Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) affects as many as 1 in 10 women of child-bearing age, but lifestyle changes and controlling your diet can help you manage your symptoms.
Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS is a condition that affects 1 in 10 women of child-bearing age. In sum, PCOS is characterized by hormonal imbalances involving more than just the reproductive hormones, estrogen, and testosterone. The condition affects hormones involved in the regulation of blood sugar, fat storage, and appetite.
PCOS is typically marked by irregular periods, excessive hair, ovarian cysts, weight gain, and insulin resistance. Some women struggle with complications of the disorder, including infertility, depression, and anxiety.
Nearly 50% of women with this syndrome are overweight or obese. In fact, PCOS is closely linked with obesity – and as obesity levels have risen, PCOS is becoming a more common diagnosis. But do not let that fool you. There are some lean women who struggle with PCOS.
Women are at higher risk with no symptomatic management.
When symptoms are not managed, women with PCOS are at a greater risk for heart disease, endometrial cancer, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. Luckily, lifestyle changes, like diet and exercise, can help reduce the risk of medical concerns and decrease the severity of signs and symptoms.
The first line of defense for treating PCOS is a lifestyle makeover.
Complete with controlling stress and diet with goals to improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin. Here are three of the diets to start you on your way:
Diet #1: Low glycemic index (GI)
The GI is a value used to measure how much certain foods increase your blood sugar levels. Foods are ranked on a scale of 0-100, then put into a class of low, medium, or high. The lower the GI, the less it may affect your blood sugar levels.
Diets with a low glycemic index level may result in a reduction of blood sugar levels, lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and weight loss.
Highly refined carbs are sugar digest quicker than those high in protein, fat, or fiber. Other factors may affect GI scores. Food in a low GI diet include the following:
- Nuts and seeds
- Starchy vegetables salad greens, asparagus, and broccoli
- Unprocessed foods
- Fruits like bananas
Diet #2: Anti-inflammatory Foods
Popularly known for causing long-term complications, it’s essential to know the relationship between inflammation and PCOS. Inflammation may be the root cause of the syndrome. In fact, studies show that compared to women of the same weight (thin, average, and overweight), women with PCOS have higher levels of inflammatory markers. Why is that? Well, higher androgens stimulate more insulin production, which contributes to weight gain. As a result, weight gain causes more inflammation in the body.
This vicious cycle can be helped with anti-inflammatory foods:
- Leafy greens
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Fatty fish
- Strawberries and blueberries
- Dark chocolate
- Green tea
Diet # 3: The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet:
Originally designed to lower blood pressure, physicians often recommend the DASH diet to reduce the risk of heart disease. However, this just might be the best diet for women affected by PCOS. Let’s talk about it!
According to the Journal of Hormone and Metabolic Research, overweight women with PCOS who followed the DASH diet showed significant improvements in insulin resistance and inflammation markers and loss of abdominal fat. Another study found similar results when obese women followed the DASH diet for eight weeks, including belly fat reduction.
This DASH diet consists of foods:
- Rich in fish
- Whole grain
- Low-fat dairy products.
Foods high in sugar or saturated fats are discouraged. This means lay off the sweets!
Why does the dash diet work?
- Super easy to follow
- High in (yummy) fruits and veggies
- Adds fullness with fiber
- Low in sodium
- Allowed to go ‘nutty’ with seeds, nuts, and legumes
Are diets not your thing? Stick to these rules!
If you’re not ready to commit to a certain diet, there are ways to still eat healthful with PCOS. You may be interested in sticking to these common rules:
- Only organic and natural, unprocessed foods
- Dark chocolate (in moderation)
- Anti-inflammatory spices like Turmeric and cinnamon
- Cauliflower and broccoli
- Fatty fish, including salmon and tuna
- Dark red fruits, such as blueberries, blackberries, and cherries
- Leafy greens like kale and spinach
- Nuts, including walnuts, almonds, and pine nuts
Find fresh ingredients at a local Farmer’s Market close to you!
What foods should you limit or avoid?
Now that you get the gist of what you should be consuming let’s talk more about what to limit or avoid. It’s obvious that sugary snacks and drinks are a big ‘no, no!’ But, did you know that carbohydrates, like muffins and waffles, cause inflammation and exacerbate insulin resistance?
A good rule of thumb to keep is to avoid anything made with white flour, including breakfast pastries, white bread, and sugary desserts. Foods high in refined carbohydrates or highly processed food should be avoided. Pop into Natural Grocers in Cedar Park for healthy alternatives. You can easily swap out white flour for beans or lentils four.
Mid-article break: Try these Chickpea Fritter Puffs for a savory alternative.
Sugar should be avoided whenever possible, as it’s a carbohydrate. You can check the back for labels because sugar can go by various names. These included:
- High fructose corn syrup
It’s a good idea to remove inflammation-causing foods from your diet. Some of these include:
- Red meats like hamburger or steak
- French fries
- Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup
Regardless of what specific diet is followed, studies have found that losing weight helps women with PCOS. Even though this article strictly spoke about diet, exercise is critical to a healthy life. According to Exercise Right, the best exercises for PCOS are cardio, strength training, high-intensity interval training, and core strengthening. It’s essential to meet nutritional needs, maintain a healthy weight, and promote good insulin levels to feel better. For recipes, please take a peek at the PCOS Nutrition Center Cookbook or Mayo Clinic’s DASH diet recipe cards.
Coping with any signs or symptoms can be difficult, leaving you frustrated at times. If you are proactive and take steps regarding your health, it can improve your mood and reduce symptoms. One of the best ways is to create a good and bad food list, pick out your favorites (on the good list) and stick to it.
You can almost always find a beneficial counterpart to a food that is no good. Take, for example, margarine and white toast can easily be replaced with avocado and olive oil. Yum!
As always, speak to your doctor. It’s important to work with someone who can identify the cause and recommend tailored treatment. Please check in with us! We would love to hear how you are doing.
PCOS Support Groups:
- Texas Fertility Center – PCOS Support
- The National Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Association – Overcome Group