These Food Brands Are Prioritizing Reproductive Health

From hormone-balancing snacks to sex chocolate, a new wave of products are helping women tap into their cycle.

I remember, in middle school, when I learned from some boy that girls crave chocolate on their period. It was a stereotype perpetuated by the media, and whether or not women actually took it to be true, it was one of the many ways periods became a cliché. In addition to feeling shame for menstruating, we also had to stifle this craving that, if not controlled, would supposedly lead to an expanding waistline.

The overturn of Roe v. Wade is proof that we have a long way to go in freeing the reproductive body. But there are a few innovators hoping to make things a bit easier for women passing through the various stages of their cycles. With an emphasis on healing through nutrition, companies like Phasey and Agni are encouraging those who menstruate to own their cravings and fill in the gaps caused by hormonal imbalance.

“The narrative about period cravings has forever been about how we’re powerless to them,'' says Asha Carroll, founder of Phasey. “But it’s a whole different game when we make the choice to listen to our cravings, to sing and dance our way to the ice cream or the chocolate. They’re like these cool little signals that tell our bodies what they need. Why should we feel bad about that? There’s power in that relationship.”

Phasey’s standout product is Period Chocolate, a chocolate truffle laced with full spectrum hemp extract to relieve period pain, cramps, anxiety, and headaches. Similarly, the brand’s Sex Chocolate, a truffle containing organic shatavari, an Ayurvedic herb that has a storied history of supporting reproductive health, is used to support libido, energy, and stress relief.

Carroll, who has a background in holistic nutrition, founded Phasey with the intention of destigmatizing periods and promoting reproductive education. She drives these conversations through loud, unapologetic packaging, proudly printing the word “period” on wrappers.

“I dove into a bunch of retro period ads when I was starting up Phasey, and it amazed me that in 50, 60, 70 years, we actually hadn’t come that far,” Carroll explains. “Period products, even today, are still prioritizing the pretty, the feminine, the discreet. I got pushback early on because Phasey was putting the word ‘period’ on a food product, and for a little bit, conventional grocery stores didn’t want us—until they did. It can take time to undo those layers of stigma.”

Agni double chocolate chip cookie
Photo courtesy of Agni

The stigmatization of periods coincides with a lack of research pertaining to all kinds of reproductive processes. “Only 4% of research dollars have gone towards women’s health,” says Astrid Schanz-Garbassi, CEO and co-founder of Agni. “Ovulating regularly and growing and supporting life are one of the most incredible and depleting feats of the human body and it’s an area we’ve spent far too little time on supporting as a culture.”

Agni specializes in cookies, teas, and seasonings that support women through all stages of the reproductive health continuum—that is, repleneshing the nutrients women are most often depleted of during periods, fertility, pregnancy, the postpartum period, and menopause.

The best-selling Double Chocolate Chip Cookie mix, for example, contains ashwagandha, shatavari powder, and psyllium husk, which all target irregular cycles and bloating, while the Ginger Cardamom Tea, with gokshur and oatstraw, helps with nausea and indigestion.

Agni hopes to dispel the “less is more” narrative that’s often associated with nutrition—the idea that the best way to improve health is to remove foods, like cutting calories or entire food groups. Schanz-Garbassi compares the body to a factory. If we had only half the raw materials, or half the labor, we’d end up with a poor product.

“We start to experience symptoms—and even gain weight—when we don’t receive the nutrients we need,” she says. “When we don’t get the proper building blocks, our bodies need to ‘cut’ functions—digestion doesn’t function as well, sleep suffers, and periods become irregular and symptom-ridden.” In this sense, more is more.

Schanz-Garbassi grew up in a home that welcomed traditional remedies, which included everything from inhaling essential oils to restoring nutrients through whole foods. “They felt empowering to me,” she says. “Something I could do at home between doctor’s visits.”

Before founding Agni, she worked at a clinic that focused on holistic health, and it became apparent how much work needed to be done to place women’s health issues at the forefront. This is due to the historically male-dominated nature of the medical field and the fact that when women self-report symptoms, they are more likely to be dismissed.

“It takes, on average, 8-10 years longer for a woman to be diagnosed for a condition than it does for a man,” she explains. “Thankfully, I can also start to describe this as the ‘old paradigm.’ We are exploding into an era where women are providing more care and receiving better care.”

The team at Agni consults an advisory board of medical advisors from Western, integrative, Ayurvedic, and traditional medicine, as well as herbalism and nutrition. Schanz-Garbassi was thrilled to find that there were often more similarities than differences among the various disciplines.

Tend snack bars
Photo courtesy of Tend Prenatal

Take for example the idea that Western medicine and nutrition understand that the estrogen-heavy first half of an ovulation cycle is supported by certain nutrients and compounds like phytoestrogens, omega 3s, and zinc. They also understand that the progesterone-dominant second half of the cycle is supported by vitamin E, selenium, and omega 6s.

Traditional practices like Chinese Medicine and herbalism have matched this understanding with a practice called seed cycling, during which a menstruating person takes a ground tablespoon of pumpkin and flax seeds for the first half of the cycle and a ground tablespoon of sesame and sunflower seeds for the second half.

Agni offers two seed cycling blends that you can incorporate into smoothie bowls or salads: a Cinnamon Maca Seasoning for the first half of the cycle, and a Sesame Nori Seasoning for the second. Phasey has its own seed cycling blend, as does Beeya Wellness, another brand pushing the idea that debilitating PMS is not normal, and solutions can be found through whole food ingredients.

In the prenatal space, there’s Tend, a company that hopes to replace artificial vitamins with the first real food prenatal—a bar made with 25 vitamins that come from fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds to increase the mother’s energy and support the baby’s development.

Tend co-founder Behzad Varamini, who has a Ph.D in Human Nutrition, discovered that isolated nutrients, taken out of their natural context, fail to mimic the actions of food. Foods, on the other hand, contain unique nutrient forms alongside hundreds of cofactors and enzymes that work together synergistically.

While many of these brands have not yet raised the funding for clinical trials, Agni is on track to participate in one of the first clinical trials on nutrition interventions for women's health.

One of the most common misconceptions surrounding the idea of food as medicine, Schanz-Garbassi notes, is that it’s all about prevention and no longer relevant after a diagnosis. “Nutritional interventions become even more important when symptoms present themselves and can go a long way in reversing progression of disease,” she says.

For women, the first step in healing through food is simple: Get reacquainted with each phase of your cycle—a facet of sex ed that, perhaps was never taught in the first place, or somehow got lost along the way.

“I can’t tell you how many times in my life I wondered what the hell was up with me, and then my period arrived,” Carroll says. “Our cycles are with us every day for decades and decades of our lives, and finally having context about what my hormones were doing helped me learn to work with my body instead of against it. It’s like a little tour-de-hormones every month, and I like knowing what’s on that itinerary.”

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Jessica Sulima is a staff writer on the Food & Drink team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram