Healthy Eating for PCOS
It’s estimated that at least 1 in 10 women of reproductive age in the United States today are living with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), so chances are good that you know someone with this condition or that you suffer from it yourself.1 PCOS can cause a host of issues for women ranging from amenorrhea (loss of periods) to hirsutism (male-pattern hair growth) to infertility and insulin resistance.1,2 Needless to say, this condition can be devastating and difficult to deal with.
Luckily, there are some lifestyle changes you can make that can improve your health if you have PCOS. Today we’ll discuss some of the ways you can use food and nutrition as you work to reclaim your body and your life. Here are some tips for you from our Registered Dietitian at Wholesome Story; we hope these help in your pursuit of better health.
Tip #1: Protein at every meal and snack
We live in a culture obsessed with protein, but there can be good reason for that. Protein is very important in helping our bodies to function properly and provides us with the nutrients we need build strong bodies and minds. Protein can also help to slow the absorption of carbohydrates and keep blood sugars more level. If you struggle with blood sugar control, then get on the protein bandwagon and never get off. Having a bagel for breakfast? Try smearing it with peanut butter or topping it with avocado and smoked salmon. The healthy fats and proteins in these choices will slow down your digestion, keeping your blood sugar from spiking and keep you feeling full longer. Snack time? Try noshing on some crispy chickpeas, whole-grain crackers and cheese, or a handful of dry-roasted nuts for some warm, fall flavor. The protein and fiber in these choices will again slow digestion, keep your blood glucose controlled, and keep those hunger cravings at bay.
Tip #2: Small, frequent meals and snacks
You’ve probably heard that intermittent fasting is the key to good health, but that’s not true for everyone and especially not women with PCOS. Having 4-5 small meals/snacks every day will help you to maintain better control over your blood sugar and it will communicate to your body that you’re paying attention and taking care of sh….er…stuff. Eating frequently without overeating primes your body to be ready for food throughout the day, won’t leave you feeling deprived, and lessens the chances of overeating at any point in the day. Satisfying your body regularly with nourishing, health-promoting foods is one of the best ways to restore balance to the body.
Tip #3: Feast on phytonutrients
Eating a lot of plant foods, which are of course full of phytonutrients, helps the body to keep oxidative stress levels lower. Higher oxidative stress levels reduce glucose uptake into tissues and can contribute to high blood glucose levels.3 What are these plants foods you ask? Whole foods that grew from the ground is what we mean, this includes whole vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, and grains. Additionally, reducing your intake of animal foods such as eggs, dairy, and meats can be helpful because they tend to increase oxidative stress. This tactic is most effective when you replace animal foods with high-nutrient plant foods. Try going for color since antioxidants often come in brilliant packaging. Black rice, red cabbage, orange squash, purple potatoes, red lettuce, green kale, yellow lentils, green peas, etc. Every color in our produce rainbow represents one or many phytonutrients, as does every smell and flavor. Variety is the key to getting a wide range of restorative phytonutrients that will feed our cells and combat the destructive process of oxidative stress.
Tip #4 Increase your inositol intake
Inositol is a vitamin-like molecule that’s found in some plant foods and is a vital part of cell membranes as well as a chemical messenger in certain hormone pathways. Inositol can help the body to gain and maintain better hormonal balance, especially with regard to insulin, androgen, testosterone and luteinizing hormone.3-6 To get more of this important biochemical in your diet, you can do several things. First, swap your refined grains for whole grains. Whole grains a great source of inositol, and refined grains have almost none. Second, snack on fruits that are high in inositol such as cantaloupe, nectarines, grapefruit, kiwis, and mangoes. Third, start eating more beans. Almost all beans, including green beans, are good sources of inositol.7-8 Try swapping the ground beef in your tacos for beans and your body just may thank you.
I know this list of tips sounds like quite the to-do list, but don’t freak out. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try choosing just one or two of the tips to work on and add the others in as you feel able. Lifestyle changes need to be sustainable for you, and lots of big changes all at once typically causes stress and burnout rather than helping to cultivate a healthier life. Go at a pace that works for you.
In parting, remember that eating healthy, whole foods, and lots of plants foods is one of the simplest, safest, and most effective things we can do to promote good health in our bodies. As with every preventative/restorative measure though, sometimes these changes alone are not enough to help our bodies function the way we want or need them to. If you are struggling with health problems, please contact your doctor or other healthcare provider such a Naturopath, Dietitian, or Mental Health Professional to see if they can offer appropriate guidance and care. We at Wholesome Story believe that healthy communities require community effort, so we advise you to keep your healthcare community aware and involved in your journey as you pursue better health.
- Ellis CE. Polycystic ovarian syndrome. EatRight. https://www.eatright.org/health/pregnancy/fertility-and-reproduction/polycystic-ovarian-syndrome. Accessed October 28, 2021.
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS): What is it, causes, symptoms & treatment. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/8316-polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos. Accessed October 28, 2021.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome: Nutrition Guide for Clinicians. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome | Nutrition Guide for Clinicians. https://nutritionguide.pcrm.org/nutritionguide/view/Nutrition_Guide_for_Clinicians/1342095/all/Polycystic_Ovary_Syndrome. Accessed October 28, 2021.
- Benelli, E., Del Ghianda, S., Di Cosmo, C., & Tonacchera, M. (2016). A combined therapy with myo-inositol and d-chiro-inositol improves endocrine parameters and insulin resistance in PCOS young overweight women. International Journal of Endocrinology. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2016/3204083