The cornerstone for a healthy diet for PCOS is to remember not to be restrictive. Evidence shows that diet changes work best when you do not eliminate too many foods right away. Instead, use strategies to incorporate healthier and better foods.
In a nutshell, here’s what you need to know about diet changes for PCOS:
- PCOS is linked to insulin resistance. So it is important to reduce the overproduction of insulin in the body. This is done in two ways – One, eat foods that don’t cause an insulin spike. Two, maintain a food routine so that over-eating or disordered meal times don’t cause an unhealthy insulin spike.
- Add Proteins to your diet.
- Supplement your diet with adequate movement throughout the day.
Let’s now get into more detail.
If you suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS, just eating ‘low glycemic index (GI)’ foods may not be enough, as you are advised to – and that’s the first learning for today. Low GI foods are those which do not cause your insulin to spike up. Since no two women with PCOS have similar hormone levels, eating to alleviate symptoms 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.
PCOS is a complex hormonal disorder that is caused by an imbalance in mainly two hormones: Insulin, and Androgens (male hormones). So the objective of PCOS diet is to help regulate these hormonal functions. Evidence now shows that dietary changes are most effective in PCOS reversal, and a non-negotiable part of your PCOS treatment.
So, dietary changes can help with the following aspects of PCOS:
- It can help regularise ovulation, which is hampered by excess male hormones.
- It can help reduce weight, which becomes difficult due to excess insulin, which stores excess fat in the body.
- It can help make menstrual cycles become regular again.
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. 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 reduce the impact of female hormones like estrogen and progesterone.
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.
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. 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
All of us, including women with PCOS need fats. Fats help your cells to 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, 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, but it also improves insulin balance, hair and skin quality, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and manages mood and ovulation in women with PCOS.
‘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 fiber, 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.
- 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
Skip the sugars and white flour
Women with PCOS should avoid foods that 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.
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 will see the symptoms improving right away.
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