PCOS diet: What to eat and foods to avoid if you suffer from the disorder
One in five Indian women have polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, a hormonal disorder. Research has shown that consuming certain foods can help reduce the impact of PCOS. Read on to learn about the best diet for PCOS, according to doctors.
PCOS – polycystic ovary syndrome – is a chronic condition that affects the lives and health of millions of women globally. In India, PCOS affects an estimated one in every five women of childbearing age, according to a 2015 report published by Metropolis Healthcare, a chain of pathology laboratories in India. However, these numbers may vary, as many women have PCOS but do not know it. As Dr Ratnabali Dasgupta, a gynaecologist and obstetrician, says that if you have PCOS, your ovaries and uterus "don't get the signals in the right way" from your brain, leading to a slew of damaging health effects that impact a patient's everyday life. "Although PCOS can be diagnosed by a healthcare provider, symptoms often go ignored until a woman tries to get pregnant. Women with PCOS produce more male hormones than usual, which causes enlarged ovaries with multiple small cysts due to the follicles not maturing into eggs. This leads to a host of physical symptoms, many of which go ignored," says Dr Dasgupta.
Symptoms of PCOS include ovarian cysts, irregular periods, high levels of male hormones, excess hair growth, acne, and weight gain. Dr Sucheta Phatak, a gynaecologist and PCOS expert, says that although these symptoms can be controlled with medication to regulate hormones and to regulate blood sugar, the biggest way to get PCOS under control is through lifestyle changes: sleep, stress management, exercise, and, most notably, diet. "Lifestyle management is recommended as a first-line treatment of PCOS; however, studies have not proven which type of diet is best," says Dr Phatak. "This is probably because each woman is an individual and has different genes, metabolism, medical issues, and phenotypes of PCOS."
Even if there's not one type of diet that's best for everyone with PCOS, there are some general diet tips that everyone with PCOS can benefit from. Here are the main guidelines doctors recommend:
Balance carbs with protein and fat
Dr Phatak says balanced meals that contain protein and fat along with carbs control blood sugar, prevent insulin spikes, and ward off carb cravings. "For example, a slice of whole-grain toast with natural peanut butter is more satiating than a bowl of kheer with fat-free milk since the peanut butter is higher in fat and protein to balance out the carbs from the toast," she says. However, she emphasises that it's a general guideline and not a rule you need to stick to 100 per cent of the time.
Eat low-glycemic foods
Dr Phatak recommends eating foods that are lower on the glycemic index and have a lower glycemic load, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, instead of higher glycemic foods such as potatoes, white bread, rice, and refined sugar. Eating fibre-rich foods will also prevent blood sugar spikes and keep you feeling fuller longer, Dr Phatak says.
Stick to healthy fats
Healthy fats such as nuts, avocados, and olive oil will keep you feeling satiated and can help you lose weight. "Omega-3 fats, like the ones found in fish, walnuts, and canola oil, may decrease the risk of heart disease, improve insulin resistance, and decrease inflammation," says Dr Phatak.
Limit processed and inflammatory foods
Processed foods are usually loaded with refined sugars and carbs and empty calories that can spike your blood sugar. "Your best bet is to stick to foods that are as close as possible to their natural state," says Dr Phatak. PCOS is also associated with inflammation, so she recommends limiting inflammatory foods such as added sugars, trans-fats, and refined carbs. Processed foods also tend to be inflammatory. Instead, she suggests you load up on anti-inflammatory foods such as fatty fish, leafy greens, ginger, garlic, and turmeric.
Increase veggies and gut-healthy foods
Vegetables are not only anti-inflammatory; they can help you lose weight, too. "They are low in calories but high in fibre, so loading your plate with vegetables will make you full without all the added calories of other calorie-dense foods," says Dr Dasgupta. Veggies are also packed with micronutrients, vitamins, and antioxidants – all great news for those suffering from PCOS. Poor gut health has been linked to obesity, according to a 2016 study, and Dr Dasgupta says gut health could also be tied to PCOS – after all, a healthy gut can help improve digestion, balance hormones, and boost immunity. Load up on probiotic-rich foods to feed your gut such as yoghurt, and fermented foods, she says.
Choose hormone-free meat and dairy
Since your hormones are all over the place with PCOS, it's best to stay away from any other external sources of hormones such as meat and dairy. When it comes to buying your animal products, it's best to stick to organic, which means they haven't been given antibiotics or growth hormones, according to Dr Dasgupta.
One of the best ways to stay on track with your healthy eating regimen is to plan your meals. Plus, it will save you time during the week and money in the long run because you'll be less likely to order food online or pick up something processed. "Find foods that you like and can eat frequently. If you miss your favourite comfort foods, try substitutes, such as red rice instead of white rice. It's all about balance, and as long as you are eating well most of the time, there is still room for your favourite treats – just enjoy in moderation," says Dr Dasgupta.