Importance of a balanced diet in PCOS

Balanced Diet

PCOS or polycystic syndrome is a complex endocrine disorder. This is a condition that not only affects the ovaries but every other area of a woman's body and her life. Therefore, the importance of a healthy balanced nutritional diet is the key to managing the symptoms while also taking care of overall health and wellbeing.

Signs and symptoms of PCOS

Women diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome experience symptoms, such as elevated body mass index, infrequent or irregular menstrual cycle, excessive hair growth at unwanted places of the body (chin, & upper lips), thinning of hair on the scalp, adult acne, skin tags, darkening skin pigment in different parts of the body and infertility issues due to endocrine disorder.

List of foods to include in a PCOS diet menu

When designing a healthy diet plan for polycystic ovarian syndrome, it's imperative to note that PCOS can make weight loss more difficult so setting realistic expectation is the key. For example, it's necessary to adjust your macronutrient ranges to improve the condition, control appetite, and meet your specific nutritional needs. Here's a recommended breakdown of nutrients
  • 40 - 50 % of calories from carbohydrate
  • 20 - 25 % of calories from protein
  • 25 - 35 % of calories from fat

Green leafy vegetables

Consumption of leafy vegetables have maximum nutrients per calories compared to other foods. They are also rich in calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium along with the following vitamins: K, C, E, and B. Vitamin B plays an important role, particularly - B2, B3, B5, and B6 as it helps in better sugar and fat metabolism, improve thyroid functioning, fertility, and render better hormonal balance that's essential for PCOS management. Calcium helps in egg maturation and follicle development in ovaries. Potassium is needed for FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) production. Furthermore, it helps to reduce PMS symptoms and promote weight loss.

Rainbow-colored vegetables

Vegetables with varied colors are loaded with powerful antioxidants that help to neutralize the harmful effects of oxidative stress in women suffering from PCOS. Include a rainbow-colored vegetable salad in your PCOS diet plan such as red and yellow bell peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, eggplants, lettuce, etc.

Fruits

There's a misconception that fructose content in the fruits can cause a sudden spike in blood sugar levels and insulin levels. In fact, fruits are really rich in phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fibers. Therefore, shouldn't be avoided entirely. Include fruits that have low glycemic index such as:
  • Lime
  • Strawberries
  • Apricot
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemon
  • Cantaloupe
  • Guava
  • Pear
  • Oranges
  • Watermelon
  • Blueberries
  • Nectarines
  • Apples
  • Kiwifruit
Additionally, eating a handful of nuts or seeds for the protein boost would help to control the sudden sugar spikes caused by fruits.

Healthy fats

Essential fatty acids play critical role in maintaining the cells and removing toxins from the body as well as promoting hormonal balance and weight management. In a PCOS diet, fats hold an important place to improve fertility. Healthy fats are found in seeds, nuts, avocado, olive oil and oily fishes like tuna and salmon. Tuna is rich in Vitamin B and D, both are essential for women with PCOS. Salmon is an amazing source of vitamin D that helps relieve certain problems related to PCOS.

Organic meat

Since weight gain is a major issue in a PCOS condition, it is important to include lean protein to stay in control of the body weight. Meat is one of the powerful natural sources of protein. However, it's best to opt for organic lean cuts of meat that contain fewer hormones and pesticides and are not genetically modified.

Low GI carbohydrates

There's no reason to completely eliminate carbohydrates because you have PCOS. Instead choose the carbohydrates judiciously. Opt for carbohydrates with low glycemic index (GI) that takes longer to break down and digest, causing slow and consistent release of blood glucose in the body. Another benefit of low GI food is, it prevents cravings as it keeps you satiated for long. Most legumes, beans, and lentils and non-starchy vegetables have low GI rating.

7 Food Groups to Avoid in a PCOS diet menu

Let's look at the exclusion list of foods that usually affect the insulin levels in the body and worsen the polycystic ovary symptoms.

High GI foods

Foods that have high GI promote a sudden rise in blood sugar level which in turn leads to increased release of insulin - which work to regulate - the glucose released into the bloodstream. Besides being high in calories they also lack in nutrients which make them unhealthy. High GI foods that are consumed every day are biscuits, cakes, white bread, pies, rolls, white pasta, white rice, dried fruits, most breakfast cereals, soda, candy, flavored yogurt, ice creams, fruit juices, and packaged soups. Diet rich in sugar not only affect the insulin levels but also disrupt ovulation.

Dairy products

This is counter-intuitive because dairy products are an essential part of a balanced diet chart but they prove harmful in case of PCOS. 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, only making PCOS symptoms worse. Hence, exclude the following from your diet menu: milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, and other milk products as much as possible.

Soy products

Generally, those who are intolerant to dairy products turn immediately to soy as a healthy substitute. But this can't be an alternate in the case of PCOS. Soy is implicated in delayed ovulation which can make things worse for women. So is best to avoid especially if you're trying to conceive.

Unhealthy fats

Saturated fats, hydrogenated fats and trans fats that aggravate the problems of PCOS are considered unhealthy fats. Saturated fats are found in the fatty cuts of red meat and dairy products - it causes an increase in production of estrogen which hinders the absorption of certain nutrients in the body and promotes weight gain. Trans fats and hydrogenated fats are found in cooking oil, processed foods and margarine, it increases the risk of heart diseases and diabetes in women with PCOS.

Caffeine

Daily intake of coffee increases the levels of estradiol, a type of estrogen hormone which affects ovulation and menstrual cycle. Therefore, a definite no-no to this refreshing drink should be on your exclude list.

Alcohol

Consumption of alcohol increases the risk of PCOS in women by almost 50% compared to those who don't drink alcohol. Alcohol is readily converted into sugar in the body which contributes to insulin resistance and impaired glucose tolerance. In addition, the acidity created by alcohol aggravates inflammation and makes things worse both for people with Type 2 diabetes and PCOS.

Processed foods

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. An alternate option is to eat whole foods that are in their natural form.

A few guidelines to improve insulin sensitivity and control PCOS

  • Consume whole grains instead of refined or processed foods.
  • Eat foods rich in fiber.
  • Combine proteins and carbohydrates together because protein helps to regulate the blood glucose spike caused by carbohydrates consumption.
  • Eat regularly but not too frequently. Avoid skipping breakfast.
  • Limit salt intake.
  • Limit the intake of processed foods such as cured meats, smoked meats, salted nuts, sauces and chips.
  • Switch to oils such as olive oil and corn oil.
  • Eat 2 to 3 servings of fish every week.
  • Avoid sugar in all forms - refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup and even artificial sweeteners.
  • Drink 2 liters of water every day.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Have adequate sleep.
  • Stay physically active and make exercise a part of your healthy lifestyle.

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