By Kristen Jensen
PCOS is confusing at best, and the diagnosis can often leave women feeling alone, lost, and helpless. The good news is there ARE things you can do, starting today, to improve your PCOS and get yourself on the road to healing.
3 Easy Health Hacks to Improve your PCOS Today!
1. Keep the Carbs.
· What did she just say? You read right, keep those carbohydrates! There is lots of conflicting information put out by Dr. Google regarding this, but research results are in, and PCOS does not require a no- or low-carb diet. Carbs are actually helpful (in the right circumstances) for our hormones.
· Let me explain. PCOS is NOT a one-size-fits-all diagnosis, nor does it have a one-size-fits-all eating plan. However, studies have found that certain dietary guidelines can have a favorable outcome for PCOS (both in relation to the metabolic and fertility aspects).
· Bear with me while we get “science-y,” but to better understand what to eat, we need to look at what’s going on in our bodies when we have PCOS. Insulin resistance is one of our main concerns in PCOS women. One study found that more than 70% of women with PCOS are also insulin resistant (2). Insulin resistance in a nutshell is when the cells in your body don’t respond to insulin like they should. Insulin is the hormone that should act like a doorman, opening the door of the cells to let glucose (sugar) in so it can go to work giving you energy. However, in insulin resistance, the cells are ignoring insulin, and consequently leaving the sugar in your blood. This increased blood sugar leaves you feeling tired, hungry, intensely craving sweet and salty treats, and all too often gaining weight (sound familiar?).
· So, what can we do about it? There are many things, but while we’re on the topic of carbs, one thing we can do is to take matters into our own hands (or mouth) and eat meals and snacks that are more blood-sugar friendly. This means complex carbohydrates (think unprocessed, whole foods that have fiber in them) in moderate amounts (50% or less of the meal/snack) and always eaten with protein and/or fats. No carb shall stand alone! By adding protein, fats, and fiber, we can slow digestion and keep blood sugar levels steady—leading to fewer cravings, more satiety, and more energy.
2. Fats (especially fatty fish) are friends
· “Fish are friends, not food.” (Nemo anyone? Anyone?) Well, actually, they’re both friend AND food! Omega-3 fatty acids (abundant in fatty fish), are anti-inflammatory, and they’re vitally important for women with PCOS. By nature, PCOS is an inflammatory disease, which means we need to be sure we’re working extra hard to incorporate anti-inflammatory foods every day. Research found that increasing omega-3s led to decreased androgen levels in PCOS women.
· Omega-3-rich food and supplements are a great addition to your PCOS healing diet. Foods highest in omega-3 fatty acids are fish—especially salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines—and plant foods, including flaxseed (and flaxseed oil), chia seeds, and walnuts. Additionally, some brands of eggs, yogurt, juices, milk, and soy beverages are fortified with DHA and other omega-3s, so be on the lookout for those!
· Overall, the daily recommendations are around 1.1 to 1.6 grams of omega-3s daily, but studies show that women with PCOS could benefit from amounts closer to 3 to 4 grams per day (3).
3. Gimme the greens!
· I know the line “greens are good for you” is the broken record of the health world, but hear me out—PCOS and green, leafy vegetables are made to be BFFs!
· First, they are full of (well, a ton of great things, but we’ll focus on one for now) magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral that is commonly deficient in PCOS women, and to throw salt on the wound, many birth control pills actually reduce the level of magnesium in the body (yet another reason to use fertility awareness). Increasing magnesium (through food or supplements) has been shown to improve insulin resistance, decrease your risk for diabetes, and decrease inflammation (4).
· Magnesium comes in many types of supplements, so I HIGHLY recommend working with a specialist in PCOS nutrition before supplementing. Getting the right type and amount for you will make all the difference in your healing.
· They also contain fiber! Remember how we talked about fiber being great for our blood sugar levels? Yep. Here it is again.
· Green leafy vegetables are also chockfull of antioxidants. Antioxidants help protect against oxidative stress and bring down inflammation, which we already decided is imperative in PCOS.
· Some easy ways to increase those greens can be:
§ Adding spinach or kale to a smoothie.
§ Adding in one extra salad-based meal per week.
§ Sautéing greens and sneaking them into meals you’re already making, like egg bakes, casseroles, or pasta sauces (would recommend blending them into a sauce).
4. BONUS tip! Because I’m a giver…
· One more tip for you all, that you can easily start today: take a 5- to 10-minute walk after eating.
· Just this short amount of time can do wonders to bring our blood sugar levels to a healthy place. If you already have an exercise routine in place, keep it up! But if you don’t (or you want to add a little more oomph to your blood sugar control), try this today!
PCOS healing is not one size fits all, but these easy tips are great practices to have on board. For an even more effective plan, tailored specifically for you, look for a dietitian who specializes in PCOS to add to your wellness team.
I hope these tips give you hope and confidence in healing your PCOS! The journey to wellness should never be isolating, confusing, or daunting. Let’s start taking back our health TODAY!
About the Author:
Kristen is a dietitian nutritionist specialized in PCOS, infertility and hormone issues. Kristen uses the Marquette method of natural family planning but is currently learning Creighton to better understand her clients and their health. Find her here to learn more or see about working with her!
1. March WA, Moore VM, Willson KJ, Phillips DI, Norman RJ, Davies MJ. The prevalence of polycystic ovary syndrome in a community sample assessed under contrasting diagnostic criteria. Hum Reprod. 2010;25(2):544–551.
2. Marshall J.C., Dunaif A. Should all women with PCOS be treated for insulin resistance? Fertil. Steril. 2012;97:18–22. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2011.11.036.
3. Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein, and amino acids (macronutrients). Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2005.
4. Maktabi M., Jamilian M., Asemi Z. Magnesium-Zinc-Calcium-Vitamin D Co-supplementation Improves Hormonal Profiles, Biomarkers of Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Biol. Trace Elem. Res. 2017;182:21–28. doi: 10.1007/s12011-017-1085-0.
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