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PCOS and Diet: How Eating Right Can Go A Long Way



We are usually asked questions like what should women with PCOS eat and what can they specifically include in their diet to lose weight and conceive.

If you suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS, just eating low glycemic index foods may not be enough, as you are advised to- and that’s the first learning for today.  

Since no two women with PCOS have similar hormone levels, eating to alleviate symptoms of PCOS practically means you have to learn a new way of planning your diet and an entirely new way to approach food.

This new PCOS- friendly diet will involve you to leave certain foods alone and include certain other foods on your plate.

Understanding PCOS

PCOS, a medical condition, is caused by an overproduction of male hormones called androgens by your body which in turn produces multiple cysts in your ovaries.

The meaning of polycystic is that there are multiple faulty follicles that don't quite work right on your ovary.

The polycystic ovary is thus not able to release an egg every month like a healthy ovary or produce enough female hormones.

Some of the commonest symptoms of this condition thus are irregular periods or no menstruation at all.

Other signs are excess facial hair, male pattern baldness, acne, infertility, fatigue, elevated blood sugar levels, insulin resistance and mood swings.

If you have PCOS and are overweight, you are in a majority. Almost 50 % of women PCOS sufferers are also obese.

Sometimes, the symptoms of PCOS can be really vague and easy-to –miss, which leaves the hormone imbalance undiagnosed.  

If not treated, PCOS symptoms can become worse and present as:

  • Heart disease

  • Endometrial cancer

  • High blood pressure

  • Diabetes

The famed PCOS diet  

The PCOS- insulin resistance link

This link is very important to understand what to include in your PCOS diet.

Insulin is a hormone most of us are familiar with. It breaks down sugar inside your body into energy. An absence of insulin or insulin resistance, a condition where your body isn’t able to use the insulin you produce effectively, can both cause your blood sugar levels to rise, leading to diabetes.

If you are insulin resistant it means that your body has to pump out larger quantities of insulin to keep your blood sugar levels down.

And too-high levels of insulin can cause the level of the female hormone progesterone which is responsible for ovulation to fall which kind of triggers the progesterone to convert into testosterone.  So, your ovaries actually end up producing testosterone, instead of progesterone which helps an egg to mature.

This is why insulin resistance causes PCOS.

Insulin resistance, by the way, can also be caused due to obesity. And, this condition can alternately make it harder for you to lose weight- a vicious circle, as they say!

Hence managing insulin resistance becomes crucial to managing PCOS holistically. It is after all this resistance that makes it difficult for you to lose weight and your ovaries to be healthy and produce hormones and ovulate naturally.

What your doctor does to manage PCOS is to put you on birth control pills so that you have a period every month. You can go off these pills when you want to get pregnant and start taking fertility drugs to conceive.

Metformin an insulin sensitizer is also prescribed if your insulin resistance is significant.

A PCOS diet can decrease your dependence on these medicines as this hormonal disorder is extremely responsive to the food we eat as well as our lifestyle choices.

Food is medicine and in the case of PCOS, a healthy diet based on whole, gluten-free, and unprocessed foods help you nurture your body and avoid PCOS symptoms.

Some foods to Include in your PCOS diet

  1. Healthy fats

All of us, including women with PCOS need fats. Fats help your cells function and your body to produce reproductive hormones.

The key is to getting the right type of fats and specifically in the case of PCOS, is to get the mix of fats that helps the cell to become more sensitive to insulin. These fats include the omega- 3 fats found in pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and soy.

 

Pumpkin seeds, in particular, contain high quantities of these omega-3 fats needed to regulate hormone function, lower insulin levels, stabilize blood sugar, and help regulate periods.

These may also help with facial hair growth.

 

We suggest that you cut down on processed carbs that cause your blood sugar levels to spike and include 3-4 servings of healthy fat each day by adding olive oil, nuts and seeds and oily fish like salmon to your diet.

You can also have plenty of avocados, butter for omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, coconut oil, and fish oil. Fish oil not only reduces testosterone and inflammation, it also improves insulin balance, hair and skin quality, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and manages mood and ovulation in women with PCOS.  


 

  1. “Eat the Rainbow” every day

This means eating a colourful assortment of vegetables and fruits every day. This will provide your body with a number of vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial plant components or phytoestrogens that you need to balance your insulin levels and hormones.

So go ahead and load up your PCOS diet with:

  • Dark leafy greens like lettuce, kale, spinach, basil, parsley, and others as these are the very best low-calorie, high fibre, low glycemic index food sources containing essential vitamins and minerals.

    Green vegetables also improve digestion and absorption of nutrients in the intestine; improve sugar regulation and overall hormonal function while also reducing the risk of metabolic, cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases.
     
  • Coloured vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers, and eggplant as these are all packed with antioxidant phytonutrients and an assortment of vitamins and minerals that neutralize free radicals, and this is very useful for women with PCOS because it has been observed that they tend to suffer from higher oxidative stress.
  1. Protein–rich foods

Eating lean meats, fish, and eggs with a small amount of carbohydrates will help regulate sugar levels.

Nuts and seeds like brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, macadamia nuts, flax, chia, and hemp seeds are all protein-packed powerhouses containing several key minerals including magnesium, calcium, and selenium. And you can eat them in combination with fruits or other high glycemic foods and these will help lower the glycemic index and improve insulin sensitivity.

And leave these foods out at all costs

  1. Skip the sugars and white flour

Women with PCOS should avoid foods which create and promote the inflammation that leads to endocrine disruption, weight gain, and other symptoms of PCOS. These include sugary foods and foods made with white flour or refined carbohydrates like pizza, white bread and snacks, and white rice as they are high glycemic index foods.

  1. Saturated or hydrogenated fats and trans fats found in most cooking oils and processed foods as well as in beef, pork, and dairy should be avoided at any cost as these can lead to weight gain and insulin spikes.

Finally, finding the best carbohydrate balance for your own self is crucial to getting your PCOS diet right. You can’t just excise carbs completely from your daily eating plan, and you shouldn’t even try doing so for longer periods of time by doing a ketogenic diet as this can damage your kidneys… So, you have to figure out what kind of low glycemic carbs work for you and how much and how many times a day should you be having them.

Take the help of an expert dietician to hone your PCOS diet plan and stick to it, and you’ll see that your ovaries will sing along.







About the Author

Shikha Gandhi

Shikha Gandhi is a health journalist and a short film maker. She is also a certified Pranic healer and a lover of long walks.