PCOS Diet

Why diet is REALLY important for women with PCOS…..

When we eat the pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream. If the body fails to respond to the insulin then it is ‘insulin resistent’.  In order to get the body to respond the pancreas increases the production of insulin for any given amount of glucose in the blood.  This increase in insulin stimulates the ovaries causing them to produce large amounts of androgens.  High levels of insulin and androgens cause many of the symptoms and risks associated with PCOS.

In this way, by balancing blood sugar levels and nourishing your body you will be able to treat or avoid PCOS.

PCO and PCOS are different. It is possible to have Polycystic Ovaries without experiencing syptoms of the syndrome. Diet is still important for women with PCO.  For those with PCO a healthy diet can help prevent PCOS developing in the future and is invaluable to your future health in general.

Steps to Success for PCOS Sufferers

The following steps are recommended in order for you to improve your overall health.

Drink More Water

Here are just some of the health benefits of increasing your water intake:

  • Higher amount of energy
  • Less headaches
  • Lubricated joints
  • Aided digestion system
  • Correctly functioning kidneys and liver
  • Quicker recovery from exercise
  • Increased fat burning

How much water? 

It is difficult to know how much water we should be drinking.  Recent studies suggest that adults should be aiming for 2.5 litres per pay.  However this figure gives you a general guide and would need to be altered for weight and level of exercise.  To find out how much water you should be drinking visit the WaterAid’s hydration calculator. Furthermore, for women with PCOS who are trying to shed weight, drinking more water may help curb appetite.  If you feel hungry, drink a glass of water before you eat something.  This will help you feel fuller.

Five A Day

To get the best health benefits, your 5 A DAY portions should include a combination of a variety of fruit and vegetables. That’s 5 portions altogether, not 5 portions of fruit and 5 portions of veg.

Here are 5 great reasons to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables A DAY:

  • They’re packed with vitamins and minerals.
  • They can help you to maintain a healthy weight.
  • They’re an excellent source of fibre and antioxidants.
  • They help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.
  • They taste delicious and there’s so much variety to choose from.

Eating a variety of fruit and vegetables will give you plenty of vitamins and minerals, as many of them are naturally high in folic acid, vitamin C and potassium. They’re also a good source of fibre and antioxidants. These are all important for your health not only now, but for the future too.

Fruit and veg are also generally low fat, low calorie foods.  So choosing to eat can help you to maintain a healthier lifestyle and weight.

Eat Complex, Low-Glycemic Index (GI) Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates in their natural form are considered good-quality carbs and are important for a healthy diet. Complex carbs take longer to digest than simple carbs, and are usually high in fiber, nutrient-rich, and provide many benefits including: improved digestion & stabilised blood sugar levels. Good sources of complex carbs include: beans, whole-grain breads, rice, potatoes, and pasta.

The majority of a healthy diet should be made up of Low GI foods. Women with PCOS should be eating a Complex, Low Glycemic Index (GI) diet.

Basic Rules of a Low GI diet are to:

  • Reduce intake of concentrated sugars and starches.
  • Swap highly refined flour products such as white bread, low-fibre breakfast cereals and quick-cooking starches for grain products produced using traditional methods (eg wholewheat pasta, stone-ground flour, old-fashioned oatmeal).
  • Choose whole grains such as brown rice, buckwheat and quinoa instead of potatoes and white rice.
  • Increase intake of peas and beans, nuts and seeds and most vegetables and fruits.
  • They taste delicious and there’s so much variety to choose from.

Increase Fibre Intake

Fibre is the part of plant foods that our body cannot digest or absorb.  It is used as food by the millions of beneficial bacteria in the large colon that help to keep us healthy.  Food fibre absorbs water like a sponge.  It swells as it absorbs water present in the stomach and so can help with the feeling of fullness.  Try gradually increasing fibre to help manage your weight.  It is essential to drink plenty of fluids such as water, tea, coffee or low calorie squash when eating more fibre, to allow it to work properly.  If you are increasing the amount of fibre in your diet you must increase fluids.

Fibre helps stool formation, keeping your bowel habits regular to prevent constipation.  Dietary fibre is found in all plant foods, especially wholegrain cereals and breads, fruit, vegetables, peas, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.  Most foods high in fibre are low in fat (with the exception of nuts and seeds) and are rich sources of other nutrients making it an important part of a healthy balanced diet.

Eat Protein With Every Meal

Protein is the building block of every cell in our body.  Protein also promotes satiety (the feeling of fullness after a meal) and helps raise levels of brain chemicals that keep you feeling more alert.  Carbohydrates, when eaten alone, tend to have the opposite effect. They have limited satiety value (i.e. you feel hungry again shortly after you eat them), and they make you feel more sleepy.  Thus the inclusion of protein at mealtimes may be the new secret weapon in weight control. Furthermore, eating enough protein helps preserve muscle mass and encourages fat burning while keeping you feeling full.

To ensure adequate intake and promote satiety, it’s a good idea to include protein in every meal.

In addition to protein, these foods provide several important vitamins and minerals (especially iron and zinc in the meat group and calcium and vitamin D in the milk group).

Most of the time, choose very low saturated fat choices such as skinless turkey or chicken breast, fish, very lean meats, legumes/beans, tofu and other soy products, egg whites, and fat free or 1% low fat milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese.

Adequate Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s)

Essential fatty acids (EFA’s) are nutritional elements, which our bodies cannot produce. They are as vital to us as vitamins and we need to ingest them from food sources. There are two main types of essential fatty acids: Omega 3 & Omega 6.

As a guide, calories from fats should make up between 20 to 25 per cent of your total calorie intake.  It is important to distinguish fats from EFA’s.  Fats to avoid include saturated, animal fats or transfatty acids found in commercial processed foods.  EFA’s regulate hormone function.  Additional health benefits include: Improved skin, hair & nails, regular periods, lower insulin levels & stable blood-sugar levels.

EFA Rich foods include:

  • Nuts.
  • Seeds.
  • Olive Oil.
  • Avocado.
  • Flaxseed Oil.
  • Oily Fish (Mackerel, Salmon, Herrings & Sardines)

Processed foods may contain substances which block the absorption of EFA’s and so should be avoided.

Most people consume too much Omega 6 relative to the amount of Omega 3 that they get. Vegetarians must be particularly careful because it is much easier to get supplies of Omega 6 in the vegetarian diet. The ratio of omega 6 to Omega 3 that should be around 6:1 for fish-eaters, and 3:1 for vegetarians.

FOOD

OMEGA-3 

(Grams per 100g)

OMEGA-6 

(Grams per 100g)

Almond

0

9.2

Butter

1.2

1.8

Flax

20.3

4.9

Hemp Seeds

7

21

Herring

2

0.4

Olive Oil

0.6

7.9

Olives

0

1.6

Pumpkin Seeds

3.2

23.4

Rape Seed

2.1

9

Salmon

3.2

0.7

Soybeans

1.2

8.6

Sunflower Seeds

0

30.7

Walnuts

3

30.6

Wheat Germ

0.5

5.5

If you choose to supplement EFAs additionally, the best way to do this is with a bottle of proprietary seed oil blend. These tend to contain around two thirds Omega 3 to one third Omega 6. This is the reverse of the recommended dietary ratio, the idea being that you need extra Omega 3 because it’s harder to obtain from normal dietary sources than Omega 6.

Eat More Phytonutrients

Phytonutrients are nutrients concentrated in the skins of many vegetables and fruits, and are responsible for their color, hue, scent, and flavour. Phytonutrients are found naturally in a variety of foods, such as legumes, nuts, teas, fruits, vegetables and grains.  Many people choose to increase phytonutrients in their diet by improved diet as well as nutritional supplementation.

Phytonutrients are thought to have a variety of beneficial and significant benefits to our health.  Eating more whole foods in the form of fruits and vegetables & the like can benefit you by protecting you from cancer & certain diseases. In addition, it’s believed that phytonutrients can improve cell-to-cell communication within the body, possibly repair DNA damage from smoking and other toxic substances, and strengthen the immune system.

When you think of phytonutrients, think colours of the rainbow. Think of the bright red of a perfectly ripe tomato, or the rich redness of a summer grape.  Richly coloured vegetables and fruits provide the best sources of phytonutrients.  If your shopping basket isn’t full of colour then you are not getting enough phytonutrients.

Reduce Cholesterol

Cholesterol uses the body’s circulation as its road system, and is carried on vehicles consisting of proteins known as lipoproteins.

There are two main types: low density lipoproteins (LDL), which transport cholesterol from the liver to the cells; and high-density lipoproteins (HDL), which return excess cholesterol back to the liver. Blood lipids is a general term for all the fatty substances in the circulation, including HDL and LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

Cut down on all fat, especially saturated fat, and eat more starchy foods. Opt for oily fish which helps raise healthy HDL cholesterol. Diet alone can reduce cholesterol between 5 and 10 per cent.

Monounsaturated fats such as those found in olive, walnut, rapeseed oil and avocado lower LDL cholesterol without lowering HDL cholesterol.

Lower Salt Intake

Salt (the technical name of which is sodium chloride) is crucial for our health, but currently many of us eat much more than we need.  It is difficult to know how much salt we should be eating but the target is about 6 Grams per day.  Six grams of salt is a level teaspoonful. It’s difficult to measure consumption because 65-85 per cent of the salt we eat is in ready-prepared foods, not added in cooking and at the table. Bread, breakfast cereals, biscuits, baked beans and ready-meals can be high in salt, alongside more obviously salty-tasting foods such as crisps, bacon, cheese and olives. In adults, when levels of sodium are too high, the body retains too much water and the volume of bodily fluids increases. Many scientists, although not all, believe this process is linked to high blood pressure, or hypertension, which in turn is linked to a greater risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.  As women with PCOS are more susceptible to hypertension it is increasingly important that salt levels are reduced.

With high levels of fluid circulating through the brain there is a greater chance that weaknesses in the brain’s blood vessels are exposed, and that they may burst, causing a stroke.  Similarly, a greater volume of fluid passing through the heart can place additional strain on the organ, increasing the possibility of coronary disease.

By avoiding ready made, processed foods we will all be on our way to reducing our salt intake, & at the least more aware of our salt consumption.

Reduce Salt  – Tips 

  • Stop adding table salt to food once it is served.
  • Choose items with a reduced sodium content.
  • Carefully monitor the salt content of processed food.
  • Eat more fruit and vegetables – they contain potassium which balances the effect of salt on the body.

Eat Little & Often

Spreading food more evenly over the day helps to prevent large swings in blood sugar, insulin and hunger levels. Eat regular meals and snacks when you need them over the day and avoid overeating later in the day. Eating more often doesn’t mean eating too much though.

See our Cravings section for help with Hunger and Craving pangs.