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PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome)

Discover the facts about the endocrine disorder that affects between 5 and 10 percent of woman who are of reproductive age. Learn about ways to avoid the disorder through methods such as weight loss.

Diet for PCOS: 10 Foods to Help & 10 Foods to Avoid

While no known cure exists for PCOS, managing the condition can take place right in the kitchen! A diet plan for PCOS may be a solution to restoring women’s health.

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According to the Office on Women's Health, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. In fact, between 5 percent and 10 percent of women between 15 and 44 have PCOS.

Polycystic ovary syndrome can make it difficult for women to conceive. The condition can also negatively impact physical and emotional health. While no known cure exists for PCOS, available treatment options can help manage hormones and subside signs and symptoms often endured.

What’s more, managing the condition can take place right in the kitchen! A diet plan for PCOS may be a solution to restoring women’s health long-term.

PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome): Signs, Symptoms, and Treatments

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), also known as polycystic ovarian syndrome, is a hormonal disorder. It affects women of childbearing age and is caused by hormonal balances, particularly elevating dominant male hormones.

Hormonal imbalances create issues with the ovaries, in turn causing irregular menstrual cycles. Some women may not have periods for months at a time or have heavy bleeding during them. Infertility can also be a consequence of abnormal hormones and menstrual cycles.

Women with polycystic ovary syndrome may further experience:

• Unwanted hair growth or hair loss and thinning

• Headaches

• Depression and anxiety

• Weight gain

• Acne and oily skin

• Acanthosis nigricans, a condition that leads to patches of thickened, velvety, and darkened skin

Women with PCOS also often have insulin resistance, a metabolic condition in which cells do not respond well to insulin. This often leads to high insulin levels and blood sugars, which increases the risk of type 2 diabetes risk. They are also at risk of developing obesity, metabolic syndrome, stroke, heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.

Treatment options can also vary dependent on goals but may include birth control and other medications to rebalance hormones. However, weight loss is often the first recommended treatment. Even slight weight loss can diminish PCOS symptoms, improve insulin resistance, and lower diabetes risk.

Whereas weight loss may be more challenging with PCOS and insulin resistance, adopting a healthy dietary pattern proves value.

Diet for PCOS

Various diet plans can benefit women with PCOS. They mostly emphasize whole foods with minimal processed products. A low-glycemic index diet, Mediterranean diet, and DASH diet can help improve PCOS.

Low-Glycemic Diet

A low-glycemic diet is based on the glycemic index (GI). The GI is like a carbohydrate meter, measuring how a carb-containing food impacts and raises blood glucose levels. The GI measures and ranks foods based on their effect on blood sugars.

A number scale from 0 to 100 ranks how fast carbohydrate in food turns into sugar in the human body. Glucose, a simple, very quickly digested sugar, is used as the "index." This is the standard against which other foods are measured. It is assigned a base value of 100.

Low-GI foods have a GI less than 55, and often include plant-based proteins and high-fiber complex carbs. Including more low-GI foods can improve high insulin levels and blood sugars. A low-GI diet can also lead to weight loss, thus improving polycystic ovary syndrome.

Example low-GI foods include grapefruit, kidney bean, carrot, apple, 100 percent whole grain bread, and quinoa.

Mediterranean Diet

A PCOS, metabolic syndrome diet essentially follows principles of the Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet encourages whole, plant-based foods and healthy fat sources. Healthy fats specifically include monounsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which are considered to be anti-inflammatory nutrients.

A further breakdown includes whole grains, cereals, fruits and veggies, legumes, nuts and seeds, olive and canola oils. Fresh herbs and spices are also used to offer extra nutrients and flavor without the need of salt.

The diet also supports fish and lean poultry at least twice a week. Dairy products and red wine are encouraged in moderation, with a low consumption of red meats.

In research from the Northern American Journal of Medicinal Sciences, women adopted Mediterranean-inspired, low-glycemic, anti-inflammatory diet. It encouraged legumes, fish, and low-fat dairy products, with use of spices and five cups of green tea daily. The diet overall was low in calorie, total fat, and saturated fat while being rich in fiber.

Following the diet for a short 12 weeks lead to significant results! Women with PCOS lost:

• An average of 8 percent of body weight

• 6.6 percent of waist circumference

• 9.2 percent body fat

Blood sugar, cholesterol and inflammatory significantly improved, too. These included:

• Fasting blood sugar decreased 5.15 percent

• Total cholesterol decreased 8.9 percent

• Triglycerides decreased 18 percent

• LDL cholesterol decreased 10.6 percent

• C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammatory marker decreased 35 percent

But in addition to metabolic improvements, 63 percent of women regained menstrual cyclicity and 12 percent spontaneous pregnancy rate!

DASH Diet

The DASH diet, also known as Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, aims to reduce blood pressure. The diet is filled with key nutrients from whole foods, consisting of the following:

• Grains and grain products: 6 to 8 servings, include at least 3 whole grain foods

• Fruits: 4 to 5 servings

• Vegetables: 4 to 5 servings

• Low- or nonfat dairy foods: 2 to 3 servings

• Lean meats, fish, poultry: 6 or less

• Nuts, seeds, and legumes: 4 to 5 servings per week

• Fats and sweets: limited

Following the DASH Diet will likewise naturally reduce the consumption of salt. On DASH, sodium intake is recommended to 2,300 or 1,500 milligrams (mg) per day.

A study published in Hormone and Metabolic Research assessed the effects of the DASH diet on insulin resistance and CRP levels. This was specifically in overweight and obese women with PCOS for an 8-week timespan.

The DASH diet consisted of 52 percent carbohydrates, 18 percent proteins, and 30 percent total fats. The diet was rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. It was also low in saturated fats, cholesterol, refined grains, and sweets. Sodium content of the DASH diet was designed to be less than 2,400 mg per day.

Following the intervention, women consuming the DASH diet showed improvements in insulin resistance, CRP levels, and abdominal fat accumulation.

10 Foods to Avoid In a PCOS Diet

Avoid or reduce the following foods to lower inflammation, weight gain risk, and control blood sugars:

1. Refined flours and carbohydrates, including white breads and pastas

2. Added sugars

3. Foods rich in sodium, including packaged foods

4. Fried foods

5. Fruit juices, sodas, and other sugary drinks

6. Processed meats, including hot dogs and sausages

7. Excess consumption of red meats

8. Saturated fats

9. Trans fats and hydrogenated oils

10. Alcohol

10 Foods that Help PCOS

This recommended food list for PCOS is nutrient-rich and proven to be beneficial for overall health:

1. Whole grains, including oats, barley, and wheat

2. Fatty fish, such as mackerel, salmon, and tuna

3. Fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly including all color varieties

4. Low-fat dairy products, including milk and yogurt

5. Lean animal proteins, such as chicken, turkey, and grass-fed beef in moderation

6. Vegetable oils, including olive and canola oils

7. Bean and lentil varieties

8. Nuts and seeds

9. Herbs and spices to season

10. Water, green tea, and non-sweetened beverages

The Best Diet for PCOS and Weight Loss

Truly, the best diet plan for PCOS is one that includes nutrient-dense foods to target insulin resistance and weight loss.

In fact, research has shown losing 10 percent of body weight can improve insulin sensitivity by 80 percent! To put this in perspective, someone weighing 200 pounds would be encouraged to lose 20 pounds. Losing even 5 percent, or 10 pounds, can improve blood glucose levels.

To burn fat more effectively, the cells need to be supplied with the proper amount of nutrients and energy. A well-balanced meal plan can retrain metabolism to burn excess stored fat, and in exchange, get cells working again.

All-in-all, a PCOS food list includes more whole grains, produce, lean and plant-based proteins, and healthy fat sources. Products rich in refined flour, oil, and added sugar are also reduced or avoided.

Consuming proper portion and serving sizes is also important to moderating calories. Follow these rules to ensure a balanced meal plate:

• Fill half the meal plate with non-starchy veggies, including salad greens, broccoli, and cauliflower

• Designate a quarter of the plate for a lean protein source, which may include grilled chicken or fish.

• Allot the remaining quarter for a complex veggie or whole grain. This may include brown rice, quinoa, or sweet potato.

• Complement the meal plate with a healthy fat source, including olive oil, avocado, or nuts.

An example meal plate may include this Mediterranean-style quinoa salad recipe dressed with red pepper coulis. The plant-based meal features quinoa, cannellini beans, carrots, artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives, sun dried tomatoes, spinach, and fresh basil.

Trusting in a weight loss meal delivery service can also alleviate stress of preparing PCOS meals. Dr. Cederquist developed bistroMD to effectively help people lose weight. BistroMD also helps those overcome and reverse conditions like insulin resistance and reset metabolism.

Dr. Cederquist teams with dietitians to ensure nutrient needs for healthy and long-term weight loss are met. Every bite taken follows a proven approach for healthy weight loss. BistroMD also offers 200 recipes and a custom menu, so there is always something to satisfy personal taste buds.

Start the day with an artichoke spinach and roasted red pepper frittata for breakfast that is sure to kickstart the morning. Lunch is a roasted tofu and ancient grain salad bowl, while grilled salmon with creamy pesto is served for dinner. And do not forget the raw power mix for a pick-me-up and cinnamon toast pretzels as a delicious nightcap!

Additional Weight Loss Tips

Diet is majority of weight loss results. However, additional tips to lose weight involve hydration, physical activity, sleep hygiene, and stress management.

• Hydration: Staying hydrated intake is important for overall health and can assist in weight loss goals. Thirst often masks itself as hunger, which can direct attention to food and increase unnecessary calorie intake. Staying hydrated with water can deter such feelings and displace drinks often laden in sugar. As a general rule of thumb, consume at least 64 ounces of water daily.

• Physical Activity: Include a minimum of 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week with any exercise that elevates heart rate. Also Include weight and strength training at least twice a week and focus on major muscle groups. Ultimately, dismiss a sedentary lifestyle and increase daily movement.

• Sleep: As sleep and weight gain has a strong link, ensuring adequate sleep can help shed off those pounds. The National Sleep Foundation recommends sleeping seven to nine hours nightly.

• Manage Stress: Stress can cause weight gain for a number of reasons, but alleviating it can reduce such risk. Learn to manage stress in a positive way, including through exercise and yoga. Journaling, being in nature, calling a loved one, or listening to music can also reduce stress.

Ultimately, though, consult with a healthcare professional to determine the right treatment plan. A Registered Dietitian can also help create a dietary pattern that aligns best with nutrient needs and preferences.

Written By Sarah Asay, RDN. Published on May 13, 2019. Updated on June 19, 2019.

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