If you’re someone who feels the sudden and very real need to eat chocolate the week before and during your period, you’re not alone. It’s a comfort food that many of us turn to in times of need – after all, it never lets us down (except when you get that one rogue Malteser that has no actual malt inside it).
But is there a reason why some us can feel such a new urge to reach for the Cadbury around our bleed, even if for the rest of the month it’s not our snack of choice?
Wonder no more, reader, since we’ve asked the experts to find out whether there’s really any science behind our sugary period cravings.
Why do so many people crave chocolate around their period?
The truth is, there’s not much evidence to suggest that it’s anything other than comfort eating and learned behaviour.
“At the beginning of the period, progesterone and oestrogen levels drop, which can increase hunger levels,” says Reema Patel, London Dietitian for Dietitian Fit and Co. “There is also an increase in the stress hormone cortisol, and a reduction in our feel-good hormone, serotonin. There is a theory that to help boost serotonin hormone levels, we eat food that makes us feel good. However, there is no strong evidence for this link between hormones and cravings yet. Women still report chocolate cravings, despite not being on their period or after menopause.”
She adds: “Craving chocolate around our time of the month can be down to learned behaviour. We anticipate wanting something sweet around this time, as it is what we are used to. When we eat chocolate, we enjoy the flavour and texture of it in our mouth – the combination of fats and sugars make it taste good and pleasurable. This is a positive reward mechanism, that leads to a release of dopamine (a reward hormone). However there is no research indicating that hormones directly can cause chocolate cravings.”
Could chocolate have real benefits around the time of our period?
Laura Southern, a nutritional therapist at London Gynaecology, says that good-quality chocolate could have some mood-boosting qualities.
“Chocolate is an antioxidant – so it can help reduce inflammation and increase brain function, both things our body might crave before our period. It’s also high in magnesium which is calming, can help induce sleep, and is sometimes referred to as ‘natures tranquilliser’. So, eating chocolate which is high in magnesium might make us feel more calm, relaxed and also help with muscle contractions, so it could help ease period cramps,” she says.
What does it mean if you’re craving sugar around your period?
We enlisted the help of Dr Claudia Pastorelli Mosca, medical advisor at Flo Health, to advise on this one.
“In some ways, seeking foods high in fat and sugar may even be a biological survival mechanism as they represent a source of energy,” she says. “That’s precisely why biology is a significant factor in determining your eating habits around that time of the month. Pre-period hunger, not limited to chocolate, also can be an indication that your body needs more of a certain nutrient. Iron, in particular, can decrease in people with heavy menstrual flow and might need to be replenished.”
What foods will be beneficial around your period?
Claudia adds: “There are some reports on the changes in serum calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus levels in various phases of the menstrual cycle, and research shows low levels of magnesium and Vitamin D can increase PMS symptoms.
“So, it might be a good idea to include sources of these minerals in the diet around the period, such as leafy green vegetables, meat, soy protein, nuts, seeds, dry beans, whole grains, wheat germ, wheat, and oat bran. However, it can be hard to get enough vitamin D from your diet alone, so it is often a good idea to supplement it.
“Also, around your period, it may feel good to eat smaller portions but more frequently. This prevents your blood sugar from crashing or spiking. You can try to stick to foods high in protein and fibre, which are more satisfying and improve digestion.”