It can be overwhelming figuring out what exactly you should be eating if you have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). One of the biggest things women with PCOS need to remember when it comes to eating, is that they need to make sure they are balancing blood glucose and insulin in their body throughout the day. High levels of insulin can lead to increased testosterone which can be the catalyst for the majority of symptoms related to PCOS. I’m here to break it down for you with 5 simple things you can remember any time you are about to grab something to eat.
1) Load up on your Veggies
It goes without saying that vegetables are one of the most nutritious foods you can consume, especially if you have PCOS. Vegetables are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that will help keep your hormones in check. Opt for cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, kale, asparagus, bok choy, and cabbage as they contain a component called Indole-3-Carbinol (I3C) that can help to metabolize estrogen. Vegetables are also loaded with antioxidants that can help to combat any inflammation that is in the body. Something to keep note of with all PCOS patients, is that there is some level of inflammation in the body. So it’s key to load up on your vegetable consumption, daily. Tip: add a handful of spinach to your morning smoothie!
2) Eat healthy Fats and Fiber
With PCOS, you want to make sure you are balancing your blood glucose and insulin. One of the best ways to slow down digestion, keep you fuller longer and encourage estrogen excretion is to consume a healthy amount of fiber daily. The key is, the darker the vegetable the higher the fiber content such as spinach, broccoli, swiss chard, carrots, beets, etc. Fruits high in fiber include strawberries and apples. Also consider legumes and beans to get your maximum fiber intake. Flax seeds can be a great source of fiber as well. Make sure to buy them whole and grind them yourself, this will release the flax oil from the seeds which are known to have phytoestrogenic properties, meaning it can balance estrogen levels. Healthy fats such as unsaturated fats contain omega-3 fatty acids which help to reduce inflammation.
Tip: Choose healthy dietary sources of oils such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, walnuts, fish, sunflower seeds etc.
3) Lower carbohydrate consumption
Most women with PCOS are sensitive to carbohydrates. This means that your body has a harder time coping with high-carbohydrate foods, starchy vegetables and sugar. Eating foods that are higher on the glycemic index or glycemic load list can cause your blood glucose and insulin levels to rise, not to mention give you additional cravings for these types of foods. It is best to keep your diet to good quality protein, lots of vegetables, some fruit, good healthy fats low in carbohydrates and low in sugar consumption. This type of eating is similar to the Paleo diet.
Tip: combine carbohydrates with protein and fats to help reduce the spike in blood glucose.
4) Ditch Dairy
Dairy has received a bad rep over the last few years. Some people are realizing that consuming dairy can really affect their digestion, especially causing bloating and gas. Dairy also has the ability to disrupt hormone function, especially in PCOS patients. Dairy contains insulin-like growth factor, which can impact testosterone levels. I’ve found in my practice that removing dairy products in the diet completely can have a significant impact on the symptoms related to PCOS. To learn more about dairy and PCOS check out this blog post on Top 3 Foods to Ponder with PCOS.
5) Substitute Sugar, better yet, cut it out!
Sugar can rapidly raise blood glucose and subsequently insulin levels. Sugars can also get stored into fat cells when we do not use them for energy resulting in further weight gain. Read your nutrition labels carefully, sugar can be hiding in all sorts of ingredients. Watch out for names such as; cane sugar, dextrose, brown sugar, icing sugar, corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, fructose, honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, agave, malt syrup, molasses, and the list goes on. Sugar has the ability to significantly impact PCOS symptoms so opt for snacks that consist of fat and protein instead to help beat your sugar cravings. Tip: opt for snacks such as, nut butter with apple slices, vegetables with hummus etc.
By Samina Mitha, ND