PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is a hormonal disorder that can affect women throughout their reproductive years. Although there is no cure for PCOS, many women opt to use alternative medicine in conjunction with traditional medicine to improve their condition. In addition to herbal supplements, a healthy PCOS diet can help manage the symptoms.
The most common symptoms of PCOS are difficulty losing weight, insulin resistance, irregular menstrual cycles, amenorrhea, hirsutism, and high cholesterol. Additionally, women with PCOS face an increased risk of developing heart disease, hypertension and type 2 diabetes.
Insulin and PCOS
The insulin hormone is released by the pancreas and it helps transport sugar from blood to the cells for use or storage. However, sometimes the cells stops responding to insulin. This is called insulin resistance. When this happens, the pancreas starts producing even more insulin to lower the blood sugar levels. This leads to increased fat storage, in other words, weight gain.
Insulin resistance is one of the most common symptoms of PCOS, and it is the main reason why women with PCOS gain weight. Since insulin resistance is highly associated with PCOS, management of insulin levels in the blood is important for management of PCOS symptoms. This can be done in an effective manner by following a healthy PCOS diet which comprises whole grains, vegatables and unprocessed foods.
PCOS affects your body’s ability to produce insulin and use it effectively which can cause weight gain. This same problem may also make it difficult to lose weight.
Although not all women that have PCOS also have weight problems, a high percentage are overweight. This is a result of high insulin levels that promotes fat storage in the body.
A healthy PCOS diet is a low GI (glycemic index) diet that includes selected combinations of foods that don’t cause a rapid rise in blood glucose levels.
Foods to Eat in a PCOS Diet
Since PCOS is linked to insulin resistance, maintaining stable blood sugar and insulin levels can be important. Eat a more balanced diet filled with plenty of vegetables, fruits, organic meat, healthy fats and low GI carbohydrates.
1. Green Leafy Vegetables
The weight loss benefits of green leafy vegetables are well known, but it also helps combat PCOS symptoms naturally. Leafy vegetables have maximum nutrients per calories compared to other foods and also rich in iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium along with vitamins K, C and E and most importantly essential B vitamins which plays an important role in managing the symptoms of PCOS. B vitamins – especially B2, B3, B5 and B6 help in better fat and sugar metabolism, promote hormonal balance, improve thyroid functioning, and improve fertility, all of which are essential for PCOS management.
The minerals help neutralize the acidity caused by impaired glucose tolerance. Potassium is needed for production of FSH (Follicle Stimulation Hormone), which helps reduce PCOS symptoms and also promotes weight loss. Calcium helps in egg maturation and follicle development in ovaries.
- Green leafy vegetables include spinach, broccoli, collards, iceberg lettuce and cabbage.
Fruits are rich in fiber, essential vitamins and minerals. While many women are reluctant to add fruits into their PCOS diet due to the sugar content, when eaten in the correct portions, it can be an extremely healthy alternative to unhealthy snacks. Fruit is vital in providing the body with the nutrients needed to treat the symptoms of PCOS.
- Low GI fruits include cherries, plums, apricots, prunes and grapes. Aim for 2-3 portions of fruit per day.
- If you are concerned about the rise in insulin levels caused by fruit, enjoy a handful of seeds or nuts as a side snack – the protein in the seeds can help regulate the rising glucose levels.
3. Healthy Fats
Healthy fats and essential fatty acids are indispensable for promoting hormonal balance and weight management. They also hold an important place in a PCOS diet. Healthy fats are found in seeds, nuts, avocado, olive oil and oily fishes like tuna and salmon.
- Tuna is rich in B vitamins and vitamin D both of which are essential for women with PCOS.
- Salmon is an amazing source of healthy fats and vitamin D that helps combat certain problems related to PCOS.
4. Protein-Rich Foods
Because weight gain is a major issue related to PCOS, it is important to eat good quality, protein-rich foods if you suffer from PCOS.
Grass-fed meat often contains fewer hormones and the livestock are less likely to have been fed genetically modified (GM) foods. The GM foods fed to standard livestock will often contain pesticides, if consumed, it can be more difficult to maintain hormonal balance and treat the symptoms of PCOS.
- Other protein-rich foods to eat in a PCOS diet include eggs, poultry, seafood, pork, beans, lentils and nuts.
5. Colored Vegetables
Brightly colored vegetables are loaded with powerful antioxidants that help neutralize the harmful effects of oxidative stress in women suffering from PCOS. These vegetables helps in controlling PCOS and must be included in the PCOS diet plan.
Some of these healthy vegetables include tomatoes, red and yellow bell peppers, sweet potatoes, carrots, and eggplant.
6. Low GI Carbohydrates
High GI carbohydrates such as instant breakfast cereals, white bagels, white breads, and white rice cause blood sugar levels to increase. This makes the pancrease release insulin in order to use the glucose for energy, but high levels of insulin in the body eventually leads to insulin resistance and obesity which worsens PCOS symptoms.
Therefore, try to opt for healthy low GI carbohydrates that takes longer to break down and digest, causing slow and consistent release of blood glucose in the body. Low GI foods also help keep you satiated for longer and prevent cravings. Most beans, legumes, and lentils and non-starchy vegetables have low GI rating.
Foods to Avoid with PCOS
A healthy PCOS diet should exclude foods that increase the insulin levels in the body and worsen the PCOS symptoms.
1. Sugary Foods
A diet rich in sugar and simple carbohydrates is directly linked to PCOS; sugars not only affect the insulin levels but also disrupt ovulation. Sugary foods are typically pure simple carbohydrates and they cause unhealthy spikes in blood sugar. Insulin’s primary role is controlling blood sugar and many PCOS sufferers have higher insulin levels than normal. This can cause fat storage.
Eating fewer sugars and simple carbohydrates can help you lose weight, feel better and lower your diabetes risk. Try to avoid sweetened juices, sweetened cereals, cookies, cakes, candies, sodas, sports drinks, syrups and other sugary foods.
2. Dairy Products
Consumption of dairy products can increase testosterone levels and a particular type of protein in milk also limits regular processing of testosterone in the body which causes the testosterone levels to keep rising without any barrier. This only makes PCOS symptoms worse. Although dairy products and milk are an essential part of a balanced diet, they can be harmful in case of PCOS. Therefore, dairy products are on the list of foods to avoid with PCOS. Try to avoid milk, cheese, yogurt, butter and other milk products as much as possible.
3. White Flour
White flour is a simple carbohydrate that you should avoid. Breads, cereals, bagels, muffins, cookies, cupcakes and other baked goods are common sources of white flour. When baked goods made with white flour are sweetened, they become even richer in simple carbs. Opt for baked goods made with whole-wheat, whole-grain or multi-grain flours instead.
4. Unhealthy Fats
Another food group that should be avoided with PCOS is unhealthy fats such as trans fats, saturated fats, and hydrogenated fats that aggravate the problems of PCOS. Saturated fats are present in fatty cuts of red meat and dairy products, and it causes an increased estrogen production which hinders the absorption of certain nutrients in the body and promotes weight gain.
Trans fats and hydrogenated fats found in cooking oil, processed foods and margarine increase the risk of risk of heart disease and diabetes mellitus in women with PCOS.
You should avoid saturated fats and instead opt for lean meats, fat-free dressing, white meat and skinless poultry. Instead of frying food, steam, broil, bake, grill or even microwave them to avoid excess oil. When you must use oil, opt for types such as olive oil that are high in unsaturated fats.
Soy acts like estrogen because it contains phytoestrogens, which is not the same as the estrogen your body produces. Eating too much soy confuses your body into thinking it has enough estrogen in supply already. This makes your endocrine system slow down estrogen production. If your body slows down estrogen production, the production of luteinizing hormone (LH) is also affected, which prevents the body from triggering ovulation.
If you have low estrogen levels you may have thought it made sense to supplement with soy, but it is better to encourage your body to produce more of its own estrogen.
6. Sodium-Rich Foods
PCOS sufferers should limit their sodium intake. A single teaspoon of salt has more than a day’s allotment of sodium. Skip high-sodium foods like canned vegetables, smoked meats, commercial marinades and sauces, pre-made broths, chips, salted nuts and canned soups. Instead, season dishes with fresh herbs, vinegar, lemon juice, cracked black pepper, ground white pepper or mustard.
- A healthy diet, exercise and stress management are the best ways to beat the symptoms of PCOS.
- Although it may be difficult and frustrating, even a small drop in weight can help improve symptoms of PCOS.
- Some health professionals have also recommended that patients with PCOS follow a Mediterranean style diet. This style of eating can help manage a healthy weight and insulin resistance.
- Adequate hydration is an important component of a healthy diet.
- Don’t skip meals. If you skip meals regularly, you can increase symptoms of PCOS.