Craving specific foods before and during your period is a common experience. You've probably had cravings for sweets during your period or know of someone who typically does. Women can crave sweets during their period for a variety of reasons — from changes in blood sugar or hormones to low levels of certain nutrients.
Menstrual Cycles and Food Cravings
Most women have menstrual cycles every 28 days or so. In the days leading up to their period, women might find they're anxious, grouchy or desire particular foods. These changes are known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) cravings and mood swings. They often change or cease when menstrual bleeding starts.
Over this period, which usually lasts less than a week, a woman typically loses about a third of a cup (80 milliliters) of blood. However, it's possible to have far less blood loss or far more — even an entire cup's worth. Other cravings and symptoms may occur during this time, from light-headedness to a strong desire for sugar.
Read More: 10 Crazy Facts About Our Periods
PMS Cravings and Menstruation
Cravings during the menstrual cycle are believed to be due to hormonal changes. "Estrogen and progesterone go up and then they drop off just before the period, and this is a theory for increased hunger," says Dr. Clare Ballingall, chair of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
In an interview with Huffington Post, dietitian Alexandra Parker, states that cortisol, known as the "stress hormone," rises simultaneously while serotonin, a hormone that helps regulate your mood, decreases. Finally, with all these changes going on, the body's regulation of blood sugar levels may be altered as well. The combination of these changes often results in PMS cravings for foods that are fatty, sweet or rich in carbohydrates.
Although some women experience fewer cravings once they begin bleeding, cravings can continue once menstruation begins, but these may be due to nutritional deficiencies. For example, during and after a cycle, women's bodies need to create new red blood cells, which is facilitated by vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12, folic acid and iron.
Low iron can cause dizziness, headaches, irritability and tiredness, possibly triggering cravings for sweets. In an interview with Huffington Post, dietitian Kate Leinweber notes other nutrients required during the menstrual cycle, such as magnesium. A 2016 study in the International Archives of Integrated Medicine showed that the essential minerals calcium, magnesium and phosphorus all fluctuate during a woman's menstrual cycle, explaining cravings that come and go.
Interestingly, these minerals may line up with many of your cravings for fatty or sweet foods. For instance, calcium and phosphorus can be easily found in dairy products, while chocolate cravings may result from magnesium deficiency, with chocolate identified as a preferred food during menstrual flow.
Craving Sweets During a Period
Given all the changes going through your body, it's not surprising that you might be craving sweets. Magnesium deficiency and chocolate are one thing, but what about other sweets? And why doesn't everyone have the same cravings?
Well, it comes back to hormones — women with higher levels of certain hormones (specifically, high levels of estradiol and leptin) during their menstrual cycle are more likely to want high sweet and carbohydrate foods. Just remember that not all sweet foods have to be bad. You can always drink fresh fruit juices or smoothies that lack added sugars. Other alternatives include alternative sweeteners, like lucuma powder, or dried fruits, like prunes and raisins.
- Women's Health Information: Menstrual Cycles, What Really Happens in those 28 Days; January, 2011
- National Kidney Foundation: Phosphorus and Your CKD Diet
- The FASEB Journal: Nutrition: Menstrual cycle hormones, food intake, and cravings
- Physiology and Behavior: Estradiol, SHBG and leptin interplay with food craving and intake across the menstrual cycle
- The FASEB Journal: Nutrition: Serum endocannabinoids in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle are associated with leptin and food cravings
- International Archives of Integrated Medicine: Measurement of serum calcium, magnesium and phosphorus level during different phases of menstrual cycle
- International Symposium on Magnesium: Magnesium deficiency in premenstrual tension
- Huffington Post: Bad News: The Sugar Cravings Around Your Period Are Actually Ageing You
- Diabetes Technology and Therapeutics: Menstrual cycle effects on insulin sensitivity in women with type 1 diabetes: a pilot study.
- Huffington Post: How To Deal With Period Cravings
- Journal of the American Dietetic Association: Menstrual cycle and food cravings in young college women.
- Fertility and Sterility: Determination of Total Menstrual Blood Loss
- Medicine: Iron, vitamin B12 and folate
- Medline Plus: Iron in Diet