Did you know 1 in every 10 women suffers from PCOS? Though many factors lead to the fluctuations of the symptoms and effects of PCOS, none are quite as important (and controllable!) as one's diet. With so many opinions about the "perfect" PCOS diet, it can be challenging to determine which one to adhere to amidst the noise. It is essential to approach dietary changes cautiously and make informed choices. It can be overwhelming to sort through the plethora of information and determine which advice is credible in managing a complex condition like PCOS.
But, don’t worry, we’ve got your back! Let’s take a closer look at what the PCOS diet is all about!
What is PCOS?
First things first - what is PCOS? PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, and it's a hormonal disorder that can cause a variety of symptoms, including irregular periods, acne, and weight gain. PCOS can also lead to other serious health challenges, such as diabetes, cardiovascular problems, depression, and an increased risk of endometrial cancer. However, there are a number of ways to control these adverse effects and mitigate the symptoms of PCOS.
So, what can you do to manage PCOS?
While there is no known cure for PCOS, making changes to your diet can help manage the symptoms associated with this condition. That being said, there is no standard diet for PCOS, but there is widespread agreement about which foods can be beneficial in managing the condition.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help regulate your hormones.
Moreover, it can help alleviate symptoms of PCOS by managing insulin resistance, which is a key contributing factor to many symptoms experienced by women with this condition. Insulin resistance refers to the body’s inability to be efficiently responsive to insulin, the hormone which is responsible for regulating blood sugar levels.
When the body becomes resistant to insulin, it produces more insulin to compensate, leading to weight gain and an increase in androgen hormone production, both of which can worsen PCOS symptoms. Therefore, a PCOS diet should focus on managing insulin levels and maintaining a healthy weight.
Here are some tips for following a PCOS diet:
1. Focus on complex carbohydrates
Complex carbohydrates are often referred to as "slow carbs" because they take longer to digest than simple carbohydrates, such as sugar and refined grains. This slow digestion process ensures that complex carbohydrates release glucose into the bloodstream more slowly and steadily, which helps to prevent spikes in blood sugar levels. Complex carbohydrates have a less dramatic effect on blood sugar levels than regular carbs.
Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are some good choices to include in the PCOS diet. Remember that excess of everything is bad. The same is true for complex carbohydrates as well! So, be sure to balance your intake of complex carbohydrates with other important nutrients, such as proteins and healthy fats.
2. Eat plenty of fiber
Consuming a diet that is high in fiber can help to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Fiber also has anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, fiber can also promote healthy digestion and regular bowel movements. This can be particularly important for women with PCOS, for whom digestive issues such as constipation are common. Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprout, and arugula are quite literally the green flags of the PCOS diet. Berries, pears, oranges, figs, and kiwi will satisfy your sweet tooth while packing a powerful punch of fiber and nutrients that can keep your PCOS symptoms in check.
Include a variety of high-fiber foods in your meals and snacks. The recommended daily fiber intake for women is 25 grams per day, but it's important to increase your fiber intake gradually, and don’t forget to hydrate adequately to prevent digestive discomfort.
3. Choose healthy fats
Healthy fats can help to reduce inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity, and promote hormone balance. Healthy fats are found in fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados. Unlike unhealthy fats, such as trans fats and saturated fats, healthy fats can provide numerous health benefits. However, it's important to remember that healthy fats are still fat; and are high in calories and thus must be consumed in moderation.
4. Limit sugar and processed foods
Sugar and processed foods are high in calories, and low in nutrients, therefore are likely to cause blood sugar levels to spike and crash, leading to insulin resistance and other metabolic imbalances. High levels of insulin can also increase the production of androgens, which are hormones that contribute to weight gain, acne, and facial hair growth. You might want to ditch alcohol, sugary drinks, candy, and processed snacks.
To reduce your intake of sugar and processed foods, try to make simple swaps such as choosing whole fruits instead of fruit juice, opting for whole grains instead of refined grains, and choosing fresh foods over packaged foods whenever possible.
Pro Tip: Read food labels carefully and look for hidden sources of sugar and processed ingredients, such as high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils.
5. Consider supplements
Supplements can be a useful addition to a PCOS diet, especially for women who have difficulty obtaining certain nutrients from their diet or who may have nutrient deficiencies. Inositol has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and regulate menstrual cycles. Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids may help in reducing inflammation. Magnesium and Chromium may help with insulin sensitivity and muscle and nerve function in women with PCOS. However, it's important to consult a healthcare professional before taking any supplements, as they may interfere with other medications or have unintended side effects.
6. Lean towards lean proteins
Make lean proteins your best friends when following the PCOS diet. The presence of these proteins can induce a sense of satiety and potentially decrease the urge to indulge in food, which may be beneficial for women who have PCOS and face challenges in managing their weight.
Plus, lean proteins are important for muscle growth/repair, and for promoting the overall well-being of one’s health and fitness. They can help to balance blood sugar levels and reduce insulin resistance as well. For meat lovers, chicken breast, fish, and eggs are good sources of lean proteins, while beans, legumes, and greek yogurt work well for vegetarians.
Allow us to let you in on a secret cooking tip: You can take your meals to the next level by experimenting with healthy and low-fat cooking techniques. Baking, grilling, or roasting your food, especially proteins, can boost the nutritional value of your dishes and bring out unique and delicious flavor profiles. So why not switch up your routine and try something new in the kitchen? With these healthier cooking methods, you don't have to sacrifice taste for the sake of your health.
It's important to note that every person's body and nutritional needs are different, so it's best to consult a registered nutritionist or healthcare provider who specializes in PCOS to create a personalized diet plan that meets your specific needs and preferences.