While there's no evidence that a low-carb diet can help you better manage your menstrual cycle, as a diet rich in whole foods, it's a source of nutrients that may help with cramps and bloating. The low-carb diet is also low in sodium, which may help with premenstrual bloating. If you're considering limits on your carb intake and you need some guidance, consult a registered dietitian.
Low-Carb Dieting for Women
A low-carb diet is more than just skipping bread and potatoes. It limits your total carb intake to 50 to 150 grams a day because you eat mostly no- and low-carb protein foods and veggies. And some plans start you off on even fewer carbs -- 20 to 50 grams a day -- to get you into ketosis, which is when your body is forced to burn fat for energy due to a lack of glucose from your limited carb intake. The low-carb diet not only helps your body burn fat but also seems to help keep a lid on hunger, making it easier for you to follow the plan to lose weight.
A 2007 study published in JAMA found that a low-carb diet was more effective at helping premenopausal women lose weight than other popular weight-loss plans, including the Zone and the Ornish diets. This study also found that the low-carb diet improved blood sugar and blood lipid levels in the women.
Manage Symptoms With Nutrients From Whole Foods
While no particular diet is recommended for women to help them better manage their menstrual cycles, there are nutrients that help alleviate symptoms such as bloating and cramps. Omega-3 fats, for example, found in carb-free salmon and tuna and low-carb walnuts and flaxseeds, help reduce the production of prostaglandins, according to Columbia University. These hormones are linked to cramping and pain during menstruation.
With food choices such as chicken, beef and nuts, a low-carb diet is usually rich in vitamin B-6, magnesium and zinc, providing more than 100 percent of the daily value, according to a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2010. An adequate intake of these nutrients may help reduce cramping and pain caused by menstruation.
Because it limits your food choices to mostly whole foods instead of processed fare, the low-carb diet is naturally lower in sodium than many other popular weight-loss plans. Limiting sodium intake may help prevent premenstrual fluid retention and bloating.
Work in Vitamin E, Calcium and Fiber, Too
Vitamin E, calcium and fiber also help decrease menstrual symptoms, but you'll have to work a little harder to get enough on your low-carb diet, mainly because the diet emphasizes meat and veggies. Vitamin E seems to be the toughest nutrient to get on your low-carb plan, according to the 2010 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. To make sure you get enough, add almonds, sunflower seeds and peanuts to up your intake without adding too many carbs.
Milk and yogurt are rich in calcium but may have too many carbs for some of the very-low-carb plans. If you can't fit dairy sources into your carb budget, use fortified unsweetened almond milk, and add more calcium-rich greens to your repertoire, such as spinach and turnip greens.
While veggies are rich in fiber, limiting fruits and grains due to their carb content may decrease your overall fiber intake. Women need about 25 grams of fiber a day. In addition to eating small amounts of nuts and seeds, fill your diet with high-fiber veggies such as green bell peppers, snow peas and tomatoes. Raspberries are a particularly high-fiber fruit and happen to be low in carbs, too.
Sample Meal Plan
Be sure to include a variety of nutrient-rich foods at each meal and snack on your low-carb plan so you get what you need for overall good health, emphasizing those nutrients that reduce menstrual symptoms. At breakfast you might have omega-3 rich salmon lox with cream cheese on a low-carb tortilla or lettuce leaf and 1/2 cup of raspberries. A bunless burger topped with cheddar cheese and a tomato provides zinc and magnesium at lunchtime. Round out your meal with mixed greens topped with sunflower seeds, olive oil and red wine vinegar. Grilled chicken is a good source of vitamin B-6 and goes well with roasted brussels sprouts and cucumber and tomato salad served with low-carb ranch or Caesar dressing. Olives, almonds, walnuts, bell peppers and celery make healthy nutrient-rich snack choices on your low-carb plan.
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Low-Carbohydrate Nutrition and Metabolism
- Columbia University: Go Ask Alice!: Foods That Minimize Menstrual Cramps
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: Prevalence of Micronutrient Deficiency in Popular Diet Plans
- JAMA: Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN Diets for Change in Weight and Related Risk Factors Among Overweight Premenopausal Women The A TO Z Weight Loss Study: A Randomized Trial
- Atkins: Carb Counter
- Virginia Cooperative Extension: The Low-Carbohydrate Craze: Is it a Healthy Way to Lose Weight?
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Calcium
- Today's Dietitian: Fill in the Fiber