A PCOS diet has a crucial role in the management of PCOS, not only for weight loss and maintenance, but also to regulate insulin levels.
Finding the right diet to tackle the symptoms of PCOS is a complex process and highly individual.
As insulin resistance is usually the underlying problem, however, an eating plan for PCOS should focus on lowering insulin levels and improving the body’s sensitivity to insulin, while also helping with weight-loss. Many women with PCOS are resistant to insulin, resulting in the pancreas producing more insulin in order to be effective.
PCOS and Insulin:
Insulin is an important hormone as it transports sugar from the blood into the muscles of the body, allowing the body to effectively make use of the energy from glucose. High insulin levels wreak havoc on the body, leading to a lot of the symptoms of PCOS like, increased hair growth, weight gain, skin tags, fatty liver and high cholesterol, polycystic ovaries and an irregular menstrual cycle, not to mention increased hunger levels and cravings.
The Glycaemic Index (GI) is a way to monitor how quickly the blood glucose rises after eating carbohydrates. Foods with a low GI can cause your blood levels to rise slowly. It is thought that these are helpful in reducing the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome.
Low GI foods can improve and help balance insulin levels; women with PCOS are often resistant to the effects of insulin, therefore have more insulin in their blood. This rise in insulin levels means the levels of testosterone are also increased. The increase in both insulin and testosterone upsets the natural hormone balance in the body, often causing symptoms to flare up.
So, management of blood insulin levels is crucial in the management of PCOS. Refined carbohydrates cause a spike in insulin levels and should therefore be avoided. Also, foods that are high in fat will lead to weight gain and high cholesterol.
BUT, insulin is not the only hormone impacted by PCOS. If it were, we’d all have been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, which we have not. So, our diets need to incorporate low GI foods to manage insulin levels, in addition to tackling other aspects of the Polycystic Ovarian SYNDROME.
PCOS Diet Guidelines:
Foods to avoid
High GI (Glycaemic Index) foods:
Foods that have a high GI result in a quick rise in blood sugar levels. Insulin levels follow suit to deal with the glucose in the blood stream. Generally, high GI foods have been processed to remove fibre and other nutrients so they may be tasty but they are high in calories while lacking in nutrients.
Milk leads to a rise in testosterone levels. It contains a protein that limits normal testosterone processing in the body. With testosterone not being managed, testosterone levels just keep rising. As our testosterone levels are already prone to being high, dairy just makes the problem worse.
Not enough studies have been done on the impact of soy on woman with PCOS and soy in small quantities may have little effect. However, it is not wise to recommend soy products to women with PCOS, especially those that are trying to conceive.
Saturated, hydrogenated and trans fats are all fats that should be avoided. Saturated fats, found in red meat and dairy products, cause an increase in estrogen production, hinder the absorption of some nutrients and can cause weight gain.
The trans and hydrogenated fats, from cooked oil, margarine and processed foods, increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes, both of which we are already at risk of as a result of our PCOS.
So, cut down on red meat and get rid of the dairy, for all of the reasons also mentioned under the dairy section. Also, avoid those processed, fatty foods.
Foods to include
Green Leafy Vegetables:
Green, leafy vegetables have the most nutrients per calorie than any other food. They are rich in iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium, as well as vitamins K, C, E, and many of the B vitamins.
Vitamin B in particular plays a vital role in managing PCOS symptoms. Here are just some of the things that Vitamin B is responsible for: sugar and fat metabolism, thyroid function and hormone balance, amongst others. It plays a vital role in the management of PCOS.
Fruit is a rich source of fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients and should be enjoyed as part of a PCOS diet. Many women with PCOS are reluctant to eat fruit or avoid fruit as it can cause a spike in blood sugar levels and therefore insulin.
However, fruit still plays an important role in providing the nutrients we need to combat PCOS. So, try to eat fruit that has a lower GI and have a handful of seeds or nuts with your fruit as protein helps to regulate the sugar spike resulting from fruit.
Fruit with a low GI value include: cherries, plums, grapefruit, apples, pears, apples, dried apricots, grapes, coconut, coconut milk, kiwi fruit, orange juice, prunes.
Coloured and White Vegetables:
Brightly coloured vegetables are a rich source of anti-oxidants and should be included in a PCOS diet. Women with PCOS have been found to have a higher rate of oxidative stress. That is, physiological stress is placed on the body when dealing with high numbers of free-radicals. We need antioxidants to combat this oxidative stress.
Organic, Pasture-fed Meat:
This may be expensive but it is important that you eat good quality, lean meat if you do eat meat. Grass-fed meat tends to be leaner and contain less hormones than standard meat. Grass-fed is also important because livestock is often fed grain and feed that has been genetically modified or contains pesticides which are unhelpful for hormone balance and PCOS.
Not all fat is bad and healthy fats are essential for your PCOS diet.
Essential fatty acids are really important for maintaining the cell wall, which allows nutrients in, and toxins out. They are also vital for hormone balance, weight management and fertility.
These healthy fats are found in nuts and seeds, oily fish, avocado and olive oil so be sure to incorporate those into your diet.
So Finally to sum up,
• Eat wholegrain foods instead of processed, refined foods. Also, whole fruit instead of fruit juice will maintain insulin and blood sugar levels.
• Eat foods that are high in fiber as they will also cause a slower, more controlled rise in blood sugar and insulin levels.
• Incorporate legumes and vegetables in your diet as they’re high in fiber and nutrients and will manage your sugar levels.
• Combine protein and carbohydrates as protein helps to regulate the blood sugar spike caused by the carbs.