What is PCOS:
PCOS or polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal condition that affects up to 10% of women with ovaries. PCOS is characterized by no ovulation, high levels of androgens (male hormones) and multiple small cysts on their ovaries.
PCOS is diagnosed when you have 2 out of the following 3 symptoms:
Irregular or no periods
High levels of androgen (male hormones like testosterone)
Numerous follicles around the ovaries
Lovely, isn't it?
To top it off, here are some of the symptoms that women with PCOS experience:
Missed periods, irregular periods, or very light periods
Ovaries that are large or have many cysts
Excess body hair in unwanted locations like the chest, stomach and back (this is also known as hirsutism)
Weight gain, especially around the belly area
Ace or oily skin
Male-pattern baldness or thinning hair
Sleep apnea and fatigue
PCOS is not treatable, but the symptoms are manageable! I want to highlight a critical point and say we are all snowflakes. No two people are the same and therefore PCOS can and does affect everyone differently. Due to our uniqueness, there is no right or one size fits all treatment for women who have PCOS. It is always best to talk with a registered healthcare professional and work together to create a plan that meets your unique needs and helps you manage your PCOS symptoms.
Keep reading to learn how nutrition plays an important role in managing PCOS.
As a PCOS Dietitian, I see many clients who want to regain control of their life and most importantly their feelings towards food. Food and nutrition should be viewed as a tool in your PCOS toolbox, not something to fear or shy away from. Below I outline 3 nutrition tips that I work on with my clients.
Eat regular, well-balanced meals
Sounds pretty simple right? Well, it can be!
Our bodies want to be fed, it loves food and it loves to feel nourished. In order to complete the most simple biological functions such as breathing, digesting and creating blood cells our bodies need energy and nourishment. Not to mention the additional energy that it needs in order to complete high-level functions such as working out, playing with our kids, and completing tasks at work.
The goal with regular balanced meals is twofold. The first fold is to have consistent regulated blood sugar control. Our blood sugar naturally increases when in eating food, digest it and absorb the nutrients. This is perfectly natural. Our goal is to maintain blood sugar levels so we do no experience extreme increase or extreme decrease in blood sugar concentration. Eating consistently looks like 3 meals and 2 snacks a day at regular times, in order to provide our body with continuous fuel and nutrients into our bloodstream.
The second fold is that we want to provide our bodies with a variety of nutrients. This is where the balance aspects come into play. If you are not familiar with Canada’s Food Guide I highly suggest you take a peek at it!
Canada’s Food Guide is a great representation of balance and variety on your plate. We want to include a variety of not only food groups such as protein, carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats at each meal but also include a variety of foods within those larger groups throughout the day and week.
For example, don't make chicken as your only protein source for the rest of your life. Talk about BORING. Instead think of it as “I have to have a good protein source with every meal so I'll have chicken, ground turkey, salmon, tofu, shrimp and canned tuna throughout the week”. This mind set and eating routine will provide you with the nutrients and variety that you need.
Here are the different food groups and what they contribute to the balance plate:
Carbohydrates which come from fruit, vegetables and grain sources provide our bodies with energy to complete the basic biological functions previously stated.
Proteins such as fish, chicken, turkey, eggs and tofu provide our body with amino acids which are required for muscle and cell maintenance and repair.
Healthy fats that come from sources such as avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds are needed for hormone health and signalling.
Fruit and vegetables are a powerhouse vital in our nutrition as they contribute a multitude of micronutrients and fibre to support our overall health.
Try to incorporate all food groups at eat meals. I know it can be difficult and sometimes you lack inspiration so check out this blog post that outlines a 7-day PCOS diet plan!
Incorporating Low Glycemic Index Foods
This if building off my previous statement about fruit and vegetables being a vital part of managing PCOS. If you are not a fruit/vegetable lover well buckle up because I might just change your mind.
The glycemic index (GI) is a scale that ranks carbohydrate-containing foods and drinks by how much the product raises your blood sugar after it is consumed. Food with a high GI index (example: white bread) raises your blood sugar higher and faster than foods with a low GI (example: whole grain bread).
In the world of PCOS, we want to manage our blood sugars because many women with PCOS become insulin resistant and having a greater chance of developing diabetes. To help control our blood sugar we want to incorporate low GI foods more than we eat high GI foods. Because not only do these low GI foods control our blood sugar but they also help to keep us full, provide micronutrients and reduce mindless snacking or grazing in the afternoon and/or evenings.
Mindful eating is exactly what it sounds like, being mindful of what you are eating and how what you are eating makes you feel. Mindful eating can be effective in reducing unwanted eating behaviours such as binge eating or overeating until uncomfortable fullness. Mindful eating can also help to manage cravings, which many women with PCOS experience, and promote a healthier relationship with food.
Some aspects of mindful eating that I encouraged you to incorporate today are:
Eating slowly and properly chewing your food before swallowing it.
Eliminate distractions such as watching TV, youtube or videos on your phone while you are eating.
Pay attention to your body and listen to your hunger cues.
Did you know that it takes roughly 20 minutes for our stomachs to send the fullness signal to our brain and that we are no longer hungry and to spot eating? That is why being mindful of how we eat and how much we eat can have a huge role in managing our PCOS symptoms and weight management.
Knowing where to start can often be the hardest part in managing a chronic condition such as PCOS. It is always best to work with a PCOS dietitian or a registered healthcare professional who you trust. If you are looking for help, book a discovery call with me today and I would be more than happy to chat about if I am the right care provider for you.