How does Diet affect PCOS? Foods to Eat and Avoid in PCOS

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). You may probably think that it’s a gynecologic problem, but PCOS is an endocrine syndrome that affects women’s health. It’s a hormonal disorder, in which women tend to produce androgen (male hormones) in excess. This hormonal imbalance triggers many health complications for women such as irregular menstrual cycles, and other pregnancy-related complications.

Due to the hormonal imbalance, PCOS causes hair growth on the body and face and causes baldness. It may also be one of the reasons for cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. 

To cure PCOS symptoms, women should take birth control pills along with diabetic control drugs.

To know more about the PCSO other complications, diagnostics, and how to cure PCOS symptoms with a healthy PCOS diet, read this article in full.

What is PCOS?

What is PCOS?

PCOS is basically a hormonal imbalance that affects women mainly when they naturally feel a hormonal change due to the production of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) which causes an ovary to mature usually between the ages of 15 to 44.  According to the National Library of Medicine of the United States, around 2.2% to 2.6% of the women in this age group tend to get affected by PCOS.

Although many of them don’t know about it and try to cure symptoms with other medications without knowing the purpose in the first place. According to a research study, 70% of women suffer from PCOS, but it has not been diagnosed as yet.

PCOS particularly affects ovaries in a woman’s body which cause the production of progesterone and estrogen – hormones that regulate and control the menstrual cycle. These ovaries also produce androgens (male hormones) in a small amount due to PCOS.

What causes PCOS?

The actual cause of PCOS is still unknown. Doctors predominantly believe that the reason behind PCOS is the excessive production of male hormones (androgens) that affect the ability of ovaries to produce eggs normally. Genes, inflammation, and insulin resistance are all linked to excessive androgen production.

  • Genes: Studies reveal that PCOS is hereditary. There is no one reason that causes this syndrome 
  • Insulin resistance: 70% of the women who suffer from PCOS are insulin resistant.  This means that their bodies cannot consume insulin (taken in the form of foods or medicine) properly
  • Inflammation: Women who suffer from PCOS tend to experience high inflammation in their bodies. Studies have proved that increased inflammation is connected to the higher level of androgen production. Likewise, obesity also contributes to inflammation

Common Symptoms of PCOS

Common Symptoms of PCOS

Some women tend to experience symptoms of PCOS during abnormal menstrual periods, while others neglect the symptoms until they gain sudden weight, or are diagnosed with pregnancy complications.

Some of the most common PCOS symptoms are:

Hair Growth: Hirsutism or excess hair growth is one of the most important symptoms of PCOS. More than 70% of women tend to experience excess hair growth on their belly, chest, back, and other parts of the body during PCOS.

Irregular Bleeding: A lack of ovulation limits the uterine lining, thus, in women with PCOS, the uterine lining thickens due to excessive androgen production. Therefore, they tend to experience fewer than the normal period cycles every year. 

Heavy Bleeding: As mentioned above, due to PCOS, the uterine lining gets thick. It causes abnormal uterine bleeding. Thus, women with PCOS tend to experience heavy bleeding and irregular periods for a longer time period.

Weight Gain: Women who suffer from PCOS tend to get obese.

Acne: Androgens make your skin oilier than normal. It causes breakouts on certain areas like upper back, face, neck, and breasts.

Dark Skin: If you suffer from PCOS, you may experience dark spots on forehead, neck, groins, and under breasts, etc.

Headaches: It also stimulates migraine symptoms in many women.

If you have been suffering from PCOS, then it is better to consult your doctor to diagnose symptoms.

PCOS Diagnosis

PCOS Diagnosis

Your physician may ask you to go through multiple prescribed tests that may help the doctor to arrive at an accurate diagnosis for health complications you may be suffering from. Remember that there’s no test that would be recommended to diagnose PCOS. Your doctor will have a brief discussion about your family history, menstrual periods, and body weight changes. A physical exam for the diagnosis may include monitoring excess hair growth on your body, acne, and resistance to insulin.

Your Doctor may recommend:

A pelvic exam: The exam includes the visual and manual inspection of the reproductive organ for its abnormal growth, mass, and other anomalies.

Blood test: Your physician may ask you to go through a blood test to know about hormonal imbalance. The test will help the physician to ascertain possible causes behind abnormalities of the menstrual cycle or the excess production of androgens.

You may have to undergo an additional blood test to measure glucose tolerance in fasting or in regular conditions, to check triglyceride and cholesterol levels.

Ultrasound: Your physician will measure the thickness and the appearance of your ovaries and uterus by transvaginal ultrasound using a transducer. The transducer produces sound waves that are translated into images on the computer screen.

How does diet affect PCOS?

Many PCOS-related research studies have shown that changing dietary habits can lower the risk of PCOS. It is crucial to know how diet can benefit you to get rid of inflammation and PCOS.

Changing your eating habits can be the most important and easiest way to cope up with PCOS. You can get to the core of the problem just by changing some of your eating habits.

How does diet affect PCOS?

As mentioned earlier, researchers are not sure what causes PCOS, but they do highlight the importance of medication to cure this particular symptom.

In the next section of this article, we will discuss some of the best PCOS diets that work efficiently and you won’t need to have the medications for the rest of your life.

Best Foods for the PCOS Diet

Whole Foods

Whole foods are natural foods that are consumed in raw form. These foods are rich in proteins and minerals, and fiber that slow down the natural process of decomposition of foods in your stomach. This means that when the absorption of foods becomes slow within your blood then you eventually need less insulin. Whole foods are also low on glycemic index.

Whole foods include healthy oils, nuts, fruits, meat, vegetables, fish, etc.

Low Glycemic Load Meals

Low glycemic load means the foods that do not affect your body’s insulin or do not trigger sugar spikes in your body. They are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. You can consume them in raw form. Examples include green vegetables, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, carrots, and many other fruits.  

Anti-inflammatory Foods

Women suffering from PCOS tend to experience low levels of chronic inflammation. Consequently, they become more resistant to insulin, prone to gain weight, and tend to suffer from fatigue and boredom for a longer period of time.

To reduce these inflammatory sensations, you need to incorporate foods that contain anti-inflammatory properties in your diet.

For example:

  • spinach and kale
  • dark leafy green vegetables
  • red grapes
  • cherries, blueberries
  • broccoli, cauliflower
  • green tea
  • nuts, lentils
  • beans
  • cinnamon and turmeric
  • olive oil (extra virgin)
  • salmon and sardines
  • coconut and avocado
  • red wine (in moderate quantity)
  • pistachios, walnuts, almonds, and pine nuts,
  • dark chocolate

Food with Healthy Fats

Adding fats to your diet will make you fat and ignite many health complications, that is why people tend to avoid fats when they are on weight loss diets. But there’s a difference between good fats and bad fats. Good fats are an integral part of a balanced diet. Fats are a great source of energy, and keep you fuller for longer.

They help to regulate your blood more efficiently. They also help produce bone marrow that your body needs. And most importantly, many hormones in our body are composed of fats, including sheath that protects our nerves.

Examples of healthy fats that you can use in your diet include:

  • Whole eggs
  • Avocados
  • Fatty fish
  • Dark chocolate
  • Nuts
  • Chia seeds
  • Coconut milk and oil
  • Olive oil

What Foods should be avoided in a PCOS Diet?  

If you are suffering from PCOS, you should avoid foods that are considered bad for your health. Some of the foods that you should avoid include:

Gluten

Gluten does not suit most women suffering from PCOS as they possess inflammatory properties. Remember that the more inflammation you get from foods or medicines, the more resistant to insulin you become.

Dairy

Dairy products are not a good choice for women suffering from PCOS due to several reasons. A definite reason from many is that they contain insulin-growth-factor or IGF-1. IGF-1 is the reason that triggers abnormal growth of newborn babies when they only feed on milk.

The problem with PCOS sufferers is that the dairy products also trigger insulin spikes and also result in excessive androgen production that may worsen the PCOS symptoms.

So, what can you add instead of dairy products to your daily diet? Alternatives include oat milk, almond milk, rice milk, or coconut milk. We suggest you try different varieties to suit your needs other than dairy products.

Soy

Products that contain soy have a significant impact in delaying ovulation in women suffering from PCOS. As patients with PCOS already lack ovulation, they should not consume soy products because it only exacerbates the problem. 

Now that you know what food items should you incorporate in your diets, and what you should avoid, it’s time to learn how to prepare your food that you can consume, if you are suffering from PCOS.

Consider the following options for making your meal plans.

How can you prepare a PCOS Diet Plan?

Before moving on to the diet plan, you must alter your eating habits. There are a lot of incredible foods that you can add to your daily diet. If you are suffering from PCOS, you can consider the following choices to make your meals.

How can you prepare a PCOS Diet Plan

Breakfast

You can add these rich nutrients in your first meal of the day:

  • Bacon and eggs/avocado and boiled egg
  • Grain-free granola
  • Smoothies made with green vegetables such as avocado, almond butter, apple, spinach, and fresh berries
  • Lunch

Lunch

For lunch, you should avoid having sandwiches. Try the following options instead:

  • Soups
  • Leftovers
  • Salads
  • Dinner

Dinner

If you are suffering from PCOS, you can have the following for your dinner serving:

  • Mashed potatoes, sausages, and veggies
  • Sweet potato wedges with chicken thighs, and roasted veggies
  • Steamed baby potatoes, salmon, and a salad

How to get started with the PCOS Diet?

To get started with an effective PCOS diet plan, you need to consider the fact that having PCOS is a chronic condition that cannot be treated completely, but it can be controlled through medication, change in eating habits, and lifestyle. Therefore, you should bring in sustainable long-term positive changes.

In case, if you want to have cereal with milk in breakfast, you should take one serving as suggested above. Start with one step at a time. First of all, you must adopt a plan for your breakfast, and then gradually expand a PCOS-friendly diet plan to include servings for lunch and dinner.

After How long you can feel improvements in your PCOS Symptoms?

The answer to the question may be different for every other woman, as it depends on the severity of the case and the history of the disease. But many women have reportedly experienced weight loss and improved menstrual cycles within a month of executing lifestyle changes and implementing PCOS diet plan.

To have a significant impact on your health you may have to change your lifestyle.

Other Changes in Lifestyle to consider

Like many other chronic diseases, PCOS also responds proactively to many lifestyle changes. These changes may include, but are not limited to incorporating light exercises, brisk walking, having a healthy and balanced diet, etc.  

With a change in lifestyle, you may feel more inclined to consume a set diet plan that helps you remain active and healthy. Many experts suggest that the ideal time for exercise, when you are on a PCOS diet is 150 minutes per week.

To stimulate the weight loss process, low sugar intake, a low-inflammatory diet, and daily activities can bring swift results. Over the course of time, women with PCOS may feel improvement in ovulation with daily activities and exercise. Moreover, women who want to get pregnant, but are obese and overweight, can engage themselves in exercises only after consulting their physicians.

Many symptoms linked to PCOS can be the reason for stress as well. For this, you can use stress reduction techniques such as yoga, aerobics, meditation, etc. You can also consult with a medical professional about your concerns for better advice.

Moreover, engaging yourselves in physical exercises can bring the following positive changes to your body

  • Improved insulin metabolism
  • Regular menstrual cycle
  • Weight loss
  • Reduced production of male hormones
  • Reduced hair growth
  • Controlled cholesterol levels

Studies have proved that changing behavioral strategies also help women in getting rid of stress and trauma due to PCOS. These strategies include:

  • Self-motivation techniques
  • Being socially active
  • Attending sessions for psychological well being

To reduce stress, you should have enough sleep. It’s important to avoid unnecessary engagements and over-commitments. You should also try to take out some time for yourself to de-stress yourself.

Bottom line

It can be frustrating sometimes to deal with the symptoms of PCOS. Taking prompt and proactive measures will not only help in improving PCOS symptoms, but also help you destress yourself.

To control PCOS symptoms, you should stick to a healthy diet routine and take out enough time for physical activities. If the symptoms persist, don’t hesitate to consult your physician. Your physician will work to analyze the symptoms and suggest an effective diet plan along with other healthy activities, and behavioral changes to counter PCOS symptoms.  

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