Top 3 Diet Tips for PCOS
Do you or someone you know have PCOS?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS for short, is a common condition which affects approximately 15% of women of reproductive age.
The name of this hormonal condition is a bit misleading as you don’t actually need to have cysts on your ovaries to have PCOS. In fact, many women who have PCOS have perfectly normal ultrasounds with no evidence of any cysts. Hence why ultrasounds are not always the best tool for diagnosing PCOS.
Instead, PCOS is better defined as a condition that occurs when:
1. You have elevated androgen levels (these are our male hormones such as testosterone). You can test for these levels by doing a blood test.
2. You have facial hair growth or acne.
3. You have irregular or no periods. However, this can also occur with hypothalamic amenorrhea which is caused by not eating enough food or carbs so be careful not to confuse these 2 conditions.
In 80% of PCOS, the underlying driver is insulin resistance. High insulin levels increase our androgen production which causes PCOS symptoms such as facial hair and jawline acne.
So what is insulin resistance? Well insulin resistance means that you have higher than normal levels of insulin (this is also what happens in pre-diabetes). You can get this tested by asking your doctor to do a fasting insulin blood test.
Each time we eat carbohydrates or sugar, our body produces insulin as it helps to shuttle the glucose out of our blood and into our cells to use for energy. Poor eating habits that are especially high in refined carbs and sugars can lead to insulin resistance overtime.
So here are my top 3 tips for improving your insulin sensitivity to tackle your PCOS!
1. Choose lower GI carbohydrates
Low GI carbs take longer for your body to digest and therefore, don’t give you that huge spike in blood sugar levels after a meal. This means your body doesn’t need to produce mass amounts of insulin which protects you from developing insulin resistance in the long run.
Here are some examples of Low GI food swaps:
· White rice --> Brown rice
· White potato --> Sweet potato
· White bread --> Wholemeal bread (starting to notice a trend?)
· Quick oats --> Steel cut oats
· Potato Chips --> Roasted Chickpea Snacks
If you have PCOS, it’s important to limit your carbohydrate intake to ¼ of your plate (even if it is low GI) as anything in excess always has its down sides.
2. Increase your Omega-3 intake
Omega-3 fats have countless different health benefits ranging from improving joint pain to keeping our hearts nice and strong. They can be found in certain nuts and seeds, but I prefer getting omega-3 from seafood sources as it’s in a form that our body can use straight away.
Various studies have also found that omega-3 fats can help to improve insulin sensitivity! This is why I encourage my clients with PCOS to incorporate at least 2 meals per week of oily fish such as sardines, salmon or mackerel. These also happen to be the tastiest type of fish, so hopefully it shouldn’t be too much of a chore.
Keep in mind – many women with PCOS may have increased omega-3 needs and therefore, supplementation may also be recommended.
Tip: If you’re someone who is time and money poor, try adding tinned sardines into your diet!
3. Eat the rainbow!
What makes certain vegetables orange and others purple? Well the answer is antioxidants!
There are 3 main types of antioxidants which give vegetables and fruit their colour: carotenoids (orange), flavonoids (blue/red) and chlorophyll (green). When we eat these compounds, they act as antioxidants inside our bodies and protect against dangerous compounds called free radicals. Along with protecting against free radicals, studies have found that diets rich in antioxidants also help to improve with insulin sensitivity.
My friends always grimace when I eat the seeds in watermelons. IS it because I like the taste? ...well yes actually. But there’s also a side benefit! Countless antioxidants can be found in the peel and seed of fruits and vegetables. So I always encourage my clients to eat the whole fruit/vegetable when possible, otherwise all these goodies are going to waste!
A healthy and well-balanced diet is fundamental to managing PCOS, however other lifestyle factors such as sleep, exercise and stress are also critical areas to address.
If you require further assistance or support, work with a dietitian who has experience in women’s health for a specialized plan that works for you!
About the author – Grace Kim
Grace is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist with a passion for all things food- whether it be eating, cooking or admiring. Having struggled with both hormonal and gut issues herself, she understands how difficult yet powerful a change of diet can be. With over 5 years of experience in the natural health and nutrition industry, she uses a holistic and evidence-based approach to treat not only the symptoms but also the root cause of the problem.