Before knowing the important foods that should be included in the PCOS diet menu, it is necessary to know what PCOS is. It is one of the most prevalent hormonal endocrine disorders among women, and it affects 1 in 10 women who are at their child-bearing age. It is difficult to diagnose PCOS with just a single test and the symptoms vary from woman to woman. But an early diagnosis of PCOS in important because it may increase the risk of other chronic medical conditions and health issues such as insulin resistance, type 2 Diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol levels.
Around 50 percent of women with the disorder are overweight or obese. Common symptoms include acne, hirsutism (hairiness), and male pattern baldness, high in testosterone, prolactin and insulin levels
How does the diet affect PCOS?
If you don’t produce enough insulin, your blood sugar levels can rise. This can also happen if you are insulin resistant, meaning you are not able to use the insulin you do produce effectively.
If you are insulin resistant, your body may try to pump out high levels of insulin in an effort to keep your blood sugar levels normal. Too-high levels of insulin can cause your ovaries to produce more androgens, such as testosterone (which is a male hormone).
Insulin resistance may also be caused by having a body mass index above the normal range. Insulin resistance can make it harder to lose weight, which is why women with PCOS often struggle with this issue.
The importance of diet in managing PCOS symptoms :
Obesity and weight gain is a common symptom of PCOS. In this condition, several cysts appear in the ovaries, and they form a pattern like a string of pearls. Women with PCOS may also have high testosterone levels that lead to excessive hair growth, male pattern baldness, and acne and irregular menstrual cycle because the testosterone prevents the ovaries from releasing the egg every month. PCOS is one of the ruling causes of infertility in women, and it comprises 70% of the infertility issues. A well-planned weight loss diet and regular exercise and physical activity are the best solutions to the question of how to overcome obesity and control PCOS problems and symptoms.
Relation between Insulin and PCOS :
There is a close connection between insulin and PCOS. The insulin hormone is released by the beta cells of the pancreas and it helps to transport sugar from blood to the muscles where the sugar is used as energy right then or are stored in the form of fats for future use. But high insulin levels can wreak havoc on the body leading to PCOS symptoms such as sudden unexplained weight gain, increased hair growth, fatty liver, high cholesterol, skin tags, polycystic ovaries and irregular menstrual cycle along with increase hunger and craving.
Management of insulin levels in the blood is crucial for management of PCOS and it can be done in an effective manner by following a healthy Low GI (Glycemic Index) Diet which comprises whole grains and unprocessed foods.
You need to maintain your ideal body weight if you are obese or underweight or overweight, starting consulting a Dietitian who can help you achieve your health goals and then to maintain a BMI below 25 .
What Is PCOS Diet?
PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is a hormonal disorder among women that is caused mainly due to insulin resistance or endocrine dysfunction, and one of the most common side-effects of this health condition is uncontrolled weight gain. But a typical “Low-Fat” weight loss diet like the simple 1200 calorie diet plan is not effective enough to promote weight loss in women suffering from PCOS because in this case, weight gain is a result of high insulin levels that promotes fat storage in the body. Polycystic ovaries treatment and weight management call for a specialized Diet that includes selected combinations of foods that don’t cause a rapid rise in blood glucose levels and also the diet has to be changed on weekly basis.
6 Healthy Food Groups to Include in a PCOS Diet Menu
The following is a healthy PCOS food list that can be included in the daily diet in order to manage the polycystic ovarian disease in a more effective manner and prevent weight gain which is one of the most recognizable symptoms of this condition.
Green Leafy Vegetables :
The benefits of eating fruits and vegetables to lose weight are well known, but it also helps to control Polycystic Ovary Syndrome naturally. Leafy vegetables have maximum nutrients per calories compared to other foods and also rich in calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium along with vitamins K, C and E and most importantly essential B vitamins which plays an imperative role in managing the symptoms of PCOS. B vitamins – especially B2, B3, B5 and B6 help in better sugar and fat metabolism, improve thyroid functioning and render better hormone balance, improve fertility all of which are essential for PCOS management.
The minerals help to neutralize the acidity caused by inflammation and impaired glucose tolerance. Calcium helps in egg maturation and follicle development in ovaries; potassium is needed for FSH (Follicle Stimulation Hormone) production. It helps to reduce PMS symptoms and also promotes weight loss.
Coloured Vegetables :
Brightly colored vegetables not only makes for an appetizing salad but also helps in controlling PCOS and must be included in the PCOS diet plan. Colourful vegetables are loaded with powerful antioxidants that help to neutralize the harmful effects of oxidative stress in women suffering from PCOS.
Some of the healthiest colored vegetables include red and yellow bell peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, eggplant, etc.
This is the next set of healthy foods that must be included in PCOS diet recipes. Although most women suffering from PCOS are reluctant to include fruits in their diet because of the fructose content that causes a sudden spike in blood sugar levels and consequently insulin levels, fruits are really rich in phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals and fibres so it should not be avoided entirely.
Include fruits that have low GI such as lime, strawberries, apricot, grapefruit, lemon, cantaloupe, guava, pear, oranges, watermelon, blueberries, nectarines, apples and kiwifruit and also eat a handful of nuts or seeds with the fruits for the much needed protein boost that helps to control the sudden sugar spike caused by fruits.
Healthy Fats :
Not all fats are unhealthy and harmful for women suffering from PCOS. Healthy fats and essential fatty acids are indispensable for maintaining the cells and removing toxins from the body as well as promoting hormonal balance and weight management. Healthy fats also hold an important place in PCOS fertility diet. Healthy fats are found in seeds, nuts, avocado, olive oil and oily fishes like tuna and salmon.
We are well aware of the used of olive oil for body and overall health, but oily fishes are not far behind. Salmon is an amazing source of healthy fats and vitamin D that helps relieve certain problems related to PCOS. Tuna is rich in B vitamins and vitamin D both of which are essential for women with PCOS.
Organic Meat :
Because weight gain is a major issue related to PCOS, it is important to include lean proteins in a PCOS weight loss diet in order to control body weight.
Meat is one of the powerful natural sources of protein. But you must opt for organic lean cuts of meat that contain fewer hormones and pesticides and are not genetically modified.
Low GI Carbohydrates :
It is not necessary to completely shun carbohydrates even if you have PCOS, you just need to choose the carbohydrates judiciously. Carbohydrates with high Glycemic Index such as instant breakfast cereals, white breads, white bagels and white rice cause fast rise and blood sugar levels which in turn increase the release of insulin from the pancreas in order to use the glucose for energy, but high levels of insulin in the body eventually leads to insulin resistance and obesity which worsens PCOS symptoms.
Therefore, it is suggested to opt for healthy carbohydrates with low Glycemic Index that takes longer to break down and digest, causing slow and consistent release of blood glucose in the body. Low GI foods also aid to keep you satiated for longer and prevent cravings. Most legumes, beans, and lentils and non-starchy vegetables have low GI rating.
7 Foods Groups to Avoid in a PCOS Diet Menu :
Healthy polycystic ovaries diet recipes should exclude foods from these 7 food groups because they usually affect the insulin level in the body and worsen the polycystic ovary symptoms.
High GI Foods :
Some of the unhealthy high GI foods that we consume every day are biscuits, cakes, white bread, pies, rolls, white pasta, white rice, most breakfast cereals, dried fruits, soda, candy, flavoured yogurt, ice creams, fruit juices and packaged soups. Ad diet rich in sugar and simple carbohydrates is directly linked to PCOS; sugars not only affect the insulin levels but also disrupt ovulation.
Dairy Products :
Although dairy products and milk are an essential part of a balanced diet chart, they can be harmful in case of PCOS. Therefore, this healthy food also comes under the list of foods to avoid with PCOS.
Consumption of milk can increase testosterone levels and a particular type of protein in milk also limits regular processing of testosterone in the body which causes the testosterone levels to keep rising without any barrier and it only makes the PCOS symptoms worse. Therefore, it is best to avoid milk, cheese, yogurt, butter and other milk products as much as possible.
Unhealthy Fats :
The next food group that should be strictly excluded from the polycystic ovary syndrome diet is unhealthy fats such as saturated fats, hydrogenated fats and trans fats that aggravate the problems of PCOS. Saturated fats are present in fatty cuts of red meat and dairy products, and it causes an increase in production of oestrogen which hinders the absorption of certain nutrients in the body and promotes weight gain.
Processed Foods :
Last but not the least are processed foods, which have a great impact on PCOS. The additives, chemicals, flavors and preservatives present in processed foods boost the release of prostaglandins hormone which trigger inflammation which in turn increases levels of insulin in the body.
Eat whole foods instead that are in their natural form.
Important Guidelines to Improve Insulin Sensitivity and Control PCOS :
Although there is no known cure for PCOS yet, following a few simple guidelines and bringing about a few changes in the lifestyle can help a lot in managing PCOS symptoms naturally.
- Consume whole grains instead of processed and refined foods and whole fruits instead of fruit juices in order to maintain blood glucose and insulin levels.
- Eating foods rich in fiber also lead to a slower, consistent and controlled rise in blood sugar and insulin levels.
- Some healthy fiber rich foods are legumes and vegetables that also provide necessary nutrients for the body.
- Combine proteins and carbohydrates together because proteins help to regulate the blood glucose spike caused by carbohydrates consumption.
- Eat regularly but not too frequently. Divide your foods into 3 to 4 meals and eat them every 4 to 5 hours in order to improve insulin sensitivity and prevent cravings for unhealthy snacks. Also, never ever skip breakfast.
- Snack on healthy nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds and flax seeds that are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
- Eat 2 to 3 servings of fish every week in order to load up on essential fatty acids that are beneficial for controlling PCOS symptoms.
- Choose healthy cooking options such as baking, grilling, broiling, boiling and steaming instead of deep frying.
- Eat protein with every meal because proteins have a stabilizing effect on sugar that is released by the carbohydrates.
- Avoid sugar in all forms – refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup and even artificial sweeteners.
- Drink 3 litres of water every day.
- Have enough sleep every night because a lack of sleep can affect hormones and worsen the symptoms and problems.
- Stay physically active and make exercise a part of your healthy lifestyle. Just like diet, exercise also plays a vital role in improving PCOS symptoms because it is a great way to enhance insulin sensitivity and restore the balance of the reproductive hormones. In addition, exercises also help in weight management and promoting weight loss.
- A combination of aerobic exercises for 30 minutes along with some strength training is the best option.
- Brisk Walk for 30 to 45 minutes is also a great option.
- Keep a track of your periods and make it a point to consult your doctor if you are missing your periods consistently for several months or if there is a gap of more than 40 to 50 days between two periods. The absence of regular periods increases the risk of endometrial cancer.
So, now that you have a clear idea about the PCOS foods to eat and avoid for promoting effective PCOS management and controlling weight gain issues, plan out a low GI diet accordingly and lead a happy and healthy life without worries and maintain a positive thinking.