polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), I know what it is like to deal with dreaded dieting. Even as a dietitian, with all that I know and practice (for the most part) myself, I struggle to make sure to get in enough "healthy foods" that will optimize my health and wellness with PCOS. For the past 10 years I dealt with doctor after doctor, trying to figure out what in the world is wrong with me, and finally, 2 years ago, I met my current OB/Gyn and was diagnosed. Finally, some answers. Due to the fact that I don’t actually fit the bill for classic PCOS, I was never observed for it which led to years of confusion and multiple trials with different birth control, hormones, and uncomfortable testing. The ultimate reason for my diagnosis? My new doctor happens to suffer from PCOS herself and looks for it in her patients, especially those that don’t "fit the bill"- she doesn’t show classic signs, either.
So what does this diagnosis mean for me now?
While there are no specific foods or beverages that will make anyone more fertile or cure PCOS, one's overall nutrition has a subtle, but powerful effect on all of the body's systems, including the reproductive. Having a basic awareness of what "good nutrition" means and what is going into your body can affect your efforts to conceive a successful pregnancy particularly if it’s complementing fertility treatments which in themselves can be stressful.
Research has shown changing eating habits and getting more exercise helps to manage PCOS. Regular exercise can help alleviate symptoms of PCOS. Get moving with at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity five days a week. (For weight loss, additional physical activity may be needed). Increase muscle mass with strength-training exercises at least two times a week. Exercise can help with depression and body image, too.
Moderate weight loss (about 10 percent of total body weight) can help normalize menstrual cycles, regulate blood sugar and increase a woman’s chances of conceiving a baby. Eating more whole-grain foods, fruits, vegetables, lean meats and low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese or yogurt can help lower your blood sugar, improve your body’s use of insulin and normalize hormone levels.
The best eating plan for women with PCOS
• Regular meals or snacks every three to four hours. Don’t skip meals.
• High-fiber carbohydrates to keep blood sugar levels normal and hunger pangs away. Eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
o Since the average woman with PCOS is struggling with her weight, she is probably on a restrictive diet. Chances are those with PCOS have heard that carbohydrates are "bad" and is therefore limiting carbohydrates as much as possible. I strongly suggest limiting refined carbohydrates, and focusing on high-fiber options as well as fruit and vegetables.
• More healthy fats, like olive and canola oils, walnuts, almonds and avocadoes.
o Studies show that as many as 70% of all women with PCOS have elevated levels of LDL cholesterol (‘bad’ cholesterol) and low levels of HDL (‘good’ cholesterol) both of which are strong predictors of cardiovascular disease.
• Add lean proteins in all meals and snacks. Try nut butters, lean meats, fish, chicken, turkey and low-fat dairy products with all meals and snacks.
Don’t forget to add in some snacks between meals!
It's important for women with PCOS to eat often throughout the day. This decreases cravings and binges, gives you energy, and helps prevent low blood sugar (a result of waiting too long to eat between meals).
Remember that food portions matter and be sure to vary up your snacks to prevent boredom and to maximize the nutrients in all foods.
PCOS Snack Suggestions
• 28 grapes & 2% string cheese
• 1 apple and 2T peanut butter
• ½ c LF cottage cheese and 1 c melon
• 6oz 0% Greek yogurt & 2T ground flax
• Hard-boiled egg & 1 slice wheat toast
• ½ cup cooked oats & 2T walnuts
• Latte with non-fat milk
• ¼-1/2 cup Trail mix
• 8 whole grain crackers & 2% string cheese
• 1 cup low-sodium vegetable soup
• 12 almonds & 1 navel orange
• 1 single-serving pouch of tuna & 4 whole grain crackers (Kashi TLC)
• 1 Mixed fruit cup & 3 slices deli meat
• 2T hummus 10 baby carrot
Amber Massey is a dietitian with the executive health program at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth and Soon-to-be-Mom to twins.