Whether you have been recently diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) or you are just starting to look more into it as you begin to consider your fertility, the abundance of opinions and information can be overwhelming and difficult to understand.
Here’s the good news: research has shown that your diet can greatly reduce the impact of PCOS symptoms, helping to restore hormone balance, regulate your menstrual cycle, and address insulin sensitivity and insulin levels, while decreasing inflammation and stress.
What is PCOS?
The first step is understanding what exactly PCOS means for your reproductive and overall long-term health. While different for everyone, common symptoms include elevated levels of Luteinizing hormone (LSH) relative to Follicle-Stimulating hormone (FSH). Symptoms could also be higher levels of Androgens, such as Testosterone. Additionally, we commonly see elevated levels of insulin. Signs of insulin resistance are often linked to metabolic conditions such as high blood sugar, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
The goal of dietary interventions with PCOS is to address metabolic dysfunction to improve reproductive health. We strive to address insulin sensitivity, weight management and decreasing inflammation and stress.
My biggest weapon for keeping blood sugars stable when eating carbohydrates is always pairing with a protein.
The PCOS Diet
It’s time to think of food as information that controls your gene expression, hormones, and metabolism. Here are my 5 tips to get you started!
1. Replace refined sugars and refined carbohydrates with high fiber, nutrient dense carbohydrates
According to research, about 65-70% of women with PCOS exhibit insulin sensitivity. While this might be the case, it does not mean you can’t regain control. The good news is that your blood sugar is highly responsive to lifestyle changes. The first step is understanding that the major nutrient that significantly and directly raises your blood sugar is carbohydrates. With PCOS, it is incredibly important to watch the quality of carbohydrates you are eating.
Recommendation: focus on high-fiber foods, low glycemic carbohydrate sources, such as whole grains like steel cut oatmeal, brown rice or quinoa. Be careful of too much carbohydrate intake though. Also, non-starchy vegetables, legumes and lentils! Fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate, which will help to slow the rate at which your body will digest the other carbohydrates and slow the release of sugar into the blood stream.
Quick tip: my biggest weapon for keeping blood sugars stable when eating carbs is always pairing with a protein. The protein will help to slow digestion and lend towards steady blood sugars, which is a WIN! However, be careful which protein you choose such as red meats.
2. Stabilize blood sugar with small, balanced, and frequent meals
Distributing your calorie intake throughout the day can help avoid unwanted spikes and dips in blood glucose. When planning meals and snacks, balance is key; focus on high quality carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fats. Avoid trans fats if possible as they are linked to heart disease and weight gain, and they will not help you maintain healthy weight or healthy diet.
Choose high quality, low processed foods and keep it simple. A balanced snack can be as simple as apple slices with cinnamon and almonds, while a balanced meal might look like a bowl with greens, salmon and quinoa. Other great snacks are whole grain bread with an avocado spread.
Quick tip: aim to fill half your plate with veggies at each meal to meet your fiber needs and maximize nutrition.
3. Fuel fertility with anti-inflammatory antioxidants
Inflammation wreaks havoc on our bodies so it’s definitely worth addressing. Foods rich in antioxidants, like fruits and veggies, fight inflammation by neutralizing free radicals, thus reducing their ability to cause damage.
Some of my favorite antioxidant rich foods include: beets, kale, blueberries, broccoli, and flaxseed, garlic, olive oil, seaweed, spinach, turmeric and last but not least, cinnamon! These foods also have a low glycemic index, meaning they do not cause insulin levels to rise. However, you aren’t limited to just these, all fruits and veggies offer an array of antioxidants and should be incorporated into your diet plan.
Quick tip: add cinnamon to your meals and snacks, this will not only boost the antioxidant level but may also improve insulin management!
4. Support healthy cortisol levels
Patients with PCOS tend to show altered Cortisol metabolism, and experts agree that lowering cortisol is likely to improve overall health of women with symptoms of PCOS as well as their fertility. A large part of this is managing your stress levels, staying hydrated and avoiding excess sugar consumption.
There is no doubt that your fertility, especially when trying to conceive, can be a very stressful topic, so find yourself an outlet and lean into it.
Quick Tip: if you’re feeling overwhelmed go for a walk, call a friend, or pick up a meditation practice!
5. Supplement Your Diet Plan
Along with a balanced diet and stress management, supplementation can be helpful in alleviating the effects of PCOS. First thing to note, not everyone will respond to the same supplementation. So, it is best to work with your practitioner or a Registered Dietitian to find what the best route is for you. Here are a few you can ask about!
- Inositol: Linked to improved insulin resistance and ovulatory activity of women with PCOS. The most extensively researched forms include, Myo-inositol and D-chiro-insositol (DCI).
- Omega-3: An important fatty acid for a number of reasons. In relation to PCOS, Omega 3 supplementation has been shown to aid in reducing inflammation. It’s also good at regulating the menstrual cycle and improving lipid profile.
- Vitamin D: This is one I recommend to all of my clients. Vitamin D is important for every cell in the body. Since we find ourselves indoors so often and wearing SPF when we are outside, we are often deficient in Vitamin D.
- N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC): An amino acid and antioxidant needed for all endocrine functions in the body. Studies have shown NAC to have similar benefits to Metformin at controlling blood sugar levels as well as improving insulin resistance and menstrual irregularities.
- Chromium: This is a trace mineral that influences the function of insulin. It has been linked to improved glucose utilization in individuals with insulin resistance.
A Balanced Diet for PCOS
If you take away anything, know this, with a healthy and balanced diet, you can gain control of your PCOS. To make these changes easier, you can work with a Registered Dietitian who specializes in PCOS to find an eating style that works best for you! Additionally, adding physical activity into the mix can only benefit you more and help avoid any risk factors PCOS can bring.