Polycystic Ovary Syndrome PCOS is a genetic, hormonal, metabolic and reproductive disorder that affects women and girls. It is a leading cause for obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and endometrial cancer in women and girls.
Every September, the PCOS Awareness month is observed to increase awareness and educate the masses, women, girls, and healthcare professionals about the serious disease. The month is dedicated to help improve the lives of those affected by it and prevent diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and cancer. For the unversed, PCOD is a disease caused by a hormonal imbalance, whereas Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is an endocrine system issue.
We bring you a lowdown on what to eat and what to avoid if you are struggling with PCOS.
How food affects hormones in PCOS?
PCOS is a problem of the hormones, involving reproductive hormones like androgens and endocrine hormone – Insulin. High levels of the hormone androgen may result in excess facial and body hair. This is called hirsutism. Too much insulin (hyperinsulinemia) also causes the body to make too much of the male hormone androgen.
Specifically, from the diet aspect, when we talk about polycystic ovary, i.e., PCOS, the basic imbalance is of insulin resistance, which has a direct impact on the food. “The cells become resistant to the action of insulin (insulin resistance), and blood sugar levels can go up. This will cause the body to make more insulin to try to bring down the blood sugar level, leading to hyperinsulinemia. Hence, people who are insulin resistant have to make sure that their diet is monitored well. In such a case, carbohydrate and sugar intake should be less, which will help in correcting insulin resistance and help towards insulin sensitivity,” says Ritika Samaddar, Regional Head, Dietetics, Max Healthcare, Delhi.
Food intake (particularly refined carbohydrates) has a direct influence on some hormones like insulin, GIP and GLP-1. “GIP and GLP-1 secreted from the intestine on ingestion of some foods stimulate insulin secretion from pancreas. Hyperinsulinemia can activate excess ovarian androgen production leading to PCOS,” says Sheela Krishnaswamy, Nutrition & Wellness Consultant.
What food items to include and what to avoid in PCOS?
Firstly, anybody with PCOS should maintain their weight well, keep BMI between 21-23kg/m2, which means that anybody who’s overweight should follow a diet wherein weight reduction can happen, or else it will further aggravate insulin resistance.
- Increase intake of fibers like plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, millets
- Replace refined carbs with complex carbs
- Increase intake of healthy proteins like egg, dals, nuts, soyabean, non veg etc
- Say NO to sugar, maida, breads, biscuits, refined and processed carbohydrates.
- Include a lot of nuts like almonds and seeds as it helps to correct the hormonal imbalance and improve insulin sensitivity.
Snacking in PCOS
When we specifically talk about PCOS, mostly where young girls or ladies go wrong, is snacking. “During snacking they all reach out to junk snacks like biscuits or bhujia or breads. Look for healthy snacking options which are high on fiber and or on proteins. Besides snacking on fruits and veggies, a mid-morning or evening munching snack should be a handful of almonds, because almonds are believed to be beneficial for insulin sensitivity,” adds Samaddar. There is research to show that if one takes almonds, their high fiber and protein content can help in insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin resistance. So, one can have a handful of almonds or makhanas as they are a healthy snack and make it more interesting by adding chopped vegetables like onions, tomatoes, capsicum, etc. and make it in the form of chaat.
“In between meals, a handful of almonds may help prevent hunger because they may have satiating qualities that encourage feelings of fullness. You can flavour almonds quickly and easily, and they go well with almost any Indian masala or spices,” opines Krishnaswamy.
Stay away from sugary items like sweets, cakes, pastries, juices, sweetened beverages, chocolates, popsicles, maida snacks, fried snacks, and bakery items.
Self-love in PCOS
If people with PCOS have a healthy lifestyle, manage their diet efficiently, and exercise regularly, then they can very well manage PCOS for the rest of their lives. “Exercise becomes an integral part because when one is exercising, insulin sensitivity improves. The only way to make sure that one can help themselves in reducing such symptoms is by living a very healthy and sustainable lifestyle, which one can follow throughout their lives,” says Samaddar.
Impaired self-confidence needs emotional and psychological support with the help of experts in the field. “Engaging oneself in hobbies, being one with nature, deep breathing, meditation and other activities which help to divert the attention from the physiological problem can contribute to better mood and self-worth,” signs off Krishnaswamy.