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So, you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS. But what does that mean, exactly? According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, “Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a health problem that affects one in ten women of childbearing age. Women with PCOS have a hormonal imbalance and metabolism problems that may affect their overall health and appearance. PCOS is also a common and treatable cause of infertility.” While there’s no cure, there are ways to manage your symptoms, from certain medications (like birth control or progestin therapy) and lifestyle changes, including dietary changes. That’s why we checked in with two experts, Dr. Gretchen San Miguel, MD and Chief Medical Officer for Medi-Weightloss, and Serena Poon, celebrity chef, nutritionist and reiki master, for their tips on what to eat (and what to avoid) to better manage your PCOS symptoms.
1. Eat Plenty of Antioxidant Rich Foods
PCOS is low-level chronic inflammation. But, good news: According to Dr. San Miguel, antioxidant rich foods and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids can help to lower some of this excess inflammation. Dr. San Miguel recommends fish like salmon, sardines and nuts and other sources of healthy fat sources like walnuts, avocado and extra virgin olive oil. (She does warn that, even though these foods are high in healthy fats, it’s still important to watch portion size.) Poon is a big fan of EVOO in particular, telling us, “Adding extra-virgin olive oil to your diet can help provide omega-3 fatty acids. Look for olive oil that has a high phenolic content, as these olive oils carry potent anti-inflammatory properties that can help the body heal.” As for walnuts, which she calls the perfect mid-morning snack, Poon notes, “Walnuts have also been shown to help balance hormones in a way that supports the health of women with PCOS.”
2. Try to Cut Back on Highly Processed Foods
“Highly processed foods and foods high in saturated or hydrogenated fats should be avoided because they are not heart-healthy and can further increase estrogen production, which could exacerbate PCOS symptoms and/or lead to weight gain,” says Dr. San Miguel. She recommends enjoying dairy sparingly and choosing bison or lean cuts of beef—like a filet mignon instead of rib eyes or NY strips—and skinless chicken breast and low-fat turkey and pork tenderloin instead of fried or breaded poultry and pork chops.
3. Make Smarter Fruit and Vegetable Choices
We typically think of all fruits and veggies as fair game when it comes to eating healthily, but Poon and Dr. San Miguel both point out that they aren’t all created equal when it comes to managing PCOS symptoms. Dr. San Miguel tells us, “To manage PCOS symptoms and limit weight gain, avoid refined carbohydrates and sugar and make smarter fruit, vegetable, and starch choices using the Glycemic Index as a guide—the lower the glycemic index, the longer the food takes to digest; this controls insulin levels, preventing hunger, weight gain and lethargy.” Both recommend prioritizing blueberries, strawberries and raspberries and avoiding or limiting high-glycemic fruits like bananas and pineapples. For veggies, Dr. San Miguel suggests enjoying dark leafy greens like kale and spinach, because they’re packed with vitamins and nutrients and have a very low calorie content. Poon is a fan of broccoli, since many women living with PCOS experience insulin resistance, which can lead to more serious conditions. “Eating a diet that is high in fiber can help combat insulin resistance,” she notes. “Broccoli is a delicious food that provides a good amount of fiber.” In terms of veggies to limit, don’t overdo it on carrots, corn and white potatoes.
4. Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Vitamin D
Poon points to studies like this one by researchers in Taiwan that have found that 70 to 80 percent of women with PCOS also suffer from a vitamin D deficiency. “Researchers also found that low vitamin D levels might worsen symptoms of PCOS.” If your doctor determines that your vitamin D levels are lower than ideal, you can up your levels with supplements or certain foods high in the vitamin, like swordfish, salmon and egg yolks.