This expert advice comes with a meal plan, too.
Diagnosed based on the presence of two of the following signs and symptoms – presence of ovarian cysts; irregular or absent menstrual cycle and or unexplained weight gain, unwanted hair, fatigue and low mood, PCOS not only has serious implications for fertilitybut is can negatively impact wellbeing on a daily basis for the many sufferers.
PCOS can be largely genetic and it is also becoming increasing common as lifestyle factors result in many women rapidly gaining weight during their reproductive years. This weight gain is linked to increased insulin levels which in turn can cause the development of cysts on the ovaries.
While PCOS is a medical condition and as such needs to be diagnosed by a medical practitioner and can require medication for optimal management, PCOS too needs a relatively strict lifestyle approach with regular exercise, movement and a high protein diet to help manage insulin levels and support weight loss.
Should I eliminate carbs?
As insulin is the hormone that controls carbohydrate and fat metabolism, a common belief of women with PCOS is that they should eliminate carbohydrate from their diet completely. Now while a diet packed full of carbs will not do your insulin levels any favours, the body does need some carbohydrate to fuel the muscle to burn body fat. So while reducing carbohydrate intake is important, so too is not consuming inadequate amounts that will compromise energy levels and metabolic rate.
While there is no set carbohydrate prescription for PCOS, an intake of 30-40% of total calories, or roughly 100-140g per day depending on age and activity levels will support sustainable fat loss. In food terms this translates into 20-30g serves of carbs at breakfast and lunch, while focusing the evening meal around protein and vegetables as opposed to heavy rice and pasta based meals.
What about protein?
Protein rich foods including lean meat, chicken, fish and dairy are a key component of a PCOS specific diet. Teaming these foods with small amounts of carbohydrate at regular meals throughout the day will help to regulate blood glucose levels and help to keep you full. Good meal and snack examples of this teaming including an egg on wholegrain toast, chicken and sweet potato salad or cheese and wholegrain crackers as a snack.
Get your good fats
When we reduce the amount of carbohydrate we consume, it means that we can increase the amount of fat we are eating, slightly. The key is to get the right type of fats and specifically in the case of PCOS, to get the mix of fats that helps the cell to become more sensitive to insulin. These fats include the omega 3 fats and the long chain plant version of these fats found in walnuts, pumpkin seeds and soy and linseed bread. In food terms it means a PCOS diet should include 3-4 serves of fat each day via some olive oil, nuts and seeds and tuna or salmon at least 3-4 times each week.
Skip the sugars and white flour
If there were specific foods that were best avoided if you have PCOS it would be any sugary foods including juices, dried fruit, lollies and large milk coffees and smoothies as well as any food made with refined carbohydrate including pizza, rice crackers, white bread and snack food. These processed and sugary foods send blood glucose levels soaring, trigger cravings and are best avoided as much as possible.
Stick to your meal times
While eating regularly is important to manage your hunger and glucose levels, eating too regularly disrupts this cycle and can lead to gradual weight gain, or an inability to lose weight. For this reason if you have PCOS make sure you leave at least 2-3 hours in between eating occasions.
Your sample PCOS friendly meal plan
Breakfast: 2 eggs + 1 cup vegetables + 1 slice soy and linseed toast
Snack: 4 Vita Wheats and 2 slices of cheese
Lunch: Tuna wrap and bowl of vegetable soup
Snack: Small mixed nut bar
Dinner: 120g grilled salmon + 2 cups vegetables roasted in olive oil