One in every ten women suffers from Polycystic Ovaries Syndrome (PCOS). The major problem with a medical condition as common as PCOS is that it can give rise to other medical conditions in the body like diabetes, heart diseases, high blood pressure, etc.
Other symptoms include no menstruation, irregular periods, hirsutism (excess hair on body and face), baldness, acne, weight gain etc.
Even though PCOS is an extremely common medical condition in women surrounding the ovaries, there has been no medical advancement as of yet to find a cure for it. For some, birth control pills have proven to be a decent treatment method, but the side effects of prolonged use of these pills can lead to major health concerns.
Over the years, doctors and specialists have come up with several treatment plans which can help to keep the symptoms under control. Maintaining a proper diet is that the top of every PCOS treatment list.
But what does your diet have anything to do with PCOS? Let’s find out!
Diet and PCOS – How Are They Related?
When we eat food, the sugar is converted into glucose to give our body the energy it needs. It is the insulin in the pancreas which enables the body to make the conversion.
Women who have PCOS tend to have a higher amount of insulin in their bodies. But the problem arises when you are insulin resistant. Being insulin resistant means that even though your body is able to produce the required amount of insulin, you aren’t able to use it up to make the conversion.
As a natural response to this, the body ends up producing more insulin to balance the blood sugar level. However, excess production of insulin in the body makes the ovaries produce more male hormones like testosterone.
Study shows that insulin resistance generally shows up in the tests of people who are overweight. Being insulin resistant is one of the major reasons why people with PCOS have a hard time trying to lose weight.
What makes the entire process of weight loss even more difficult is if you have a diet rich in sugar and starch. People who are insulin resistant also develop diabetes by the time they are in their 40s.
So, What To Incorporate In Your PCOS Diet?
As per PCOS diet specialists, a diet rich in fibre might be the best way to keep the symptoms of PCOS under control. A high-fibre diet lowers the effects of blood sugar levels in your body and also helps to slow down the process of digestion.
Foods rich in fibre include the following-
- Cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts
- Arugula, red leaf lettuce
- Red and green pepper
- Lentils and beans
- Sweet potatoes
- Winter squash
Protein is also a good source of food for women with PCOS. Lean protein options like chicken, tofu and fish are very filling when added to the diet alongside vegetables.
Most women with PCOS have to deal with issues related to bloating. For them, the following list of anti-inflammatory foods can be really helpful –
- Olive oil
- Fruits (berries)
- Salmon, Sardines (fishes rich in omega-3 fatty acids)
What To Eliminate From PCOS Diet?
Since refined carbs have an adverse effect on insulin resistance and inflammation, doctors and dieticians generally suggest patients to avoid or limit their intake as much as possible. Hence, processed foods like the ones listed below should be avoided:
- White bread
- Items made from white flour
Pasta is good to go as long as it’s made from lentil or bean flour. However, pasta made from durum flour and semolina is high in carbs, which is why it is best to either limit or avoid it from your PCOS diet.
If you have insulin resistance, perhaps it is best to avoid sugar in all of its forms. These include sucrose, fructose, dextrose etc.
Cold drinks, canned juice, soda and other soft drinks generally contain a lot of sugar in them. Therefore, cutting out on desserts will not help you unless you also cut out sugary drinks from your diet.
Try to avoid foods like margarine, fries and other processed foods, including meat to prevent issues of bloating and inflammation.
How To Meet Sugar Cravings?
It is not possible to cut off sugar from your diet entirely. Do indulge in some of your favourite desserts every once in a while instead of depriving yourself completely.
Some healthy alternatives for sugar may include fruits like apples, bananas, pineapples etc. If you’re not too keen on the fruit front, you can opt for dark chocolate instead.
Should I Follow A Mediterranean, Vegan Or Keto PCOS Diet?
Mediterranean diets have been known to be very helpful for patients with heart diseases. Recent studies have shown that Mediterranean diets can be equally good for women with PCOS as the diet consists of lean proteins, healthy fats, vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
Here are some of the benefits discussed briefly:
- Boosts Emergency Levels
The Mediterranean diet is good for boosting energy levels. This is particularly beneficial for women with PCOS as they suffer from extreme fatigue throughout the day.
- Balances Sugar Levels
The diet also helps with anti-inflammation and proper regulation of blood sugar in the body.
- Helps Normalize Food Intake
What’s more, the diet is non-restrictive. This means you are allowed to indulge in your favourite foods from time to time, but in moderation.
- Maintains Hormonal Balance
PCOS has a lot to do with the imbalance of hormones in the body. Phytochemicals from fruits and vegetables are great sources of food for treating PCOS as they help to balance those hormones. The more colourful the fruit or vegetable, the better the phytochemical support in the body.
Not to mention, chances of fertility increases when the hormones are balanced!
- A Low-Calorie Diet
A Mediterranean diet is generally a low-calorie diet. This helps to maintain the overall calorie intake in the body. Therefore adopting a low-calorie diet such as the Mediterranean can be a very good treatment plan for people with PCOS, as most of them suffer from obesity.
- Healthy Grains
Since the diet consists of whole grains instead of refined grains, it doesn’t cause the blood sugar level to spike. Unlike whole grain food, refined grains usually spike up the blood sugar as they are digested easily.
- Healthy Fats
Healthy fats included in a Mediterranean diet includes items like nuts, seeds and olive oil which are good for improving insulin sensitivity in the body.
The benefits of adopting a Mediterranean diet are countless. However, if you want to see quick changes in your overall health, the Mediterranean diet is not for you. It will take around 2-3 months for the diet to start showing improvements in your lifestyle.
A complete vegan diet will consist of vegetables, fruits and grains only. While following a vegan diet can be tremendously beneficial for women with PCOS, we have to understand that not everyone will want to switch to a vegan diet after being diagnosed with PCOS.
That being said, the benefits of this diet are off the charts for women with PCOS. Let’s take a look at them at a glance!
- Symptoms of PCOS are easily brought under control as a vegan diet is rich in minerals and vitamins.
- It also helps to regulate menstruation.
- A vegan diet eliminates risks of diabetes in the future.
- It improves ovulation in the body.
- Since most women with PCOS struggle to lose weight, adopting a vegan diet can easily enable them to cut down on their calorie intake and help them to lose weight over time.
This is why a vegan diet may not be such a bad option if you have PCOS and want to lose weight while eating healthy.
Even though the hype surrounding Keto diet is evident on social media platforms, we would not recommend this for people who have been diagnosed with PCOS.
Yes, Keto diet is an efficient and faster method of losing weight but it consists of a very restrictive diet which is not recommendable if you have PCOS. More so, the diet lacks the nutrition you need to bring your PCOS under control.
Apart from having 3 meals a day, you can also incorporate healthy snacks in between for a fuller diet. While fruits can be a great option for snacks, you can also add Greek yoghurt, tahini, almonds, radish, hummus, and whole-grain toast to the diet. However, we recommend avoiding intermittent fasting and Keto diets if you’re in for the long haul. If you are looking for long term solution, and a healthy way of bringing your PCOS symptoms under control, consult a proper dietician or an endocrinologist who can draw up proper meal plans suited to your diagnosis.