do drink them, make sure to keep the intake low-moderate (Coffee: ≤ 2 cup, Tea ≤ 4 cups, Cola ≤4 cans).

Refined Sugars:

Simple sugars (table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, baker’s sugar) and refined carbohydrates (white flour, white rice, pasta, crackers etc.) are believed to worsen the symptoms of PMS by making the body retain more water. But then again there is not sufficient scientific evidence to support this hypothesis, and the only study that ever investigated effect of carbohydrates on PMS symptoms found no correlation. [6]

My two cents, I know sugar increases production of the Happy Hormones and there is a reason we crave it so much when we are depressed…I personally gave into my sugar and salt cravings last month only to end up with swollen feet right afterwards! Cutting down on sugars certain would not hurt. Keeping small healthy snacks like nuts and fruits in the purse helps a lot in resisting the cravings.


Just like caffeine, alcohol is also  believed to worsen PMS symptoms. But again no way of knowing whether it is what is causing the severe symptoms or the affected women are resorting to alcohol to ease the pain! And again research shows at the best a weak link between alcohol consumption and PMS symptoms.

This does not means that it is ok to overindulge in your cocktails. Know that excess of alcohol consumption causes dehydration and when that happens body works hard on retaining as much water it can, result:bloating! You really wanna be Bloated?

Processed Foods:

Sodium present in the processed foods is the single most dangerous culprit that can aggravate your PMS symptoms. This is how the story goes: processed (canned, jarred, packaged) foods almost undoubtedly always contains Salt or Some form of Sodium Derivative (Monosodium Glutamate, Disodium Phosphate, Sodium Alginate etc). Purpose of their addition to the food is sometimes as a preservative and sometimes as a flavor enhancers (salt makes things yummier!). Levels of Serotonin, our feel good hormone, drops during PMS and Salt is known to help increase it’s production back up. Which is why our salt cravings are all time high during days before period starts! Sounds great right! Eat more salt and be happy, what’s wrong with that?

Rule of thumb (Always remember this), “Where ever Salt goes, Water follows”. More Salt⇒More water, Less Salt⇒Less Water. During PMS or otherwise, when you eat more salt, your body will retain more water and you will experience swelling, bloating, water lumps in more fatty parts of the body (such as breasts!). This is why cutting down on sodium not just during PMS but the entire cycle is the single most effective strategy in tackling PMS symptoms.

Sodium is present in foods in sneaky forms. You won’t ever suspect some of the healthy food items like dry fruits to contain salt. To know more, read this…

Hidden Sodium, now revealed !!


2. Staying Active

Stay Active to Beat PMS

I know and I can understand how you may want to stay in the bed all curled up because the cramps hurt so much! But research shows that staying active, and doing physical activity actually helps in relieving the symptoms. Exercise helps you produce endorphins, another feel good hormone that helps alleviate pain.

Anyone Up for an All Natural Pain Killer? 🙂

3. Calcium and Vitamin D

Are shown to reduce severity of the PMS symptoms. [7] [8]

Include 3 servings of reduced fat dairy products to get your Required Daily Amount of Calcium. You can also opt for supplements, but in case you are consuming 3 servings of dairy daily, supplementation isn’t necessary.

Suggested Read,  Top 15 Calcium-Rich Foods (Many Are Non-Dairy)


4. Water

Yup, contrary to the popular belief that you should go easy on water when you are bloated, instead drinking plenty of water will help your body flush the excess of salt and it will also correct your water balance. So, sip it up!

How much water should you drink? Read on to find out…

5 tips to fight dehydration


5. Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins like Vitamin E and Vitamin B6, and minerals like Magnesium  and Potassium are shown to alleviate symptoms in of PMS. [9] [10]

Sources of Vit B6: Chickpeas, Tuna, Salmon, chicken breast, potatoes, banana, cottage cheese

Sources of Vit E: Wheat Germ, Sunflower Oil, Sunflower Seeds, Almonds, Broccoli, Spinach

Magnesium: Legumes, Nuts, Seeds, Green Leafy Vegetables

Potassium: Banana, Milk, Nuts, Tomatoes, Potatoes

6. Omega 3

Omega 3 (n-3 OR ω-3) Fatty Acids have been shown to reduce severity of both physical and mental symptoms in women suffering from PMS. [11] [12]

Sources of omega 3: Salmon, Tuna, Walnuts, Flaxseeds (अलसी, जवस)

7. Quit Smoking

Last and the most important tip, quit smoking! Enough has been said and written about health hazards of tobacco smoking, so l will not bore you here by repeating the same. Just Do It Already!

Now, you do not have to act upon ALL of these advises, and even if you do your PMS symptoms will not go away over night! Slowly and steadily start to incorporate few of these changes to your routine and stick with them till they become a habit. And if you really want your coffee or piece of chocolate, go for it, please! You listen to your body, see what works for YOU…

“you do you. always. :)”

Suggested Read, 

The Crimson Moon, The Taboo, The Neglect and a Taint Free You!

Soniya Nikam, MS, RD.

Soniya Nikam, MS, RD.

She is a Registered Dietitian who does not believe in dieting; She has a Master's Degree in Nutrition but she is not your "I know it all Nutrition Guru!"; She loves food but loves talking about food even more. Her articles are a direct reflection of her personal quest where nutrition science meets real life! Oh, and she is owned by a 3 m.o. naughty kitten :)

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