I got my first period at the age of 13. I used to study in grade 8. I vividly remember losing consciousness in school assembly due to heavy bleeding and severe menstrual cramps. I was unaware of what was happening to me. My first period was a scary and bitter experience which I will never forget!
I was a quite lean and thin adolescent girl who got involved in limited physical activities because it made me easily tired. When my menstrual cycle started, things became more difficult for me as I felt weaker during that time of the month. Every month I was facing severe abdominal pain which was was followed by unconsciousness, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite.
Our society considers menstruation as a matter of shame that must be kept hidden. So, discussion about menstruation and menstrual problems with family or teachers was out of context for me. The topics related to sex and menstruation used to be always skipped in classes while the cultural and religious taboos related to menstruation in my family made me hesitant to speak to someone about it. This wasn’t just my personal problem, but all the other adolescent girls of my age were oblivious about our own health and nutrition. At that time there wasn’t anyone who could provide us proper information or counseling on menstruation.
As an educated and responsible youth, and a girl who faced health consequences due to lack of awareness about menstruation, I want to inform the young girls about an essential but neglected necessity during menstruation which is “Diet and Nutrition”.
Nutrition plays a tremendous role in determining a woman’s health and nutritional status. A girl needs more calories and more healthy foods during the periods than our usual intake in normal days. Providing proper care, diet, hygiene to adolescent girl during menstruation can even contribute in breaking the intergeneration cycle of malnutrition.
Some of the tips for intake of healthy foods menstruation are as follows;
- A balanced diet containing lots of fruits and vegetable should be taken during menstruation.
- Consuming a diet rich in Iron is extremely important. During menstruation, body’s requirement for iron increases as it needs to create more blood to make up for the loss of blood during menstruation. A deficiency of iron in the body can cause anemia. Some of the food products rich in iron are:
- Lean red meat,
- Dark poultry (organ meat like liver)
- Spinach and green leafy vegetables
- Almonds and iron fortified cereals
- Citrus fruits or vegetables should be consumed before taking iron rich food as it helps in iron absorption. Orange juice is best choice for iron absorption.
- Avoid caffeine, coffee and caffeinated drinks as they decrease absorption of iron.
- Fruits and Vegetables should be taken in greater amount. Green vegetables are rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium, and relieve and help prevent menstrual pains. These minerals can help ease tensions and relax us. Green vegetables also help with irritability and contain high quantities of vitamin K, which is needed to prevent excessive bleeding and clot the blood.
- All seasonal fruits like Apple, Banana, Pear, Orange, Pineapple melons etc can help us deal with sugar cravings and provide with all the macro and micronutrients to help us combat period induced weakness.
- Drinking adequate amounts of water will help to alleviate symptoms of bloating and relieve us from water retention that’s common during periods. So we should drink 8 to 10 glasses of water during periods.
- The high fiber content in beans and peas helps reduce congestion and cramps. Legumes also contain high levels of the vitamin B complex, which prevents cramps and fatigue at that time of the month.
- Food items that are rich in calcium should be included in our diet every day. A glass of milk or curd is best option which appears to relieve menstrual discomfort.
- Apart from healthy diet light exercise or yoga during periods is also important to keep us cool and comfortable as well as to get relieved from pain and cramps.
Foods we should avoid during Menstruation
- Caffeinated foods and beverages that contain caffeine should be restricted though it can help relieve menstrual symptoms. Caffeine-containing foods and beverages, such as chocolate, coffee, tea and soft drinks, worsen symptoms such as anxiety, depression and breast tenderness.
- Salt intake should be kept under control to avoid bloating and the puffy, heavy feeling that comes with it. Avoiding processed foods is one of the best ways to control salt consumption because processed foods and convenience foods are typically packed with sodium.
- Foods high in sugar is not suitable to intake during menstruation. Imbalance in sugar level can make us feel lazy and sluggish. Sugar can also cause rapid mood swings. So we should stay away from sugary foods such as cakes, pastries and colas.
- We should not drink alcohol of any forms. Intake of alcohol increases premenstrual depression. Alcohol can act as a blood thinner, increasing our flow and causing more discomfort.
- Dairy products like ice creams, cheese and cream are high in fats and therefore have the same effects as fatty meats. High-fat foods have a strong influence on hormonal activity in our body. Hormone changes during the menstrual cycle are linked to symptoms such as bloating and breast tenderness
- The diet should be light and balanced during periods. Heavy food is simply going to make us feel sluggish and cause mood swings.
Due to my lack of awareness on diet during menstruation, I used to consume very small amount of food during monthly period cycle fearing the severe abdominal pain. I had no idea that I could have anemia due to severe bleeding while menstruating. The Nepal Demographic Health Survey 2016 has also revealed the alarming situation of anemia among women of reproductive age (15-49) which is 41%. Besides this a lot of women and young girls are also malnourished in Nepal. This is serious concern nationwide which needs immediate attention from all levels. Girls must be educated on this issue beginning from their homes and school. Thankfully, times are changing. People have started talking about menstruation and its various dimensions at school and homes.
I am really hopeful that we can make our upcoming generation of young girls nutritionally strong and healthy who are capable to challenge the menstruation taboos, break the myth and stigmas to become empowered and unstoppable!
Written by: Rama Thapa