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What to Eat for an Easier Period

Are you plagued with period pain, fatigue, or other symptoms that turn you into a zombie for the week? Get relief by upgrading your diet. Here, experts share the foods that can boost energy, beat cramps, banish moodiness, and more.

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Karen Pearson
Scott Little
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Marty Baldwin
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Iron-Fortified Whole-Grain Cereal

Many women, especially those who consume very little meat or are vegetarians, don't get the iron they need. This saps their energy and makes it difficult for them to concentrate, says Karen Ansel, RD, an American Dietetic Association spokesperson. "For women with heavy periods, iron is even more important because they lose larger amounts with each monthly flow. Iron-fortified whole-grain cereal is an easy way to get your daily dose." Ansel recommends looking for a box that provides at least 25 percent of the daily value for iron, then chase it down with a glass of orange juice -- its vitamin C will help you absorb even more iron. At dinnertime, if you're craving iron-rich red meat, go ahead and have some, says Marissa Lippert, RD. Just stick to a lean cut (flank steak or tenderloin) and a 3- to 4-ounce portion.

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Brown Rice

According to Lippert, sugar and simple carbohydrates are things we commonly crave when we're low-energy due to PMS. "One of worst things to turn to is the quick fix of sugar. Instead, eat fiber-rich complex carbs to maintain your energy levels." There are great complex carb options for any time of day, like oatmeal, sweet potatoes, or whole wheat pasta. Brown rice is particularly beneficial. "Not only is brown rice loaded with slowly digested complex carbs, it's also a top source of magnesium (1 cup delivers 1/4 of your daily dose) which is believed to alleviate bloating. Aim for 200 mg of magnesium per day," says Ansel. Another bloat-buster? Citrus, says Lippert. "It's a natural diuretic, thanks to the potassium. Snack on clementines or oranges, or add lemon or lime to the water you drink throughout the day."

Get the recipe for Papaya and Olives with Brown Rice

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Lentils

Make these your go-to food if you suffer from PMS-induced crabbiness. "They're rich in complex carbohydrates, which boost serotonin, a brain chemical that promotes feelings of well-being and relaxation," says Ansel. "Because they're also loaded with fiber and protein, they're digested slowly for a sustained carb release that will soothe you for hours." Lentils are also rich in the B vitamin thiamin, which has been linked to reducing incidences of PMS.

Get the recipe for Marinated Garden Lentil Salad Pita

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Milk or Yogurt

Studies have shown that women who down 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day (the equivalent of four servings of dairy) have 30 percent less PMS than those who only eat about 500 milligrams. "If there's one nutrient women need to beat PMS, it's calcium," says Ansel. Since four glasses of milk can give many women lactose intolerance, mix it up by adding in a container of yogurt.

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Canned Salmon

Like calcium, vitamin D can also help alleviate PMS. Ansel says that women who consume 700 IU of vitamin D a day are 40 percent less likely to suffer from PMS than those who consume only 100 IU a day. Salmon is a top source of vitamin D, delivering 530 IU in just 3 ounces. Plus, its bones are a great source of calcium, and it's packed with omega-3 fatty acids. "It is one of nature's perfect foods for beating mood swings and monthly cramps," says Ansel.

Get the recipe for Salmon Cakes with Creamy Ginger-Sesame Sauce

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Oysters

Opting for oysters during your period will help mute your monthly cramps. Both Ansel and Lippert say oysters are a top source of iron, filled with cramp-busting omega-3s (just 3 ounces are packed with over 1,000 mg of omega-3s). "When you get your period, your uterus secretes compounds known as prostaglandins and leukotrienes which cause your uterus to contract, resulting in cramps," says Ansel. "Omega-3s signal your uterus to release less potent sources of prostaglandins and leukotrienes, reducing those contractions." For vegetarians, Lipper recommends avocado and flax seed to get a dose of omega-3.

Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, March 2012.

For more healthy eating tips from Karen Ansel, RD, visit karenansel.com

For more nutrition advice from Marissa Lippert, RD, visit nourish-nyc.com

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