Nutrition & PCOS

1. Instead of cutting out carbohydrates, switch to a low glycaemic index (GI) diet. It has been linked with reducing insulin resistance, improving hormone levels and regulating periods in those with PCOS (1). A low GI diet can usually be achieved by replacing refined carbohydrate foods (like sugary foods and drinks, white bread, white rice etc.) with wholegrains and higher fibre options.
Refined carbs are those that have gone through many steps of manufacturing, stripping them off their fibre and micronutrients. Eg. many breakfast cereals, pizza dough, white flour, rice, pastries to name a few. These are calorie-dense and quickly absorbed, thus causing steep spikes and drops in blood sugar levels leading to a vicious cycle of hunger pangs and over eating (2). However, unrefined or complex carbs like vegetables, beans, legumes and whole grains contain a high amount of fibre. This helps with a slow and steady absorption of sugars, good gut health and satiety.

2. Spacing out meals over the day can help stabilise blood glucose levels. These meals should also have a balance of all macronutrients (protein + carbs + fibre + fats), providing energy throughout the day and keeping you full longer and preventing binges within an hour of eating your meal.

3. In terms of size, research has found that eating bigger meals earlier in the day improves insulin levels and reduces inflammation in women with PCOS (3). Therefore, try making your breakfast bigger than your evening snack and lunch bigger than your dinner. This is thought to be related to syncing up our meals with our body clock (which is also known as our ‘circadian rhythm’).

4. Women with PCOS often have low magnesium and zinc levels (4, 5). Both of these are involved in many body functions including regulation of insulin levels, PMS symptoms and mood. Supplementing these minerals through foods should be the first priority. Magnesium is found in pumpkin and sunflower seeds, cashew and pea nuts, soya bean and wheat- based foods. Good sources of zinc are red meat, sea food, chickpeas and baked beans. Additionally, some women may lose a lot of blood due to a heavy period and so would need to increase their intake of iron-rich foods like red meat, eggs, leafy green vegetables, dried fruits, beans, tofu and certain nuts and seeds.

Instead of going on unsustainable diets, which could lead to yo-yo changes in weight and a sense of defeat, aim for small (and therefore viable) changes in diet.

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