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What do your period cravings mean?

Period cravings: What do they mean?

You know the drill: Three spoonfuls into the peanut butter jar, you think, What am I doing? And then you realize the date. Your period is due in about a week.

You are likely familiar with cravings before periods, including chocolate, carbohydrates, sweets, salty foods and more. Here we discuss why you might crave these foods and what your specific cravings may indicate. We’ll also suggest ways to deal with period cravings and share some foods that might help reduce premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms.

Are period cravings real?

Yes, period cravings are real. According to WebMD, PMS symptoms affect 85% of women; of those, 70% experience symptoms such as food cravings, mood changes and fatigue, all of which can affect your diet.1

Most common period cravings

Our list takes a close look at some of the most common period cravings. Before we dive in, it’s important to note that not everyone experiences food cravings. PMS symptoms in general are wide-ranging.2 While you may be craving pizza before your period is due, your best friend may be dealing with cramping, a headache, fatigue and/or mood swings.2 Different factors can affect your chances of having to deal with PMS, including lots of stress, depression (experienced by you or a family member) and age (PMS symptoms can get worse as you get older!).2 Here we explore what factors can affect your desire for salt, sugar and more in the days leading up to your period.

Craving chocolate during your period

According to a 2014 paper published in Frontiers in Psychology, “Women in the U.S. are twice as likely to experience cravings for chocolate as compared to men.”3 They tend to crave chocolate more intensely and more frequently about four days prior to the onset of their period.3 Researchers have determined that hormone fluctuations, nutritional deficits or certain ingredients in chocolate don’t factor into why we sometimes crave it.3 However, cultural and psychosocial factors do seem to play a role!3

Culturally, few people report craving anything sweet in Egypt, and women in Japan who experience cravings tend to crave rice.3 Cravings in general seem to be a culture-bound construct — most languages don’t have an equivalent to the English word “craving.”3 Additionally, women in the U.S. may view chocolate as something they shouldn’t eat, which, psychologically, can increase cravings.3

Craving pizza during your period

Many folks crave carbs in the days prior to and while on their period, which may be why your local pizza parlor can almost predict when you will make your next midnight order. This may be due to some people having a serotonin deficiency that could contribute to PMS symptoms.4 (Some folks are prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors – SSRIs – by their healthcare professionals to relieve symptoms of PMS.)4

Serotonin, a hormone produced in the center of the brainstem, can boost your mood.5 Breakfast foods rich in carbohydrates, such as waffles, can increase serotonin levels in the brain, but not directly.6 According to Harvard Health, eating complex carbohydrates (think whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits) can be a more nutritious way to achieve the same effect.5

Craving sodium during your period

You may think you’re craving salt during your period, but what you’re likely really craving is whatever the salt is on — French fries, pretzels, potato chips or other snack foods. And that craving could be due to craving carbs, or a serotonin deficiency, which we explained above. Another reason? You could be thirsty. Thirst changes are a symptom of PMS 7 and some people crave salt when they’re dehydrated.

Craving orange juice during your period

A 2017 study in Obstetrics & Gynecology Science suggests a positive effect of calcium on PMS.8 Calcium can be found in many dairy products, such as cheese, milk and yogurt.2 Other foods, such as bread, cereal (and orange juice!) have calcium added.2 (Check the label to see if the word “fortified” appears on your favorite brand of OJ.) If you’re craving orange juice, this may be your body’s way of remembering how calcium benefited you the last time you had PMS.

Craving sugar during your period

If you’ve been craving carb-rich sweets or sodas in the days leading up to your period or during your period, your hormones could be one of the reasons. There’s evidence to suggest that those who happen to have higher levels of certain hormones during the luteal phase (after ovulation during the menstrual cycle) may be more likely to seek out sweets. A 2016 study in The FASEB Journal showed that during the luteal phase women with higher levels of estradiol (estrogen) reported an increase in carbohydrate and sweet-food cravings, and those with higher progesterone levels reported a slightly increased consumption of sweet drinks.9

How to deal with period cravings

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), what you eat can impact your PMS symptoms, including what you crave: “A complex carbohydrate-rich diet may reduce mood symptoms and food cravings. Complex carbohydrates are found in foods made with whole grains, like whole wheat bread, pasta, and cereals. Other examples are barley, brown rice, beans, and lentils.”7 Keep complex carbohydrate-rich snacks on hand to satisfy cravings without derailing your nutritional goals. ACOG also suggests eating more meals that are smaller in portion throughout the day versus three big ones.7

Mindfulness techniques, including meditation, yoga and breathwork, may help take your mind off cravings.7 If you tend to be hungrier when tired, try to get adequate sleep.2 Additionally, consider the impact stress and anxiety seem to have around the time your period is due. PMS may exacerbate these issues, and finding positive ways to manage them could lessen PMS symptoms.2

Foods that may reduce PMS symptoms in general

According to the Office on Women’s Health, certain vitamins and minerals may relieve some PMS symptoms.1 You should always talk to your healthcare professional before taking a new supplement. That said, a lot of vitamins and minerals can be found in food you eat throughout the course of the day.

The Office on Women’s Health says studies have identified PMS relief benefits for the following:

  • Calcium (to help with cravings, tiredness and depression): milk, cheese, yogurt, and in fortified orange juice, cereal and bread.1
  • Vitamin B6 (to help with mood changes, forgetfulness, anxiety and bloating): fish, poultry, potatoes, fruit (not citrus), and in fortified foods, such as cereal.1

The Office on Women’s Health also says studies have found mixed results for PMS relief from the following:

  • Magnesium (to help with migraines): spinach, nuts, whole grains and fortified foods such as cereal2
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6 (to help reduce cramps): green leafy vegetables, fish, nuts and flaxseed2

No matter what you do or don’t eat on the days leading up to and during your period, give yourself some grace. Your body does some pretty remarkable things each menstrual cycle, and PMS is often no joke. As we talked about, there are many healthy ways to try to relieve PMS symptoms. But balance is also key. On a particularly crampy or teary day, sometimes the best way of loving yourself is in the form of a scoop of ice cream or a delicious savory treat.

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  1. WebMD. Is PMS sabotaging your diet? Accessed March 26, 2024. https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/is-pms-sabotaging-your-diet
  2. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Office on Women’s Health. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Updated February 22, 2021. Accessed March 25, 2024. https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/premenstrual-syndrome
  3. Orloff NC, Hormes JM. Pickles and ice cream! Food cravings in pregnancy: hypothesis, preliminary evidence, and directions for future research. Front. Psychol. 2014;5. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01076. Accessed March 25, 2024. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01076/full
  4. Pinkerton JV. Merck Manual Professional Version. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Updated January 2023. Accessed March 25, 2024. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gynecology-and-obstetrics/menstrual-abnormalities/premenstrual-syndrome-pms
  5. Watson S. Harvard Health Publishing. Serotonin: the natural mood booster. Updated November 20, 2023. Accessed March 25, 2024. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/serotonin-the-natural-mood-booster
  6. Wurtman RJ, Wurtman JJ, Regan MM, McDermott JM, Tsay RH, Breu JJ. Effects of normal meals rich in carbohydrates or proteins on plasma tryptophan and tyrosine ratios. Am. J. Clin. 2003;77(1), 128–132. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/77.1.128. Accessed March 25, 2024. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000291652305579X?via%3Dihub
  7. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Updated November 2023. Accessed March 25, 2024. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/premenstrual-syndrome
  8. Shobeiri F, Araste FE, Ebrahimi R, Jenabi E, Nazari M. Effect of calcium on premenstrual syndrome: A double-blind randomized clinical trial. Obstet Gynecol Sci. 2017;60(1), 100–105. doi: 10.5468/ogs.2017.60.1.100. Accessed March 25, 2024. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5313351/
  9. Krishnan S, Tryon R, Welch LC, Horn WF, Keim NL. Menstrual cycle hormones, food intake, and cravings. FASEB J. 2016;30(51). doi: 10.1096/fasebj.30.1_supplement.418.6. Accessed March 25, 2024. https://faseb.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1096/fasebj.30.1_supplement.418.6