Almost one in five women suffer from PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), a syndrome characterised by an excess of male hormones (androgens), leading to cysts on the ovaries and a whole host of unpleasant symptoms.
There is no cure, and the illness can wreak havoc on the body if left unchecked: excess weight, excess hair or hair loss, difficulty becoming pregnant, irregular periods, heavy periods, amenorrhea (the absence of periods altogether) and acne can all present as unwelcome effects.
Most worryingly, insulin resistance, which is closely linked to PCOS, can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. While medications such as Metformin, which is used to treat insulin resistance, can help, so can a healthy diet. And according to doctors and nutritionists, there are some foods women with PCOS should be eating – and others that are best to avoid.
Avoid – High GI Foods.
Anything that causes a quick rise in blood sugar levels will also disrupt your insulin levels and can make your PCOS symptoms worse. That means sugary treats and junk food are are best skipped, and not over-indulging in foods like potatoes, white rice, white bread and breakfast snacks like muffins and cake is best.
Eat – Carbs, but the good ones.
Limiting carbs can do PCOS sufferers a lot of good as processed carbohydrates can spike blood sugar levels. But the good carbs – those that burn slow and keep us satiated – are our ovary’s BFFs. The carbs in grains like quinoa, oats, barley, veggies and fruit are a good choice, and if you just gotta have that bread, go for the grainy stuff.
Listen to Mia Freedman interview her cousin, Sylvia, about turning her battle with endometriosis into a cause for women everywhere. Post continues after audio.
Avoid – Red meat.
You don’t have to become a vegan or vegetarian (unless you’re keen to) but cutting down your intake of red and processed meats, and loading up on plant proteins like beans, other legumes and tofu, can be helpful for PCOS. Trialing part-time plant based diets, like VB6 (Eat Vegan Before 6.00) or having meat free days, could be an option. Alternatively, chicken and fish are a good source of lean protein.
Eat - Delicious, delicious fats.
Okay not ALL the fats. Let's not get carried away with the hot chips. Saturated fat has been shown to worsen insulin resistance which in turn worsens your PCOS symptoms. So shove aside that pizza and go for some healthy fats, such as those found in nuts, seeds, olives and our all time fave, avocado. If you're a seafood fanatic you're in luck, as omega-3 fats found in oily fish like salmon are also great for PCOS sufferers.
Put down - That cheese.
If you love cheese, ice cream and all things milky, there's bad news. Some doctors suggest cutting down dairy if you have PCOS as it contains A1 casein, which becomes Casomorphin when digested. Casomorphin is said to be linked to increased inflammation which in turn can make hormone receptors more sensitive to androgens.
And lastly, eat often, but don't eat tooooo often.
While having frequent small meals is great for maintaining a balanced blood sugar level, grazing every minute of every all day isn't. If you find yourself reaching for a treat too often, try and ditch the habit. It's recommend that taking two to three hours between meals is best for PCOS sufferers. Don't skips meals either though, as balanced blood sugar is key.