What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome, more commonly referred to as PCOS, has an impact on how an individual’s ovaries work, also affecting hormonal levels. Symptoms vary between individuals however can include; irregular or no periods, difficulty falling pregnant, acne or oily skin, excessive hair growth on the face or body, or thinning hair on the head. If you’re displaying these symptoms it is advised to visit a healthcare professional for a diagnosis. To be diagnosed an individual must display 2 of the following 3 criteria; irregular periods, excess androgen (male hormones), and polycystic ovaries.
Can your diet affect PCOS?
Although there is no “cure” for PCOS, there are multiple ways to help with symptom management. Medication and supplementation may be recommended by a healthcare professional depending on your symptoms. However, usually, the first route is lifestyle modification, as well as movement, stress management and sleep, dietary changes for PCOS are commonly looked at.
You may have been told to cut out certain food groups, e.g. cutting out carbs, or adopting a keto diet. This is as a result of up to 95% of people with PCOS having insulin resistance, regardless of weight. However dietary adaptions are found to be more beneficial than cutting out entire food groups. There is no one “perfect” diet for PCOS symptom management.
Recommended dietary pattern for PCOS
Most importantly, a balanced diet for PCOS is key – but what does this mean? Essentially, include all key macronutrients; protein, fats and carbohydrates within each meal. By doing so, you’ll support balanced blood glucose and insulin resistance, whilst also remaining satiated for longer.
Low GI (glycaemic index diet)
As the glycaemic index of food (in particular carbohydrates) can affect the rate at which your blood sugar levels increase, adopting a low GI diet is often recommended. This involves including more low glycaemic index foods such as; wholegrains e.g. porridge oats, pulses, and some fruit and vegetables.
Certain types of fats are very beneficial for managing PCOS symptoms. Including foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids such as; oily fish, avocados, seeds and nuts. Why? These foods are higher in unsaturated fats which have been found to aid a reduction in inflammation which has been associated with PCOS.
Protein can help to reduce insulin and androgen levels, as well as support overall PCOS symptom management. Proteins such as meat, fish, eggs, legumes and pulses, soy and nuts and seeds are recommended in your main meals as well as snacks.
How to eat for PCOS
How you eat can also be beneficial in supporting your PCOS symptoms. Eating regular meals, where possible every 3-4 hours, supports the stabilisation of blood glucose levels, helping to maintain your energy levels as well as insulin resistance. This should also help to reduce sudden food cravings.
It is also important to eat enough food, restriction may lead to an increase in cortisol levels, which will affect chronic inflammation, as well as having a negative impact on your mental and metabolic health.
Overall a balanced sustainable diet that you enjoy is the best approach, there is no one size that fits all.