Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects many women worldwide, and its symptoms can be challenging to manage. While medical interventions may be necessary, adopting a healthy and balanced diet can also play a crucial role in managing PCOS symptoms and promoting overall well-being.
In this article, we'll explore how nutrition can help with PCOS and provide some practical tips for incorporating a PCOS-friendly diet into your lifestyle.
Understanding PCOS and its Impact on Nutrition
PCOS is characterised by hormonal imbalances, insulin resistance, and ovarian cysts. These factors can affect a woman's menstrual cycle, fertility, and metabolism. Many women with PCOS struggle with symptoms such as irregular periods, weight gain, acne, and excessive hair growth, among others.
Nutrition plays a key role in managing PCOS because it can help address insulin resistance, manage weight, and reduce inflammation. A well-planned diet can also help improve hormonal balance, regulate menstrual cycles, and support overall reproductive health.
Here are some ways in which nutrition can help with PCOS:
Managing Insulin Resistance: Insulin resistance is a common feature of PCOS. A diet that focuses on low-glycemic index (GI) foods, which are digested and absorbed slowly, can help regulate blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. Including complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, legumes, and vegetables, can be beneficial. Avoiding or limiting simple carbohydrates, such as refined sugars and processed foods, can also help manage insulin resistance.
Balancing Hormones: Certain nutrients can help regulate hormonal balance in women with PCOS. For example, consuming foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish, flaxseeds, and chia seeds, may help reduce inflammation and improve hormonal balance. Additionally, including foods high in antioxidants, such as colourful fruits and vegetables, can help neutralise harmful free radicals and promote hormonal health.
Managing Weight: Maintaining a healthy weight is important for managing PCOS symptoms, as excess weight can exacerbate hormonal imbalances and insulin resistance. A balanced diet that focuses on portion control, adequate protein intake, and healthy fats can help with weight management. Incorporating foods high in fibre, such as whole grains, legumes, and vegetables, can also help you feel fuller for longer, reduce cravings, and manage weight.
Supporting Reproductive Health: A nutrient-dense diet that includes foods rich in iron, folate, and other essential vitamins and minerals can help support reproductive health in women with PCOS. Leafy green vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and lean meats are good sources of these nutrients.
Reducing Inflammation: PCOS is associated with chronic inflammation, which can worsen symptoms. A diet that includes anti-inflammatory foods, such as fatty fish, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and colourful fruits and vegetables, can help reduce inflammation and improve overall health.
Did you know?
The nutrition team at Health Nutritionist have written some expert and informative meal plans and guides that are easy to understand and crucially help you with your weight management and PCOS symptoms. You can purchase these plans and incorporate them into your lifestyle, prices start as low as £10.99 for more information you can visit our meal plan guides.
Practical Tips for a PCOS-Friendly Diet
Here are some practical tips for incorporating a PCOS-friendly diet into your lifestyle:
Focus on whole, unprocessed foods: Choose whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Avoid or limit processed foods, refined sugars, and unhealthy fats.
Opt for low-glycemic index (GI) foods: Choose complex carbohydrates that are digested and absorbed slowly, such as whole grains, legumes, and non-starchy vegetables.
Include lean proteins: Lean proteins, such as poultry, fish, beans, and tofu, can help with weight management and provide essential nutrients.
Emphasise Healthy Fats: Healthy fats, such as those found in nuts, seeds, avocados, fatty fish like salmon, and olive oil, are beneficial for PCOS as they can help regulate hormones and improve insulin sensitivity. However, it's important to consume fats in moderation as they are calorie-dense. Be mindful of portion sizes and choose healthy fats over saturated and trans fats found in processed and fried foods.
Increase Fibre Intake: Fibre is crucial for gut health, digestion, and managing insulin levels. Incorporate fibre-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes into your diet. These foods can help regulate blood sugar levels, improve digestion, and support overall PCOS management.
Limit Added Sugars: Excessive sugar intake can lead to inflammation, hormonal imbalances, and weight gain, which can worsen PCOS symptoms. Limit your intake of added sugars found in sugary beverages, snacks, desserts, and processed foods. Opt for naturally occurring sugars found in whole fruits instead.
Watch Your Portions: Maintaining a healthy weight is important for managing PCOS symptoms. Be mindful of portion sizes, and avoid overeating. Practice mindful eating by listening to your body's hunger and fullness cues, and avoid eating when distracted or stressed.
Stay Hydrated: Proper hydration is important for overall health and can help with managing PCOS symptoms as well. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, and limit your intake of sugary beverages like soda and fruit juices.
Avoid Processed Foods: Processed foods can be high in unhealthy fats, sugars, and sodium, which can negatively impact PCOS symptoms. Opt for whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible and cook meals at home to have control over the ingredients you consume.
Seek Professional Advice: PCOS management should be individualised, and it's best to seek guidance from a qualified healthcare professional or a registered dietitian who can provide personalised advice based on your specific needs and health goals. If you would like to speak to our dietitians simply request a free 15 minute call to see how we can help you.
In conclusion, a PCOS-friendly diet should focus on complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, healthy fats, fibre-rich foods, and mindful eating practices while limiting added sugars, processed foods, and portion sizes. Combined with other lifestyle changes and appropriate medical treatments, a well-balanced diet can contribute to better management of PCOS symptoms and improved overall health. If you need a PCOS meal plan, we have one written by expert PCOS specialist nutritionists.