Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common female reproductive conditions affecting up to 1 in 5 women. PCOS can be closely tied to metabolism, but is there a specific diet that is best for PCOS? Do you need to go low carb? And are there certain ‘off limit’ foods for those with PCOS?
We’re here to clear up the noise for you and help to make PCOS a little less overwhelming.
What Is PCOS?
PCOS is a complex condition that can have significant reproductive, metabolic and psychological effects on women. The reasons as to why and how PCOS develops is unfortunately still not very well understood, and a lot more research is needed in this area.
Something that is widely agreed upon is the diagnostic criteria for PCOS and for a diagnosis to be made, 2 out of 3 of the following criteria must be met:
- Irregular or missing periods
- An ultrasound showing polycystic ovaries; and/or
- Blood results consistent with PCOS
Some common symptoms of PCOS include excess facial and body hair, difficulty falling pregnant due to menstrual irregularities and an increased difficulty in maintaining a healthy weight. Insulin resistance is also common in PCOS, and the risk of developing some chronic health conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes is also higher.
While we cannot cure PCOS, the silver lining of this condition is that symptoms can usually be improved through lifestyle modifications (diet and exercise), which is a very positive and achievable thing.
Nutrition & PCOS
While a ‘PCOS diet’ may seem like the easier option, unfortunately this just doesn’t exist.
Current recommendations are to consume a diet with lots of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats, as this can greatly improve PCOS symptoms by helping to:
- Control insulin and blood glucose levels across the day
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Provide your body with essential vitamins and minerals for ongoing good health
- Reduce the risk of developing chronic health conditions
Basically, it’s pretty clear that nothing can really beat a balanced diet.
Now we know what you’re thinking - but what about low carb? Research shows that very low carbohydrate diets are not the most effective or sustainable treatment for PCOS in many cases, and consuming a moderate carbohydrate diet with a focus on the Glycemic Index (GI) of your food is much more important. Foods lower in GI cause your blood sugars to rise more slowly and evenly, leading to more sustained energy and better blood glucose control throughout the day - which can be very helpful in those with insulin resistance.
So what does this look like? Well, choosing more unrefined carbohydrates such as oats, whole grain breads, vegetables, unsweetened dairy and legumes/seeds is a great place to start! Some of the most practical advice we can give is to try and consume at least one low GI carbohydrate source with each main meal and to pair your snacks with a fat or protein source to even out those glucose levels. And please know this does not mean you should be worried about having your favourite weekend dessert - it’s what we do consistently and most often that has the biggest impact on our health, not the ‘once in a while’.
Exercise & PCOS
When it comes to exercise and PCOS, regular movement can be very beneficial in helping to improve insulin resistance and in reducing the risk of developing long term health conditions associated with PCOS. So the take home here is to find a style of exercise you enjoy and implement that into your routine and reap the ongoing benefits on both body and mind!
When it comes down to it, women with PCOS may experience all, some or none of the common signs and symptoms. And on top of this, we all have different starting points (lifestyles and backgrounds) meaning the right treatment approach will be slightly different for everyone.
We would encourage any woman with PCOS to maintain a high quality diet including lots of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins, healthy fats and colour, and to find a type of regular exercise that they enjoy. Together, these techniques will set your body up to work at it’s best both now, and into the future.
For more information on PCOS pease visit: https://www.jeanhailes.org.au/health-a-z/pcos
This information is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Move With Us encourages all women exploring PCOS to discuss their symptoms with a medical doctor and to follow their ongoing medical advice.