Shopping bag full of fresh vegetables and fruits

Do you need a PCOS diet?

Written by: Corey Wheelan

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) assaults fertility, body image, and overall health. More than half of the five million American women who grapple with PCOS are overweight, some significantly so. If the thought of yet another PCOS diet, even the absolutely best PCOS diet ever invented, sounds exhausting, we get it. We’d like offer up a better option – a PCOS food plan you can thrive on forever.

PCOS is a hormonal condition with hereditary roots. People with this condition typically have varying levels of insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that helps your body turn sugar into energy. If you’re insulin resistant, you’re producing way more insulin than you need, because your body is struggling to stabilize blood sugar. This process also forces your ovaries to produce an overabundance of male sex hormones, including testosterone. That explains the infertility piece, as well as stress-making symptoms such as low metabolism, obesity, hairiness, acne, and male pattern baldness. Joy.  

The good news (yes, there is good news), is that diet and activity level can dramatically impact upon PCOS and insulin resistance. You can choose to eat the best foods on a PCOS diet and many women do, when they’re trying to get pregnant. This often helps regulate ovulation, while significantly reducing weight gain. The thing is, PCOS is a condition you have for life, not just during your reproductive years.

Many young women first realize they have this condition in their teens, because their period is late in starting, or very, very irregular. Others don’t get a diagnosis until they have trouble getting pregnant. Since spontaneous pregnancy, the kind that happens with sex, can happen, many women are never told they have this condition by their doctors, ever.

Another lovely fact – PCOS doesn’t stop with menopause. If left unchecked, it continues to promote insulin resistance, which, in turn, upticks your chances for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, later on in life.

That’s why a lifelong PCOS food plan you can relish and live with forever, is better than a temporary PCOS diet.

So what should you eat? Good question. “It has been known for years that insulin is the major hormone connecting metabolism with PCOS, and both sugary and starchy carbohydrates can induce dramatic spikes of insulin, sometimes lasting for hours after eating those foods,” explains Ronald F. Feinberg, M.D., Ph.D., the Medical Director of IVF Programs at RAD Fertility. Feinberg suggests a moderate reduction in simple carbohydrates for women with PCOS, whether they’re overweight or not. “The ovaries are very sensitive to insulin and other insulin-like hormones, so it is likely that both thinner and not-so-thin women with PCOS could benefit by reducing their intake of certain carbohydrates,” he explains.

So here’s what you should eat:

·       Lean protein – Protein is essential for building and repairing tissues, bone and muscle health, as well as hormone production. Tofu, chicken, sardines, and salmon are all great sources. Especially sardines and salmon, because……

·       Foods containing Omega-3 fatty acids – Fatty fishes and other foods with lots of Omega-3 fatty acids may be particularly beneficial for reducing the effects of PCOS. Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce insulin resistance and also, cholesterol in women with this condition.

·       Foods containing vitamin D – Salmon gets five stars here, too, and so does mackerel. Vitamin D has been shown to reduce insulin resistance and testosterone in women with PCOS. Other good sources of vitamin D include egg yolks, cheese, and beef liver. Spending time outdoors in the sun, of course, also helps.  

·       High-fiber foods – Fiber slows down digestion and reduces the impact of sugar on the blood. That’s why eating an apple is fine, but drinking a glass of apple juice that has no fiber, is not. Cruciferous veggies, berries, sweet potatoes, and almonds are all good choices. So are whole grains, like quinoa, and red, black, purple, or brown rice.

·       Anti-inflammatory foods –  Low-grade, systemic inflammation is a hallmark of PCOS, independent of weight. You can be thin, kind of thin, a little overweight, or a lot overweight and have an inflammatory response to glucose, plus the oxidative stress it places on cells. Anti-inflammatory foods, such as turmeric, strawberries, blueberries, fatty fish (again, a great choice), broccoli and avocadoes are all great inflammation-busters. Any food high in antioxidants can help reduce inflammation in the body.

Here’s what you should not eat:

·       Refined, simple carbohydrates – We call these the whites – white bread, white potatoes, white rice, and starches of all kinds dramatically elevate blood sugar levels and should be avoided. Pasta, too, although there are fantastic pasta alternatives that are low carb, such as Dreamfields pasta and low-carb noodles you make from veggies, like zucchini.

·       Sugary drinks – Kick the cola habit already, and learn to love seltzer or water. Sugary drinks, including desserts masquerading as coffee, can contain whopping amounts of sugar and carbs.

·       Processed foods –  Processed foods are as American as apple pie, which is, of course, a processed food. Anything made in a factory instead of a kitchen is technically processed food. They’re hard to avoid, but dangerous for women with PCOS, because they’re usually high in sugar. They also typically have lots of chemicals you don’t need or want in your body. Opt for fresh, homemade foods instead, whenever possible.   

Does this mean you should never eat another fudge cookie? Of course not. We like cookies, just not every day. Any food plan you’re going to stick to forever has to include the foods that give you the most pleasure – at least occasionally. For some people, that may be a fudge cookie. For others, it may be low-carb cauliflower soufflé. Eating delicious food is one of the joys of life. But so is being at your healthiest, as well as your fittest, and most fertile.