Before I went back to school to study nutrition and hormone health, I was pretty much the poster child for luteal phase symptoms (major bloating, painful cramping, fatigue, intense cravings and mood swings so intense my husband (then boyfriend) tracked my cycle for six months to prove that all of our fights happened right before my period (little did I know he was actually onto something!)
Thankfully, now that I understand the ins and outs of my menstrual cycle I am happy to report a relatively symptom-free luteal phase (that I actually have come to enjoy)…maybe because I love the food so much 🙂
Either way, I want you to know that while many of these luteal phase symptoms are common, they are NOT normal, and it is totally possible for you to have a symptom-free luteal phase (and entire menstrual cycle) through simple nutrition and lifestyle modifications.
Starting today, with the most delicious luteal phase foods and recipes to help you naturally balance your hormones and feel your best. Snag all of the details below!
The luteal phase is one of the four phases of a menstrual cycle. It typically lasts 12-16 days and occurs immediately after ovulation, when reproductive hormones estrogen, testosterone and LH begin their decline and progesterone rises to stimulate the growth of the uterine lining in preparation for a potential pregnancy (if not pregnant it will shed in the next phase, menstruation).
Emotionally during the first half of the luteal phase, you’re still riding high off of the effects of the ovulatory phase. However, as progesterone production increases, you’ll find yourself starting to wind down and a strong desire to complete tasks and get things done (much like the transition from summer to fall).Your brain is also hyperaware of details, causing you to notice things you may have overlooked previously.
The rise in progesterone also stimulates your appetite and increases your body temperature and metabolic rate, requiring you to eat an additional 200-300 calories per day (and potentially inducing all of those cravings!)
Additionally, your immune system downshifts and stress response heightens during this time, as nature’s way of helping you protect a fertilized egg in the event you’re pregnant. This means you’re more susceptible to colds and sensitive to stressful situations, making it a crucial time to slow down, focus on self-care and incorporate plenty of nutrients/immunity boosting foods.
When hormones are balanced, the luteal phase should be relatively symptom-free. Unfortunately, this often isn’t the case in our modern world, and those with hormonal imbalances or conditions tend to get hit the hardest in the luteal phase.
Luckily, one of the best ways we can combat hormonal imbalances and symptoms during the luteal phase is through food, especially by eating enough of certain nutrients to support progesterone production, stabilize blood sugar, improve digestion, boost our mood and curb carb cravings. When we do this, we naturally support healthy hormone levels, which can lead to benefits in the luteal phase including:
Due to the hormonal and biological fluctuations that take place during our luteal phase, it’s important to consume plenty of nutrients that support progesterone production, stable blood sugar, optimal digestion and healthy brain function. See below for specific nutrient requirements, as well as the foods rich in said nutrients. *You’ll notice many of these foods overlap in nutrient categories, with multiple benefits to consuming!*
During your luteal phase the increase in progesterone naturally slows digestion (hello bloat/constipation!). Thus it’s important to eat plenty of fiber-rich foods, which support large intestine functionality and increase transit time, leading to regular bowel movements. Some optimal fiber-rich foods include:
B vitamins (especially b6 and b9) support optimal progesterone production (crucial to reduce pms) and work to stabilize blood sugar levels, helping you avoid energy dips and cravings. Some optimal B vitamin rich foods for your luteal phase include:
Consuming adequate complex (aka slow burning) carbohydrates helps to regulate serotonin and dopamine levels in order to prevent mood swings as well as provides your cells with energy and helps to curbs cravings. Optimal complex carbs include:
Foods high in calcium and magnesium work to reduce fluid retention and bloat, as well as muscle pain and spasms (oh hi cramps!) Optimal luteal phase foods include:
Omega-3’s are a type of unsaturated fat that are considered highly anti-inflammatory and can help lower prostaglandins that can cause cramping/period pain. Additionally consuming enough healthy fats ensures your body has enough fuel to maintain energy through menstruation, a very energy-intensive phase. Optimal luteal phase foods include:
Herbs and spices have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for over 2000 years (and are now clinically proven) to help reduce cramping, nausea, bloating, fatigue, and headaches, as well as boost immunity and digestion and promote cycle regularity. Optimal herbs and spices to incorporate in your luteal phase include:
**If you’re looking for a one-stop shop herbal formula to help you combat pms and have a healthy luteal phase, check out my favorite (I’ve been using it for 3 years!) clinically proven custom herbal blend. Don’t forget to use code SOFRESH20 to save.
During your luteal phase your body naturally burns 10-20% more calories, which comes with an increase in appetite. Restricting foods such as nutrient-rich carbohydrates/fast or not eating enough actually prevents your body from producing the hormones it needs to keep your metabolism burning effectively, leading to an increase in fat storage and destabilized blood sugar (aka more cravings/mood swings, etc.).
Try adding in an additional 100-300 calorie snack or boosting the calorie/nutrient density of meals with chopped nuts/seeds, a drizzle of olive oil or grass-fed ghee, a scoop of quinoa or avocado slices, etc.
The rise in progesterone during your luteal phase naturally slows digestion, often leading to uncomfortable symptoms like constipation or bloat. Cooking your foods well (i.e. roasting, baking, etc.) increases the bioavailability of micronutrients and makes them easier to absorb, working to support large intestine functionality and increase transit time, leading to regular bowel movements.
Slow burning complex carbs help to stabilize blood sugar levels and boost your feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, which acts as a natural appetite suppressant and mood stabilizer. Opt for the fiber and nutrient-rich options listed above.
Because blood sugar is less stable and resting cortisol levels are higher during your luteal phase, skipping meals or eating irregularly signals to your adrenals to pump out cortisol to compensate for fluctuating blood sugar levels (aka more circulating stress hormones = more mood swings, cravings, sleep issues, fat storage, etc.) Instead try to eat a meal or snack every 3-4 hours that includes a high quality protein option (poultry, eggs, red meat, seafood, ricotta or cottage cheese), fat (avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds) and fiber (all fruits and veggies, gluten-free grains and legumes, etc.)
Water retention increases during your luteal phase, which can cause bloating and puffiness, so make sure you’re drinking enough water (minimum half of your body weight in ounces) and consuming hydrating fruits and vegetables such as celery, cucumber, leafy greens, apples and pears.
The practice of rotating four different seeds (pumpkin, flax, sesame and sunflower) between the first and second half of our cycle phases alleges to regulate our hormones, thereby helping to relieve PMS, reduce period pain, stimulate ovulation, increase fertility and support the body in healing conditions such as PCOS and endometriosis. You can learn more about seed cycling in this post.
Incorporating traditional Chinese herbs into my cycle syncing protocol has been a GAME CHANGER in supporting my hormones and reducing uncomfortable symptoms. I love the simplicity of adding in healing herbal teas such as red raspberry leaf or ginger, as well as taking this custom herbal formula daily during my luteal phase (either in adrenal cocktails, hot cocoa or straight from the bottle). *Use code SOFRESH20 to save 20% off your order.
+ Creamy Quinoa Porridge + Quick Berry Compote (see recipe below)
+ All Breakfast Recipes From Phase #4 of My Hormone Balance Reset Plan
+ All Dinner + Lunch Recipes From Phase #4 of my Hormone Balance Reset Plan
+ All dessert recipes from Phase #4 of the Hormone Balance Reset Plan
While there are four distinct phases during a menstrual cycle, it’s important to note that most of the hormonal shifts are gradual (i.e. you will most likely begin to feel the effects slowly over a period of several days). The slowest shift often occurs in your luteal phase, as it is the longest. During the first few days (up to a week) most women are still riding high off the ovulatory phase, thanks to elevated levels of estrogen and testosterone, making this an optimal time to incorporate more cruciferous veggies (cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts) and high fiber foods (raw carrot, leafy greens, beets) that help your liver and large intestine flush out estrogen more effectively.
During the second half of the luteal phase (i.e. typically around day 5 or 6) your estrogen levels dip and progesterone is steadily rising, making this an ideal time to boost your intake of warm foods (baked/roasted) and plenty of those complex carbohydrates (roasted root veggies, gluten-free grains, etc.) that work to stabilize serotonin and dopamine levels and support optimal digestion.
Botttomline, don’t overcomplicate it! Try to tune into your body and what you’re naturally craving and trust that even small shifts (like eating more warm foods or switching up your veggies) can make a solid impact overtime.
While I like to focus on adding in vs. taking away, limiting your intake of certain foods can work to support to hormones and therefore reduce uncomfortable symptoms. These are the top foods to limit/avoid during your luteal phase if possible.
Over consuming caffeine and alcohol impacts your hormones in a myriad of ways (burdening our liver, altering our gut microbiome, depleting micronutrients, destabilizing blood sugar), most often leading to imbalances such as estrogen dominance or adrenal dysfunction. If you can’t imagine giving either up (zero judgement here!) try to minimize/reduce your intake or experiment with swaps (half-caff, decaf, mocktails, etc.)
As mentioned above, progesterone slows digestion, which can lead to bloating, constipation, etc. Cold or raw foods take more energy expenditure to break down, leading to slower transit time and a decrease in bioavailability of nutrients, so try to limit these when possible or make swaps (i.e. smoothies for oatmeal, salads for soup, etc.)
While it’s crucial to up your intake of complex carbohydrates during your luteal phase, it’s just as important to limit refined carbohydrates (i.e. most processed baked goods, white pasta, crackers, breads, pastries, cereal, etc.) which often contain inflammatory oils and can spike and crash blood sugar, leading to more cravings, mood swings, etc.
While consuming small amounts of high quality, high protein dairy (such as ricotta or cottage cheese) during this phase may support hormonal health, it’s important to steer clear of conventional dairy (i.e. store-bought milks, cheeses, yogurts, etc. that contain added antibiotics and growth hormones that mess with yours). Look for brands where the animals grass-fed, organic and hormone and antibiotic free when possible, or limit dairy altogether as it can be difficult for many to digest, especially during your luteal phase.
One of the most effective ways we can support our hormones (thereby reducing uncomfortable symptoms) is through consuming a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods based on where we’re at in our menstrual cycle. I always encourage clients to start small, focusing on 1-2 shifts (i.e. eating more warm foods during your luteal phase, or switching a side salad for a side baked sweet potato, etc.) to avoid feeling overwhelmed and continue adding in more from there. When in doubt, tune into your body and what feels good, and I think you’ll find you naturally crave foods ideal for each phase.
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This creamy quinoa porridge with quick berry compote contains plenty of fiber, protein and micronutrients (b vitamins, zinc, magnesium) that work to support hormone balance in your luteal phase.
Author: Lauren Chambers
Recipe Type: breakfast, snack
For the Quinoa Porridge:
For the Quick Berry Compote:
For The Optional Toppings:
*You can prep the quinoa and compote several days in advance and store in glass, airtight containers in the fridge if you prefer. It makes great leftovers heated up as well!
**You can also try swapping the quinoa for millet if preferred, another micronutrient-rich gluten-free grain that’s great for your luteal phase.
***The berries can also be swapped for finely chopped apples or pears, try adding cinnamon for an extra flavor boost.
I’m honored to support you on your journey to optimal hormone health + happiness. Thanks for being here babe.