Women with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), are researched to be at a greater risk for heart diseases, obesity, diabetes and infertility. Among other factors, an optimum diet may serve as an essential treatment tool for effective management of PCOS and its related complications. This diet and PCOS relation gets emphasis because of the role diet can play in combating the insulin resistance, which happens among PCOS sufferers. The article is an attempt to highlight the role of diet in PCOS and also to provide certain practical guidelines for proper meal planning.
Insulin is a hormone which is produced in the pancreas with the primary function of converting the foods (especially carbohydrates) in to the energy. It helps in the transport of glucose to our muscles, fat and liver cells through blood stream. However, during PCOS, this function tends to get impaired, due to which the process of getting the glucose out of the blood into the cells gets affected. The result is that the body secretes more and more of insulin to get this excess glucose out of the blood and in turn creates havoc with the hormonal levels, ability to lose weight, LDL and triglycerides levels. Hence, the best way to treat PCOS and its symptoms would be to correct the underlying insulin resistance problem with diet, exercise and if needed, weight loss.
Studies have shown that losing only 5-10% of body weight can lead to substantial improvement in your skin health, menstrual cycle irregularity, response to insulin and even fertility issues. A typical low fat and high carb is not going to work for such patients as carbohydrates, especially the refined ones, will quickly get converted in to glucose and cause elevated blood glucose levels, which in turn will increase the insulin production and its related problems. The key to success for PCOS diet is a low glycemic index diet, which maintain a steady blood glucose levels and also help to reduce weight.
So what do you eat?
Well, the non-obese women with PCOS problem who get regular periods may eat a balanced diet with approx. 50-55% of calories from complex carbohydrates( whole grains, fruits and vegetables) and 20-30% from lean proteins( egg whites, whole pulses and low fat dairy products). However, an obese patient with insulin resistance may need to lower the carb intake to 40% and replace the carbohydrates with healthy mono unsaturated fats like omega 3 fatty acids( flax seeds, olive oil and fish). The diet plan should be tailored as per individual requirement and degree of insulin resistance and the effectiveness of the diet plan may be determined by factors such as improvement in menstrual cycle regularity, weight loss or decreased insulin levels.
A few dietary guidelines to combat PCOS
- Try to select lower glycemic index foods such as whole grains( jowar, bajra, whole wheat, green vegetables, etc)as they will cause a slower rise in blood sugar levels. For example, oat flakes or wheat daliah (10 gm fiber/1/2 cup) has a lower glycemic index than cornflakes (1 gm fiber/1/2 cup).Simply put, add fiber in your diet by selecting wheat breads over white breads, wheat rotis over rice or maida naans, fresh fruits over fruit juices.
- Do not cut down your carbohydrate levels so low that you induce ketosis. Try to space the carbohydrates evenly through the day and eat small and frequent meals rather than 3 large meals.
- Restrict intake of those carbohydrates that trigger more hunger or cravings (ie. Refined sugar, sweets, candies or chocolates that trigger cravings for most of us). Choose dates or honey to meet your sugar cravings.
- Suggested vitamin / mineral supplements: Taking calcium 1000 mg – 1500 mg (take two – three 500 mg pills a day as prescribed but be sure to space them out as you can only absorb 500 mg at a time). You may also add a multivitamin with minerals like folic acid, especially so, if you are trying to get pregnant.
- Drink at least 8-10 glasses of water per day as a high fiber carbohydrate intake can cause dehydration.
- For heart health, limit foods high in saturated and trans fats (ie, whole milk and products, butter, red meat, fried foods, rich desserts, etc.). Select mainly monounsaturated fats (ie. olive oil, canola oil, nuts) and omega 3 fats -fatty fish (such as bangda, rohu, sardines, surmai), flaxseed, nuts as these fats are heart friendly.
- Exercise on a regular basis to lose weight and improve insulin response.
The above are just a few tips to guide you on a healthy path and to fight PCOS. An individualized diet strategy shall aid in lowering weight, decreasing the insulin resistance and also to improve your heart and over all health.