I once learned that PCOS is just another form of insulin resistance, manifesting itself in our guts. And, once we consider in that light, understanding how tweaking our diet can support insulin control is not only helpful, but may even make things simpler!
PCOS, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, is all about hormone imbalance. In the most basic sense, it stems from a woman’s inability to properly produce estrogen coupled with an overproduction of androgen (a hormone that interferes with egg production and release). Cortisol, along with insulin, (two other dominant hormones in our bodies) also play a part.
Insulin controls how our body processes sugar and starches and turns them into energy. When there is excess insulin production – due to overconsumption of refined carbohydrates and simple sugars with not enough fiber, protein and healthy fats – production of androgens increases, thus exacerbating PCOS.
Still with me? Here it is a bit simpler:
PCOS = excess androgens.
To much insulin = body makes more androgens = makes PCOS worse.
Where Diet Fits In
So if it were as simple as controlling insulin, we’d all be ‘cured’ of PCOS. And while it’s not that black and white there are some basic dietary principles that you can follow to help keep your symptoms at bay.
And, believe it or not, the same diet I promote all of us to strive to follow each day is virtually the same diet that’s going to help manage those suffering from PCOS.
So what is it?
Aim to eat meals that are high in fiber, protein and healthy fats.
What does that look like? It looks like a plate that’s half vegetables, ideally many green ones. A protein that’s either lean animal or plant-based (a typical serving would be 4 – 6 oz but don’t get too hung up on that) and 2 – 3 Tbs of healthy fats (½ avocado, olive oil, raw nuts and seeds).
Essentially, you’re aiming to build a meal around controlling and/or limiting a surge in your blood sugar. What causes a surge? Carbohydrates. Especially when refined (think pasta, cookies, crackers, etc.) or eaten alone. So does this mean you need to completely cut out carbs and live a miserable life devoid of cookies? No. But it does mean you need to be smart around your meals and indulge mindfully.
Here are what some meals might look like:
- 2 eggs, ½ avocado, 1 apple
- Smoothie: 1 scoop protein powder, ½ banana (limit fruit to ½ cup), 1 tablespoon almond or peanut butter, 1 tablespoon ground flax or chia seed, handful baby spinach (optional!), unsweetened almond milk + ice to desired consistency
- 1 can tuna or salmon mixed with dijon mustard, plain greek yogurt, salt & pepper, capers. Eaten in romaine lettuce ‘boats’, with cucumber wedges, over salad greens, or stuffed in a red pepper. 1 square dark chocolate for sanity and sweetness.
- If needed, options: 1 apple w 2 tbs nut butter, greek yogurt (limit sugars to 10g or less, try Siggi’s!), protein powder shaken with almond milk, ½ avocado, ¼ cup total pistachios and almonds.
(Think ½ plate veggies, ⅓ protein, ¼ carb. Healthy fat throughout)
- 6 oz salmon roasted with salt & pepper, roasted crunchy broccoli (roast at 400 w olive oil), sweet potato wedges
- Chicken tacos: pulled / shredded chicken, ½ mashed avocado, cabbage slaw, salsa, 2 – 3 corn tortillas (avoid flour tortillas or have over salad greens)
Essentially your focus is going to be on a diet that doesn’t create an aggressive release of insulin -> in other words, choose: protein, fat, fiber & greens.
Finally, I’ll leave you with this. PCOS, or any other condition that’s unveiling itself in the form of infertility can feel like a lonely, confusing and just plain hard time. We all have the perfect image of what conception looks like and when it doesn’t start to follow that path, things can feel hard. I know this from experience.
Furthermore, if you’re staring back at the face of an infertility (or literally an infertility doctor) suddenly hearing and thinking about all the “what-ifs” and “what-nows,” you can’t help but feel shame and blame towards your own body. If this is you, know you’re not alone. Know it’s not ‘your fault’. And that while a healthy diet and exercise can’t cure infertility on its own, it can definitely help shift your mind into a more positive place, and sometimes that’s a big piece of the puzzle. Reach out to me at anytime if you’re in this place and need that support.
Kim is a Registered Dietitian, mom and avid runner. She has been a nutrition coach for over 5 years and, after experiencing pregnancy and now motherhood, she found a passion in supporting other women navigate health and wellness through this season of life. A past partner with Princeton Nassau Pediatric group and a current private nutrition consultant, Kim thrives helping women and families navigate the noise around food and wellness. Like you, she lives amongst the chaos of a busy family life while trying to work full-time job(s), and recognizes the challenges around ‘keeping it all together’. Kim lives in Princeton and you can reach her via kimmcdevitt.com.