Updated: Apr 12
PCOS is the most common hormonal imbalance experienced by one in ten women who are of reproductive age.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a health condition characterized by the appearance of follicles on the ovaries. This oftentimes prevents the ovaries from releasing eggs which is the major reason for irregular menstruation.
This disorder has been difficult to define due to the fact that there is no categorical abnormality or test that defines the syndrome.
PCOS varies from individual to individual of a different culture, race, geographical location etc, and so does the occurrence of obesity and insulin resistance which are usually associated with it.
Females with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrom (PCOS) may have and are not restricted to the following symptoms:
Excessive hair particularly on the face, chest or stomach
Thinning of scalp hair or male-pattern baldness
Difficulty in maintaining healthy body weight and being overweight
Fertility problems (difficulty getting pregnant).
You probably might be aware of these symptoms or experiencing any of these symptoms already.
According to research, PCOS has been traced to be responsible for many metabolic syndrome diseases like obesity, hypertension, and glucose intolerance; which are also risk factors for hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, etc. so you see that it’s a chain that ultimately harms the body.
Women with PCOS are often faced with the risk of obesity, hypertension, insulin resistance, excessive food craving (binge eating) and so on. It is therefore expedient to know that insulin intolerance is most probably likely to be a major battle to deal with.
Insulin resistance can cause high blood sugar levels, which can raise your appetite, cause you to crave sweets and lead to weight gain. Out of control, insulin resistance can lead to both diabetes and heart disease.
Now, it is found that even women who are of normal and average weight are also faced with insulin resistance. Although moderate weight loss is recommended for people with PCOS so as to help with metabolic and hormonal stability.
Considerably, a conscious thought on your diet and nutrition is a major remedy to stabilize the hormones and their functions.
Here, we will be talking exclusively about how dietary management for individual patients can be structured and followed for an effective change.
PCOS and Diet: Guidelines for dietary modification
Certain key rules are to be followed when it comes to dietary modifications if you are dealing with PCOS.
First, we will need to focus so well on their macronutrient content and their eating patterns.
Secondly, because we will need to help the patient shed some moderate weight, the energy deficit in their diets will also apply. The latter can be achieved mostly by reducing food quantities consumed per meal, and by engaging in more physical activity to expend more energy.
A. Dietary fat and protein
Fats are the most energy-dense food component in our diet, compared to proteins and carbohydrates. Fats provide 9 kilocalories (kcal) per gram of their food component, while carbohydrates and proteins provide just 4 kilocalories (kcal) per gram of their food component each.
This, however, doesn’t take the role of the body’s primary energy source from carbohydrates. The body has an endless ability to store fat if consumed in excess and increases the risk of obesity.
Consumption of healthy fats (unsaturated: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids) has been found to be helpful in supporting healthy living and well-being, especially for people living with diabetes, heart diseases and obesity.
Hence, you really would not need to totally cut fat consumption, but rather have healthy fats consumed in good healthy portions. A good diet with a healthy fat inclusion in it is the Mediterranean diet.
Protein intake has been seen to increase satiety and play key roles in energy combustion as well as reducing overall abdominal fats. With protein, coupled with exercises, you should know that lean muscles will be protected and increased depending on the level of intensity of the exercises done.
Carbohydrates are responsible for providing energy in the form of ATP, required for every daily activity. It should be known to you that carbohydrate foods are not bad for consumption in any way. Carbohydrates and other food nutrients are recommended to be taken daily, with each having its exclusive individual role and responsibility in the body.
However, the important thing to note in consuming carbs (as well as other food nutrient sources) is the portion. Then, followed by the type of carbohydrate. The type of carbohydrate recommended here is complex carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates have a low glycemic index and are a very good source of fibre and energy which are essential food nutrients.
Consuming carbohydrate foods with a low glycemic index in small or moderate amounts have been seen to improve insulin sensitivity, increase HDL, and reduce abnormally high blood sugar level.
The opposite is what happens when a diet has a high glycemic load; decreased HDL level, and high blood sugar levels (with increased diabetes).
This is why a person living with PCOS should have more low glycemic index foods like whole grains such as pulses, legumes, brown rice, vegetables, seeds and certain fruits. They should also avoid sugary foods or foods with a high glycemic index such as pastries, chocolates, sweets, over-processed foods etc. This is a very good PCOS treatment approach.
C. Eating pattern
It is no longer news how healthily prepared homemade foods have been pushed away and replaced with drive-through foods, as well as convenience meals. The irregularity in our eating patterns these days has given rise to this constant battle for our health.
In a recent study, it was found that food nutrients are better absorbed during the day. Hence, there is a high intake of fibre, carbohydrates, micronutrients, and a relatively low caloric intake when a person frequently eats during the day.
A high intake of protein, fat, and sodium is seen in people who ate less frequently during the day. Most micronutrients and macronutrients will be lacking when meals especially breakfast are skipped.
This is why we do not recommend skipping breakfast. Having breakfast and other meals in good moderate amounts also help with weight loss, maintaining a healthy blood sugar level, reducing abnormally high glycemic levels and improving insulin sensitivity.
Exercise and PCOS
Over the years, there have been few studies showing the relationship between exercise and PCOS, we recommend and advise people with PCOS to exercise based on how it can enhance weight loss, and metabolic balance and help with maintaining a healthy state of the body.
However, getting to drop some body weight will also help in increasing glucose absorption in the body and maximising the function of insulin. Exercising is another key way to help the hormones in the body to normalize.
Having to exercise at least 30 mins daily will result in a major physical and metabolic transformation of the individual.
There is a wide range of exercises that a person can choose from or actually practice.
Aerobics; including light cardio exercises,
Endurance exercises; feature prolonged low-level exercises like yoga, stretches etc.
Resistance training involves weights liftings and muscle mass gains.
“Some 10 commandments in managing PCOS symptoms”
1. Having to eat less daily will help and support the weight loss plan too. Be careful not to starve as that is more dangerous to health. Cut your meals to at most 3 daily, and snack only on fruits and vegetables.
2. Eat more carbohydrates that are high in fibre and of a low glycemic index (less ability to spike blood sugar rapidly and drop it rapidly too). They include wholegrain foods, leafy vegetables and fleshy fruits.
3. Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetable per day. This promotes satiety, supplies fibre and maintains the micronutrient content of the diet.
4. In eating fats with PCOS, ensure that you eat more polyunsaturated fatty acids which contain more omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. Such foods include flaxseeds, olive oil, cashew nuts, coconut oil, oats, chia seeds, walnuts, and so on.
5. Have adequate proteins in your diet, as they help in increasing satiety and make you fuller for longer too.
6. Cut out all forms of red meats and processed foods like burgers, fries, beef, pork, bacon, carbonated soft drinks, bagged snacks, and so on.
8. Exercise for at least 30 minutes daily. Consistent exercising is needed for weight maintenance and for weight loss as well.
9. Have a goal to lose up to 1kg or more per week. This reveals how badly you may want to feel better in your body.
10. Choose to celebrate every bit of victory/conquest you achieve. Stay joyful. Be happy. Avoid stressors and negative thoughts.