Why Do You Have Period Cravings, and How Can You Manage Them?

Learn the science behind your period cravings, including why they happen and what you can do to get period cravings under control.

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by
Caitlin Beale, MS, RDN
— Signos
Health & Nutrition Writer
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
April 23, 2024
March 26, 2024
— Updated:

Table of Contents

You've enjoyed a day full of nourishing, satisfying foods. But suddenly, even though you're not hungry, that chocolate bar craving hits out of nowhere. Surprise! A swift check of the calendar reveals your period is just around the corner.

Period cravings are a normal part of the menstrual cycle for many women, with studies estimating that anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of women experience increased appetite around their period, especially for sugar, salt, and fat.1 The reasons aren’t entirely understood, but research has revealed a few possible scientific explanations for period cravings.

Here's what to know about period cravings, why they happen, and the best ways to manage them.

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Why Do You Get Cravings on Your Period?

Changes in hormone levels─primarily estrogen and progesterone─ that control your reproductive cycle are at least partially responsible for making that piece of cake look extra appealing right around your period.2 Sugar cravings could be your body's way of boosting your mood, as sugar and carbs can increase serotonin in the brain, a neurotransmitter affecting mood and appetite.

Another possible reason for cravings is the effect of these hormones on insulin. Insulin helps regulate blood sugar by stimulating the cells to pull sugar (glucose) out of the blood. It can also affect metabolism, food choices, and appetite. In one small study, participants were more insulin-sensitive for the first half of their cycle but became more insulin-resistant during the second half as they approached their period, possibly contributing to food cravings.3

Another study revealed a connection between inflammation and food cravings. The researchers checked for inflammation markers in the blood and discovered that people with strong cravings, particularly for chocolate and sweets, had moderate to severe inflammation levels.4

One thing to keep in mind: While food cravings before your period are common, particularly intense cravings, accompanied by other symptoms like intense mood swings, could be a sign of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a condition characterized by severe physical and emotional symptoms before your period. If you experience these symptoms, it's essential to speak with your healthcare provider or gynecologist to get support.

When Do Period Cravings Start?

woman eating two burgers and fries

Period cravings usually start around a week to ten days before the beginning of your period. The second half of your cycle (called the luteal phase) occurs after ovulation and is characterized by hormonal shifts to prepare for a potential pregnancy. If no fertilization occurs, hormones drop, triggering menstruation. 

These hormonal fluctuations can trigger food cravings and premenstrual symptoms like bloating, irritability, and fatigue. Some notice their cravings continue for the first few days of their period, but many subside once menstruation begins. 

5 Most Common Period Cravings

Cravings vary between people and can even depend on geographical location. One study found that while almost 50 % of women crave chocolate before their periods, women born outside the US were much less likely to have this craving (only 17%).5

Some of the most common period cravings include:6

  • Chocolate: Some believe that aside from the sweetness, chocolate cravings are the body's way of getting more magnesium. This mineral supports relaxation and may help with other symptoms like cramps.7
  • Sweet Foods Like Pastries or Muffins: As mentioned earlier, carb cravings before your period may be related to serotonin levels and the desire for comfort foods.
  • Salty Snacks Like Chips: Potato chips and crackers are salty and high in carbohydrates, making them perfect comfort foods.
  • Peanut Butter: Common cravings for nut butter may actually be a good thing as this snack can offer healthy, satiating fats (as long as you keep an eye on portion sizes).
  • Fried Foods: The combo of salt, fat, and carbs makes fried foods a craving for many people, but high-fat foods may increase the severity of PMS symptoms.8

Interestingly, most of these craving patterns are also found in research. A study examining college students found that cravings for foods rich in sugar, salt, and fat increased in the days leading up to menstruation (but the cravings didn’t lead to a higher overall calorie intake).

Another study found similar results, where appetite, cravings for chocolate and sweets, salt, and total cravings were much higher right before menstruation than at other times of the month.9

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Also Related: </strong><a href="period-brain-fog">Period Brain Fog: Your Menstrual Cycles and Cognitive Function</a>.</p>

Can Your Period Cravings Worsen Your Symptoms?

If you've got a craving, eating a small amount can scratch the itch and may make it less likely you'll overeat that food. But if your diet is mainly sugar, fat, and salt in the days leading up to your period, you may end up feeling worse and even having worse cravings.10

High-sugar foods can send your blood sugar on a roller coaster, where the crash may make you even more irritable. Some research suggests that following a typical Western processed, high-sugar, high-fat diet pattern is associated with worse symptoms of PMS.10

Extra salt only increases water retention, making you feel more bloated and uncomfortable. Plus, if less-than-ideal food choices replace good-for-you high-fiber options, constipation or other GI upsets may be on the horizon. 

On the other hand, healthy diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and healthy fat are linked to easier menstrual cycles.10

Best Snacks to Manage Period Cravings

a hand preparing a yoghurt oatmeal cup

Choosing nutrient-dense options can help you feel better and satisfy you to reduce cravings. Some of the best snacks for period cravings include:

  • Greek Yogurt With Honey and Almonds: The combination of protein in Greek Yogurt and sweetness in honey can be particularly effective for those cravings for something sweet. Adding nuts provides a satisfying crunch, healthy fats, and magnesium. Yogurt also offers calcium, which may help relieve cramps and other symptoms (and won’t spike your blood sugar like ice cream).11
  • Fresh Fruit and Nut Butter: For a sweet yet nutritious snack, fresh fruits like apples or bananas paired with a tablespoon of almond or peanut butter offer a balance of protein and healthy fats. This can help stabilize blood sugar levels, reducing sugar cravings.
  • Popcorn Sprinkled With Nutritional Yeast: A fiber-rich choice, popcorn can fill you up and satisfy that craving for something salty and crunchy. Sprinkling with nutritional yeast adds a cheesy flavor along with B vitamins without the added water retention traditional salty snacks might cause.
  • Dark Chocolate (At Least 70% Cocoa): A small serving of dark chocolate can satisfy a chocolate craving while providing antioxidants and potentially helping to elevate mood. Dark chocolate is lower in sugar compared to milk chocolate, making it a better option for those pre-period sugar cravings.
  • Cucumber and Hummus: Cucumber slices dipped in hummus offer a satisfying alternative for those craving something crunchy and salty. The fiber in the hummus and the high water content in cucumbers can help address bloating and provide a nutrient-dense snack option.
  • Avocado Toast: Rich in healthy fats, avocado on whole-grain toast can help satisfy fatty food cravings while providing fiber and essential nutrients. The combination of healthy fats and fiber can help keep you full and satisfied longer, potentially easing cravings for less healthy fat options.

Iron-rich meals containing foods like meat, poultry, beans, fish, or fortified whole grains may also be a consideration. People with heavy periods are more at risk for anemia due to low iron levels, which can lead to fatigue and other symptoms (and may partly explain why you crave a burger).12 If you have especially heavy periods, check with your doctor and meet with a registered dietitian (RDN) to help you include more iron-rich foods in your diet.

And don’t forget about non-food-related habits that can help with cravings, including hydration, adequate sleep, stress management, and movement. All of these can improve your mental health and physical impacts of PMS, so you may be less likely to reach for food as a remedy.

Learn More About How to Improve Blood Sugar Health With Signos’ Expert Advice

Eating nutrient-dense foods is crucial for managing period symptoms because these foods provide the body with essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients without excessive calories. This approach not only supports overall health but also aids in alleviating common period-related discomforts such as bloating, cravings, and fatigue. Nutrient-dense foods can help stabilize blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, and improve mood, making period symptoms more manageable. 

Signos can help you make healthy food choices for your body personalized to your needs. Learn more about blood sugar and your health on the Signos blog, or find out if Signos is a good fit for you by taking a quick quiz.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn More: </strong><a href="weight-gain-during-period">Why Do We Gain Weight During Periods? What You Should Know</a>.</p>

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References

  1. Matsuura, Y., Inoue, A., Kidani, M., & Yasui, T. (2020). Change in appetite and food craving during menstrual cycle in young students. International Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, 12(2), 25-30.
  2. Krishnan, S., Tryon, R., Welch, L. C., Horn, W. F., & Keim, N. L. (2016). Menstrual cycle hormones, food intake, and cravings. The FASEB Journal, 30, 418-6.
  3. Hummel, J., Benkendorff, C., Fritsche, L., Prystupa, K., Vosseler, A., Gancheva, S., Trenkamp, S., Birkenfeld, A. L., Preissl, H., Roden, M., Häring, H. U., Fritsche, A., Peter, A., Wagner, R., Kullmann, S., & Heni, M. (2023). Brain insulin action on peripheral insulin sensitivity in women depends on menstrual cycle phase. Nature metabolism, 5(9), 1475–1482. https://doi.org/10.1038/s42255-023-00869-w
  4. Agarwal, K., Franks, A. T., Zhang, X., Schisterman, E., Mumfordd, S. L., & Joseph, P. V. (2023). Association of inflammation biomarkers with food cravings and appetite changes across the menstrual cycle. Clinical nutrition ESPEN, 56, 193–199. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnesp.2023.06.004
  5. Hormes, J. M., & Niemiec, M. A. (2017). Does culture create craving? Evidence from the case of menstrual chocolate craving. PloS one, 12(7), e0181445. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0181445
  6. Souza, L. B., Martins, K. A., Cordeiro, M. M., Rodrigues, Y. S., Rafacho, B. P. M., & Bomfim, R. A. (2018). Do Food Intake and Food Cravings Change during the Menstrual Cycle of Young Women?. A ingestão de alimentos e os desejos por comida mudam durante o ciclo menstrual das mulheres jovens?. Revista brasileira de ginecologia e obstetricia : revista da Federacao Brasileira das Sociedades de Ginecologia e Obstetricia, 40(11), 686–692. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0038-1675831
  7. Maharani, S. I., Pramono, N., & Wahyuni, S. (2017). Dark chocolate’s effect on menstrual pain in late adolescents. Belitung Nursing Journal, 3(6), 686-692.
  8. Hashim, M. S., Obaideen, A. A., Jahrami, H. A., Radwan, H., Hamad, H. J., Owais, A. A., Alardah, L. G., Qiblawi, S., Al-Yateem, N., & Faris, M. A. E. (2019). Premenstrual Syndrome Is Associated with Dietary and Lifestyle Behaviors among University Students: A Cross-Sectional Study from Sharjah, UAE. Nutrients, 11(8), 1939. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11081939
  9. Gorczyca, A. M., Sjaarda, L. A., Mitchell, E. M., Perkins, N. J., Schliep, K. C., Wactawski-Wende, J., & Mumford, S. L. (2016). Changes in macronutrient, micronutrient, and food group intakes throughout the menstrual cycle in healthy, premenopausal women. European journal of nutrition, 55(3), 1181–1188. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-015-0931-0
  10. Siminiuc, R., & Ţurcanu, D. (2023). Impact of nutritional diet therapy on premenstrual syndrome. Frontiers in nutrition, 10, 1079417. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2023.1079417
  11. Shobeiri, F., Araste, F. E., Ebrahimi, R., Jenabi, E., & Nazari, M. (2017). Effect of calcium on premenstrual syndrome: A double-blind randomized clinical trial. Obstetrics & gynecology science, 60(1), 100–105. https://doi.org/10.5468/ogs.2017.60.1.1
  12. Munro, M. G., Mast, A. E., Powers, J. M., Kouides, P. A., O'Brien, S. H., Richards, T., Lavin, M., & Levy, B. S. (2023). The relationship between heavy menstrual bleeding, iron deficiency, and iron deficiency anemia. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 229(1), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2023.01.017

About the author

Caitlin Beale is a registered dietitian and nutrition writer with a master’s degree in nutrition. She has a background in acute care, integrative wellness, and clinical nutrition.

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