How to Manage Your Diet with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is the most common reproductive hormonal disorder in women of childbearing age, and it is estimated to affect 5 – 10% of women in this population group (1). PCOS disorder can include menstrual irregularities, insulin resistance, and excess body fat around women’s mid regions, also known as central adiposity.
The Role of Insulin Resistance in PCOS and Hormonal Imbalances
Insulin is a hormone which controls the level of sugar within our blood. Insulin resistance occurs when our body can’t respond to normal insulin levels and must produce extra insulin to compensate for this resistance. This increase in the hormone insulin within our body can cause weight gain around our middle regions and increase the production and activity of other hormones, such as androgens (1).
Long-Term Health Risks and Impacts of PCOS
Long-term health risks associated with PCOS, in combination with being overweight, include increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular (or heart) disease, high blood pressure and infertility. While you can’t regulate your hormones through the foods that you eat, research has shown that there are some diet and lifestyle tips that you can implement at home to help manage your PCOS.
Tips for Managing PCOS through Diet and Lifestyle
1. Key to Alleviating PCOS Symptoms – Weight management
If you carry excess body weight, weight loss can help to improve symptoms associated with PCOS. A healthy balanced diet can help to achieve weight loss targets. It has been shown that even as little as 5 – 10% total body weight loss can help with alleviating PCOS symptoms. Setting realistic weight loss goals, such as 0.5 – 1 kg per week, is a practical target to help you achieve a weight loss goal. Talking with one of our Registered Dietitians can help make this a little bit less daunting and more achievable, as very realistic goals can be set that suit your lifestyle.
2. Importance of Regular and Balanced Meals for Blood Sugar Stability
Eating regular balanced meals can help to stabilise your blood sugar levels. This might involve planning your meals, including lots of fruits and vegetables, and choosing low-fat dairy products, lean meats, and fish. This might also include being conscious of the amount of fatty, sugary and processed foods you eat, such as crisps, sweets, chocolates and processed meats such as sausages, bacon, and cured meats. These foods can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, so it is best to have them in limited quantities.
Making Healthy Food Choices with the Food Pyramid
The food pyramid can be a useful guide when planning balanced meals and snacks. Some cooking methods can also be used to make healthier choices in the kitchen, such as
Baking, poaching, boiling and steaming foods instead of frying.
Using unsaturated vegetable oil such as olive or rapeseed oil which is heart-healthy, instead of saturated fats such as butter or coconut oil.
3. Choosing Wholegrain Carbohydrates for Blood Sugar Control
Opting for wholegrain sources of bread, rice, pasta, and cereals can help to maintain your blood sugar levels as they are slow-release carbohydrates and keep you fuller for longer, which can help to maintain your appetite and weight. These wholegrain foods are sources of additional nutrients such as fibre, vitamins and minerals, which can also help to support your overall health.
4. Vitamin D and Calcium – Essential Nutrients for PCOS Management
Irish research has shown that 90% of Irish adults are deficient in vitamin D, and recent studies have shown the beneficial effects of vitamin D and calcium in normalising menstrual cycles (2, 3). Due to the insufficient amounts of vitamin D in our food supplies, supplementing with 15 mcg daily of vitamin D from October – March could be a dietary supplement which people should consider (1).
5. Flaxseeds – A Promising Food for Reducing Androgen Levels in PCOS
Additional foods have also had some recent research around them which showed the beneficial effects of including foods like flaxseeds (also known as linseeds) in your diet daily to reduce androgen levels in people with PCOS (4). Including a tablespoon of flaxseeds in foods like breakfast cereal, salads, smoothies, or yoghurts can be a helpful way to include flaxseeds in your diet. It has been shown that the lignans in flaxseeds can increase circulating levels of sex hormones which help to reduce androgen levels within the body.
Take Control of Your PCOS – The Power of a Well-Balanced Diet
Book a Consultation with a Registered PCOS Nutritionist in Ireland
Including a variety of foods within your diet is great to support your hormonal health. This can include choosing wholegrain carbohydrates, eating a variety of fruit and vegetables and including nuts and seeds such as flaxseeds in your diet every day. These healthy habits can also help to maintain your weight. Booking a consultation with one of our registered dietitians can help you to plan your diet and lifestyle to help manage your PCOS.
Sources of information
Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (INDI). Women’s health – PCOS. Available at https://www.indi.ie/women-s-health/542-polycystic-ovarian-syndrome-pcos.html.
Irish Universities National Alliance (IUNA). National Adult Nutrition Survey. 2011. Available at https://www.iuna.net/surveyreports.
Thys-Jacobs S, Donovan D, Papadopoulos A, Sarrel P, Bilezikian JP. Vitamin D and calcium dysregulation in polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Nowak DA, Snyder DC, Brown AJ, Demark-Wahnefried W. The Effect of Flaxseed Supplementation on Hormonal Levels Associated with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: A Case Study.