PCOS or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a cluster of symptoms rather than a specific health condition. Women get PCOS when numerous small-sized fluid-filled sacs or cysts develop in their ovaries. Around one in ten women is likely to develop PCOS during their child-bearing age. Prolonged or irregular menstrual periods, excessive production of androgen (male hormone) leading to hirsutism (excess body or facial hair), mood swings and depression are the main symptoms of PCOS. Treatment includes medication, diet and lifestyle changes.
How does Diet Affect PCOS?
Diet plays a crucial role in managing PCOS symptoms. It impacts insulin production, insulin resistance and weight management to a great extent. Maintaining healthy levels of insulin through diet is paramount in PCOS because elevated insulin may contribute to aggravating PCOS symptoms even further.
Over 50% of women with PCOS get pre-diabetes or diabetes before they reach 40. Therefore, they should be watchful about insulin levels.
When a woman is diagnosed with PCOS, she should follow a balanced diet to accommodate her dietary needs. A PCOS diet should help her with weight management and promote healthy insulin in the body.
Food Plans Included in PCOS Diet
There is nothing called a scripted PCOS treatment diet. It depends on the nutritional requirements of a woman.
A woman with PCOS should ideally intake 1800 to 2000 Kcal/day.
The diet should comprise - lots of fresh vegetables, whole grains and proteins (plant-based) while avoiding trans fat, processed food and sugar.
A suitable PCOS treatment diet should include the following:
Total fat: 25 g
Calcium: 600 mg
Iron: 21 mg
Sodium: 1200 mg
Carbohydrate: 400 to 450 g
Protein: 50 to 55 g
Based on the overall health requirements, a woman can work with a licensed dietitian and adjust her PCOS diet plan.
Meal timing is also an important factor integral to a PCOS diet. Although it may vary from woman to woman, following a standard meal timing can help a lot. For example:
Breakfast within 9:00 AM
Mid-day snack at around 11:00 AM
Lunch at 1:00 PM
Evening snack at 4:00 PM
Dinner by 8:00 PM
Refer to the below chart for an example of a standard PCOS diet:
Food to Avoid in PCOS
Women with PCOS should avoid or significantly reduce the consumption of certain foods. These include the following:
Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, mass-produced pastries, baked items, etc., are likely to spike sugar levels in the blood, which may aggravate insulin resistance. Moreover, their nutritional value is low.
Sugary beverages, including carbonated and energy drinks, can increase insulin resistance, leading to increased blood sugar levels. So, women who have PCOS should avoid them.
Processed meats like hot dogs, luncheon meats and sausages are loaded with saturated fats. These are likely to increase inflammation in the body and lead to weight gain.
Solid fats, such as butter, margarine and lard, can lead to inflammation and exacerbate the signs and symptoms of PCOS. These foods also increase the tendency to grow insulin resistance.
Red meats like pork, beef, hamburgers, etc., are high in saturated fats, sodium and nitrites. These are inflammatory food products and can also reduce the level of progesterone in the body while aggravating PCOS symptoms.
Other Lifestyle Changes with PCOS
Lifestyle changes are imperative for effective PCOS management. Studies say that when women combine their PCOS diet plan with regular exercise, they can expect the following benefits:
According to various researches, if a woman manages to lose even 5% to 10% of her weight through a PCOS diet and exercise, it can significantly reduce her symptoms.
Proper insulin metabolism
If the body utilises insulin properly, women can check insulin resistance and improve their PCOS symptoms.
Regular menstrual periods
Making small yet significant changes in lifestyle and diet can help women get regular periods with PCOS.
Reduction in cholesterol levels
Avoiding trans fats can help considerably in reducing cholesterol levels.
Healthy levels of androgen and reduced hirsutism
A balanced diet along with regular physical activities can help achieve healthy androgen levels while checking hirsutism.
When to Consult a Doctor
Women with PCOS should never ignore their symptoms as it can lead to further complications. They should make sure to pay a visit to their doctors if:
They are experiencing issues with menstrual periods
They are facing infertility concerns
Their hirsutism is worsening
There is an increase in male-like baldness
They have increased acne.
Like any other health condition, one of the best resorts to bank upon with PCOS is - eating a well-balanced and nutritious PCOS diet and indulging in physical activities. So, whenever possible, go for complex carbs over refined, unsaturated fats over saturated ones and fresh over processed food - the holy grail for women with PCOS.