Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS is a common condition that affects nearly 1 in every 5 women. Caused due to an imbalance of hormones, PCOS has a range of symptoms that affect menstruation, pregnancy and fertility, skin and hair health, weight, and mental health. If severe, it can also cause complications in cardiovascular health. While there is no proof that pinpoints the cause of PCOS, it can be attributed to heredity and lifestyle. That being said, there is no sure-shot cure for the condition. Lifestyle changes and medical intervention are the only effective and sustainable methods to manage the symptoms of PCOS.
Is there a specific diet for PCOS patients?
Now that we’ve established the fact that lifestyle changes are the best way to manage the symptoms of PCOS, let’s look at how?
- Exercising regularly
- Following a healthy, balanced diet
- Staying well hydrated
- Getting enough sleep
- Managing stress
Further on, we’ll focus on the nutrition and diet aspects of PCOS.
Following a healthy and balanced diet is crucial for two main reasons. The first is weight management. And the second is the regulation of insulin levels.
While the details of every diet will vary from patient to patient based on preferences, allergies, and goals, a few fundamental thumb rules for PCOS diets stay constant.
Firstly, meeting all macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates) requirements without eliminating any. Next, make sure that all micronutrients are consumed either in meals or via supplementation.
Lastly, ensuring that instead of consuming 3 large meals, the patient consumes 3 mid-sized meals along with 3 small snacks at regular time intervals.
So, how does a diet affect PCOS?
One of the most common, yet most complicated symptoms of PCOS is insulin resistance. Insulin is the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. This is how it works: you eat and your blood sugar levels increase, insulin is secreted and the blood sugar levels slowly come back to normal. When someone suffers from insulin resistance, it basically means that their body’s insulin is not doing its job efficiently, so the body has to secrete more insulin to fight the increasing blood sugar levels. While this doesn’t seem like an issue, it is something to worry about. An increased level of insulin creates chaos in the body leading to weight gain, increased hair growth, acne, and high cholesterol levels to name a few.
Eating the right kind of food, in the right proportions and at the right time helps with blood sugar levels not spiking or dropping, which in turn, makes the job of insulin easier.
So, as an overview, a PCOS diet will contain foods that are not excessively fat heavy, in order to avoid increased cholesterol; foods that are fiber-rich as fibrous foods keep you fuller for longer; foods that are low in Glycemic Index (GI), i.e. foods that release sugars into the bloodstream gradually.
Largely, highly processed foods, excessively sweet foods, and trigger foods will not be seen in a PCOS diet plan.
|Should eat||Should not eat|
|High fibre foods – green vegetables, legumes, sweet potato, pumpkin|
Whole, unrefined foods – brown rice, barley, oats, quinoa, multi-grain bread or pasta
Lean meat – chicken, fish, eggs
Anti-inflammatory foods – fruits and berries, dry fruit, turmeric, yoghurt
|Refined carbs – white bread, pastries, maida, breakfast cereals, white rice, excess potatoes|
Sugary drinks and snacks – colas, candies, canned juices, syrups
Inflammatory foods – processed meats, excess oil and butter, fried foods, excessively spiced foods
The do and don’ts of PCOS:
|Maintain proper weight through diet and exercise (learn to read food labels and follow a scientific workout program)|
Stay well hydrated
Manage stress with yoga, meditation, and breathing practices
Sleep adequately and sleep well
Maintain a record of your cycle, flow, and symptoms
|Avoid smoking and consumption of alcohol|
Try not to skip meals or compromise on sleep
Make as many changes as possible to avoid taking medication
Stay away from foods and situations that are triggers
When should you consult a doctor?
In an ideal scenario, if you are not yet diagnosed with PCOS or experiencing any of its symptoms, it’s best to go for regular checkups. This way, you will catch the condition at the onset and management will be a lot easier. However, if you are experiencing symptoms, you must go get it checked immediately. For the same reason, the earlier it’s detected, the easier it is to follow a treatment plan.
Doctors will usually have a conversation regarding your symptoms, medical history, and family history. If needed, they may also conduct a test to check insulin resistance and ultrasonography to rule out the formation of cysts.
Based on the reports, the doctor will advise you either to enroll with a nutritionist and fitness expert or if serious, will administer the best-suited medication.
Finally, the nutritionist will provide you with a detailed diet plan or nutrition guide that will be customized to your specific needs. The fitness expert will support you through your exercise routines and together, with the effort from your end, PCOS can become a thing of the past, as it has for so many other women out there!