Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (or PCOS) is a common hormonal condition. PCOS affects around 13% of women of reproductive age, with an estimated 70% of cases remaining undiagnosed. As you can imagine, PCOS can be very disruptive to wellbeing, and while there’s currently no cure, good nutrition can go a long way to helping you manage symptoms. Here are our best nutrition tips for women with PCOS.
Symptoms and management of PCOS
The common symptoms of PCOS include:
- Irregular periods or no periods
- Excessive hair growth, usually on the face, chest or back
- Difficulty falling pregnant due to irregular ovulation
- Weight gain
- Head hair loss
To be diagnosed with PCOS, you’ll need to have experienced irregular periods, either less than 21 days or more than 35 days apart. You’ll also need to exhibit signs of androgens (like facial hair) and have a blood test to look at your hormone levels. Some women experience all of these symptoms, and others experience as few as just one.
Because the symptoms of PCOS are what they are, they are difficult to manage and often cause significant stress. This condition also comes with long-term health concerns, like an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, endometrial hyperplasia and depression. Luckily, for many women, it is possible to help manage these symptoms with lifestyle changes, medication and therapy. But we’re here today to talk about the food of it all.
PCOS and insulin resistance
A significant number of women with PCOS have insulin resistance. This is a condition in which cells do not effectively use blood glucose, resulting in the pancreas producing more insulin. This increase drives the ovaries to produce testosterone and lowers the production of a protein called sex hormone-binding globulin (SHGB). A lack of this protein means that testosterone is easily allowed to move into the cells. As you can imagine, this worsens PCOS symptoms. In addition, it raises blood glucose levels over, making weight management more difficult and increases the risk for developing Type II Diabetes.
Nutrition tips for women with PCOS
Despite the claims some media and marketing channels make, there is no best diet for PCOS. However, healthy eating habits and regular exercise have been found to improve symptoms, particularly in terms of the below.
1. LIMIT SATURATED FATS
Keep an eye on your consumption of these. Your diet should only contain small amounts of saturated fat from fatty cuts of meat, processed meat, plant-based oils, cream and cheese, as well as processed and fried foods.
2. BUT DON’T DEVELOP A FEAR OF THE GOOD FATS
Healthy fats, like extra-virgin olive oil, avocado, oily fish, nuts and seeds, should be a staple in your diet. They are full of polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. This helps cells become more sensitive to insulin (thus, lowering resistance, which is a very good thing considering what we discussed above). So be sure to pack in the walnuts, pumpkin seeds, salmon, mackerel, soy and linseeds.
3. DON’T CUT THE CARBS
It’s a common belief that keto and low-carb diets are beneficial for women with PCOS. This is not the case. Of course a diet that is too high in carbs and sugary foods isn’t helpful for anyone, and especially for people with insulin resistance. BUT, it’s still important for you to include wholegrain carbohydrates.
4. PLATE UP PLENTY OF PLANTS
High-fibre plant-based foods can help combat insulin resistance by slowing down digestion and reducing the impact sugar has on the blood. Increase your consumption of a rainbow of fruit, veggies and legumes, especially those high in antioxidants.
5. EAT REGULARLY
It is recommended that women with PCOS eat regular meals and snacks to help stabilise their insulin levels. Aim to eat 3 balanced meals and 1-3 snacks each day. And we say snacks, we don’t mean a packet of crisps or a pastry. Your snacks should be just as balanced as every other meal you plan and prepare. This means a mix of protein, low GI carbs and plenty of colour.
6. CHOOSE ANTI-INFLAMMATORY FOODS
Plate up colourful fruit and vegetables, fatty fish, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and spices (especially turmeric and cinnamon). In the same breath, you should avoid inflammatory foods that can worsen insulin resistance. These are mostly refined carbohydrates and red meats. But don’t be too strict on yourself all the time. Life is to be enjoyed, so tuck in every now and then.
Do you have PCOS and want to lose or manage your weight? Maintaining a healthy weight is important for managing PCOS, but this is an aspect that many sufferers struggle with. If this sounds like something you would be interested in, speak to one of our accredited dietitians to help you with this process.
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