9 Diet Tips for Women with PCOS
Welcome to the diet tips section of HealWithFood.org's Nutrition Guide for Women with PCOS. The paragraphs below provide 9 diet and nutrition related tips that can help prevent and alleviate symptoms associated with polycystic ovaries and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). If you are looking for information about specific PCOS fighting foods or recipes rather than general diet tips, visit this Guide's section Top 15 PCOS Fighting Foods or our directory of Recipes for Preventing and Alleviating PCOS Symptoms.
Important notice: The information below and elsewhere on this website is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical or health advice. Always seek the advice of a professional health care provider.
#1: Cut Down on Calories, Especially in the Evening
A high energy intake has been associated with an increased risk of PCOS, mainly because it can contribute to the development of obesity and overweight. To lose weight, you will have to create a calorie deficit, either by reducing calorie intake from foods so that your body must draw on reserves for energy (such as fat stored within your body) or by increasing physical activity. Cooking methods that use little fat (such as steaming or roasting vegetables without oil) can help reduce your calorie intake significantly. Studies have also shown that a calorie-restricted diet may help normalize hormones, induce ovulation, and treat infertility.
To lose 1 pound per week, you need to create a deficit of 3,500 calories per week. This can be done by reducing a daily caloric intake by 500 calories per day (500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories). Most health professionals recommend creating a caloric deficit of 3,500 to 7,000 per week for healthy and successful weight loss. An extreme deficit (a deficit of more than 7,000-10,500 calories per week) can compromise bodily functions and even result in heart rhythm abnormalities, which can be fatal.
Furthermore, cutting too many calories may be counterproductive to weight loss efforts because diets that are extremely low in calories boost the activity of fat-storing enzymes and decrease the activity of fat-burning enzymes in the body. In addition, cutting too many of calories can accelerate loss of lean muscle mass and decrease the output of the thyroid hormone, which will result in a decrease in the metabolic rate and thus fewer calories will be burned throughout the day.
In addition to restricting the amount of calories consumed, overweight women with PCOS should pay attention to the timing of the daily caloric intake. It is generally recommended to spread the calories throughout the day by having 5-6 small meals. This will keep the metabolism humming and reduce cravings for sweets and starches (very common among women with PCOS). The breakfast should be the biggest meal of the day as a big breakfast will help you get your metabolism going and you will burn more fat throughout the day.
#2: Favor Monounsaturated Fats
Saturated fats and trans fats can increase the risk of heart disease by raising LDL cholesterol (the "bad cholesterol") levels in the blood. As women with PCOS are at a greater risk for heart disease, a diet low in saturated fats and trans fats is recommended. Furthermore, some studies suggest that these fats can also exacerbate insulin resistance which is usually associated with PCOS. In contrast, monounsaturated fats have been shown to decrease insulin resistance. They can also help reduce cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease.
#3: Choose Low-GI Carbs
Carbs that have a high Glycemic Index (GI) rating are quickly broken down by the body and cause a rapid, large rise in blood glucose levels, which in turn triggers the pancreas to release large amounts of insulin. Insulin is necessary for the body to be able to use glucose for energy, but high amounts of insulin can lead to insulin resistance and obesity, which may worsen PCOS symptoms. In contrast, low-GI carbs, which take much longer to digest, cause only a small, slow rise in the blood glucose and insulin levels. In addition, low-GI foods reduce cravings — which could lead to weight gain — as they provide the body with a slow, steady supply of energy. Most non-starchy vegetables, legumes and fruit have a low GI rating while most refined carbohydrate-rich foods are rated high on the Glycemic Index.
#4: Load on B vitamins
Increasing your dietary intake of B vitamins, especially vitamins B2, B3, B5 and B6, may help alleviate PCOS symptoms. Vitamin B2 helps convert dietary fat, protein and carbohydrates into energy. Vitamin B3 helps maintain normal blood sugar levels and vitamins B5 may help with weight loss due to its ability to control fat metabolism. Vitamin B6 plays a critical role in maintaining a woman's hormonal balance and fertility. It is also needed for proper absorption of zinc in the intestines. In addition, vitamins B2, B3, and B6 are essential for normal thyroid function and metabolism, and can thus help reduce excess body weight.
#5: Ensure a Sufficient Intake of Calcium and Vitamin D
A number of studies suggest that calcium may be useful for treating PCOS. Calcium plays an important role in egg maturation and follicle development in the ovaries. Vitamin D is essential for promoting calcium absorption from food in the intestines. In addition, low levels of vitamin D and have been associated with other problems related to PCOS, including infertility, weight gain, and insulin resistance.
#6: Consume Foods Rich in Zinc
Zinc can exert beneficial effects on at least two common conditions associated with PCOS: acne and obesity. Research suggests that the mineral zinc may alleviate acne symptoms, especially if a deficiency of this important mineral is present. Some researchers have found that zinc supplementation could be as effective at treating acne as traditional antibiotics. The acne fighting properties of zinc are believed to result from its ability to reduce inflammation, kill bacteria associated with acne, and reduce sebum production on the surface of the skin. Zinc also plays a role in protein synthesis and in collagen formation, both of which are necessary for maintaining healthy skin.
Zinc supplementation of zinc deficient subjects has been shown to increase the levels of circulating leptin. Leptin, a hormone discovered as recently as in 1994, plays a key role in regulating the body's energy expenditure, fat storage, and appetite. It directly communicates to the brain when you should feel full and stop eating. Insufficient leptin levels are believed to be the primary cause of food cravings and overeating — both of which may contribute to obesity associated with PCOS. Zinc, which requires vitamin B6 for proper absorption in the intestines, is found in a variety of foods, the best dietary sources being oysters, red meat, and poultry. Zinc from plant sources such as nuts, legumes, and grains is of a different type than those found in animal sources and is not readily used by the body, although oats are a good source of zinc that the body can easily use.
#7: Eat Plenty of Foods That Contain Magnesium
Research indicates that there is a strong link between magnesium deficiency and insulin resistance associated with PCOS. Magnesium is required for proper glucose utilization and insulin signaling, both of which are impaired in people with insulin resistance. Magnesium appears to be the most common micronutrient found to be depleted in insulin resistant people and diabetes patients.
Magnesium works synergistically with calcium. An appropriate ratio of the two minerals (2:1 calcium-to-magnesium ratio is generally recommended) is needed in order for them work optimally. Mild deficiencies of magnesium are fairly common in women living in Western countries, where consumption of processed foods is common, as processing significantly decrease the magnesium content of foods. Also intensive farming, practiced in many Western countries, depletes the soil of magnesium, thereby reducing the magnesium content of the plants growing in the soil.
#8: Eat Foods That Contain Chromium
Chromium is a component of the glucose tolerance factor (GTF) which helps maintain normal blood glucose levels by making insulin more efficient. This will fight insulin resistance which is often associated with PCOS. Furthermore, chromium promotes weight loss due to its ability to help control cravings, reduce hunger, and control fat in the blood. Deficiencies in chromium are common among people who eat a lot of processed foods, as processing decreases the chromium content of foods. Also people who consume lots of coffee, tea, or sugar have an elevated risk of being deficient in chromium. Good dietary sources of chromium include onions, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, whole grains, and potatoes. To get the most health benefits from these foods, combine them with foods high in vitamin C which increases the absorption of chromium.
#9: Consider Consuming Licorice Root
Glycyrrhizin in licorice root has been shown to significantly reduce plasma testosterone, which is good news for PCOS patients with elevated testosterone, acne, or hirsutism. Researchers in Italy gave healthy women between 22 and 26 years of age licorice containing 120 mg of glycyrrhizin daily for two menstrual cycles. At the beginning of the trial, the average plasma testosterone stood at 27.8 ng/dL. After the first cycle, it had dropped to 19 ng/dL and after the second cycle to 17.5 ng/dL. After the trial period the testosterone levels of the test subjects rapidly returned to the pretreatment values. It appears that the glycyrrhizin in licorice root inhibits an enzyme required for the production of testosterone.
If you intend to consume licorice in an effort to keep PCOS under control, keep in mind that a frequent consumption of large quantities of licorice may cause high blood pressure, edema, depletion of potassium, headache, heart problems, and other health complications.
For further information on PCOS and nutrition, see: