PCOS or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a kind of hormonal disorder that refers to a condition when a woman has a number of small cysts in the ovaries. It affects one in 10 women. Besides disrupted hormonal behaviour, this condition can trigger diabetes, infertility, acne and excessive hair growth. Most PCOS patients are overweight and are asked to exercise, which helps control the symptoms.
It is believed that some women have a predisposition to PCOS and that it may run in the family. The first, most common symptom of this condition is irregular periods, but if that’s not the case, PCOS can largely go undetected. For a few women, PCOS is diagnosed when they’re trying to get pregnant since this condition can cause problems with fertility. Besides an ultrasound, the other way to detect this condition is by conducting blood tests, which includes insulin and hormonal checks like testosterone.
Irregular periods happen to be the most common symptom of PCOS. Excessive facial and body hair are the secondary symptoms. They are also known as Hirsutism. Diabetes, infertility, acne, weight-gain, oily skin, heart trouble and migraines are a few other symptoms. If periods are largely irregular and not corrected over a long period of time, then the risk of uterus cancer also goes up. Mood swings and bouts of depression could also be milder symptoms of PCOS. There’s no permanent cure for PCOS but the symptoms can be managed. With the right diet and adequate exercise, a few women have reported remarkable improvement.
Here are some tips that you can use to control PCOS
Eat lot of fruits
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. However, fruits are 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, grapes, lemon, guava, pear, oranges, watermelon, blueberries, nectarines, apples and kiwifruit. 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.
Green leafy vegetables and coloured vegetables will do the job
The benefits of eating fruits and vegetables to lose weight are well known, but it also helps to control PCOS naturally. Leafy vegetables have maximum nutrients per calories compared to other foods. They are also rich in calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium along with vitamins K, C and E and most importantly, it contains essential B vitamins, which play 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, render better hormone balance and improve fertility, all of which are essential in controlling PCOS. The minerals help to neutralize the acidity caused by inflammation and impaired glucose tolerance. Calcium helps in egg maturation and follicle development in the ovaries, and potassium is needed for FSH (Follicle Stimulation Hormone) production. It helps to reduce PMS symptoms and also promotes weight loss.
Brightly colored vegetables are not only for an appetizing salad, but also help control PCOS and must be included in your diet plan. Colourful vegetables are loaded with powerful antioxidants that help to neutralize the harmful effects of oxidative stress in women suffering from the condition. Some of the healthiest colored vegetables include red and yellow bell peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, and eggplant.
Healthy fats are what your body needs
Not all fats are unhealthy and harmful. 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 hold an important place in a PCOS fertility diet. They are found in seeds, nuts, avocado, olive oil and oily fishes like tuna and salmon. We are aware of the uses 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 the condition.
The right type of meat
Organic, pasture-fed meat should be avoided. Lean meat may be expensive, but it is important that you eat good quality meat if you do eat meat. Grass-fed meat tends to be leaner and contains less hormones than standard meat. It is also important because livestock is often fed grain and feed that has been genetically modified or contains pesticides that only worsen hormone balance and PCOS.
Low GI carbs
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 of blood sugar levels, which in turn increases the release of insulin from the pancreas in order to use the glucose for energy. However, the high levels of insulin in the body eventually leads to insulin resistance and obesity, which worsens PCOS symptoms. Therefore, it is advised to opt for healthy carbohydrates with low GI 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, lentils and non-starchy vegetables have low GI levels.
Foods groups to avoid in a PCOS diet
High GI foods
As already mentioned above, foods that have high GI promote a sudden rise in blood sugar levels, which lead to increased release of insulin, which regulate the glucose released into the bloodstream. Although high GI foods are tasty and good to eat, they are also high in calories and lacking in nutrients, which make them unhealthy. Some of the unhealthy foods, with high GI, 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. A diet rich in sugar and simple carbohydrates is directly linked to PCOS. Sugars not only affect the insulin levels, but also disrupt ovulation.
Although dairy products and milk are an essential part of a balanced diet chart, they can be harmful in the case of PCOS. Therefore, they also come under the list of foods to avoid with PCOS. Consumption of milk can increase testosterone levels. A particular type of protein in milk limits regular processing of testosterone in the body, which causes the testosterone levels to keep rising without any barrier, making PCOS symptoms worse. Therefore, it is best to avoid milk, cheese, yogurt, butter and other milk products as much as possible.
Most intolerant individuals or those who avoid dairy products immediately turn to soy as a healthy substitute. However, this can’t be done in the case of PCOS. It has been found that soy is implicated in delayed ovulation, which can make things worse for women with the condition. So, it is best for women with PCOS to avoid soy products and exclude it especially from their PCOS pregnancy diet if they are trying to conceive.
The next food group that should be strictly excluded from the PCOS 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 the production of oestrogen, which hinders the absorption of certain nutrients in the body and promotes weight gain. Trans fats and hydrogenated fats found in cooking oil, processed foods and margarine increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes mellitus in women with PCOS.
There are numerous disadvantages of coffee and it has been seen that excessive consumption of the beverage (4 or more cups a day) can also affect fertility in women. As PCOS already has a direct impact on fertility, coffee can make things worse. Daily intake of coffee increases the levels of estradiol, a type of oestrogen hormone that affects ovulation and the menstrual cycle. You can definitely cut down or eliminate caffeine from your diet to see if it lessens the PCOS symptoms and improves fertility.
It is well known that alcohol consumption increase the risk of PCOS in women by almost 50% compared to those who don’t drink alcohol. The liver is the key organ that eliminates excess oestrogen from the body, but regular alcohol consumption puts excess pressure on the liver where flushing out the alcohol becomes its prime objective, and the task of removing oestrogen is pushed to the background which creates an oestrogen dominant environment in the body. In addition, alcohol is readily converted into sugar in the body, which contributes to insulin resistance and impaired glucose tolerance. The acidity created by alcohol aggravates inflammation and makes things worse both for people with type 2 diabetes and PCOS.
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 hormones that trigger inflammation, which in turn increases the levels of insulin in the body. It is better to consume whole foods in their natural form.