PCOS is a complex constellation of endocrine and metabolic interactions that create an unbalanced hormone profile resulting in ovarian hyperstimulation. Fortunately, it has been shown that improving baseline nutrition and losing weight (if needed) can do a lot to improve both the symptoms and the underlying disorder. Focusing on a higher protein and lower carbohydrate nutrition profile is important. Making primarily plant-based food choices and changing your eating patterns to regular small meals with healthy snacks between can re-establish a balanced blood sugar and hormonal response leading to improved fertility.
- Reduce sweets and sweeteners: Eliminate candy, ice cream, desserts and pastries. Read ingredients on every label. Foods ending in -ol or -ose (glucose, dextrose, lactose, mannitol, xylitol, sorbitol etc) should be avoided. Also eliminate “diet” and “sugar free” foods made with splenda, aspartame and saccharin as these are toxic chemicals. Stevia is a natural sweetener that can be used freely. Small amounts (1-2 tsp) of agave, raw honey or maple syrup are also ok 2-3 times a week.
- Eliminate processed grain products: Avoid pasta, crackers, breads, wheat, white rice, and all other processed flour products. Potatoes are also best mostly eliminated as their starch is converted to sugar very quickly in the body. After 3 weeks on this diet, high fiber non-wheat crackers, gluten free (sugar free) breads or whole grain rice cakes can be used 1-2 times a week.
- Reduce unhealthy fats: Eliminate packaged baked goods, deep fried foods, high fat dairy products like cream and sour cream and margarine.
- Switch from balsamic vinegar to apple cider vinegar, umeboshi vinegar, or use lemon/lime juice instead of vinegars. Have balsamic vinegar occasionally, as it is high in sugar.
- Start your day with the juice of 1/4 a lemon in a hot or cold water on waking to get your digestion started. Consider juicing with beets, carrots, apples and kale.
- Replace cow milk and dairy products with goat and sheep cheeses, sheep or goat yoghurt. Limit dairy to 4 times a week.
- Many fruits needs to be eliminated or strictly reduced as these are a source of high sugar. Eliminate all dried fruits. Sour apples, crisp pears, grapefruit and all berries are ok in moderation. Eliminate all processed juices, or only have occasionally as a treat. Fresh vegetables juices are ok. Tropical sweet fruits such as mango, banana, papaya and pineapple are too sweet as are most melons.
- Ensure adequate good quality protein – Eat more protein in the early part of your day to keep your blood sugar steady and energy up. Include vegetarian proteins even if you eat meat. Good vegetarian choices are raw seeds and nuts, quinoa, avocado, tofu and other soy products, lentils, chickpeas, black beans, lentils and all other beans.
- If you are not vegetarian, include cold water fish 2-3 times per week, such as sardines, sole, haddock, flounder, herring, or salmon (wild or organic.) Swordfish, shark, king mackerel, halibut, sea bass or tuna can only be eaten once every 2 weeks which may contain high levels of mercury.
- Organic turkey, organic chicken, and organic eggs 2-3 times a week (6 eggs per week maximum.) Avoid low quality “commercial” poultry as it is a source of exogenous hormones and chemicals. Wild game is also acceptable (pheasant, moose, deer, buffalo, etc.) Beef and lamb twice a month each maximum. Animal-source proteins are best organic and free range. Completely avoid all processed luncheon meats, hamburgers and fast food products.
- Soy products: Tofu, tempeh, and edamame soybeans are good sources of protein. Choose unsweetened, organic non-GMO soy milk (or an alternative milk.) Use soy meat substitutes only occasionally (hot dogs, veggie meats, ground round, veggie burgers.) If vegetarian, limit soy products to 3 times per week. If not vegetarian, have at least once a week.
- Increase your essential fat intake. 2 tbsp flax seed oil daily plus 2 tbsp ground seeds (such as flax, sunflower, sesame, pumpkin.) 1 handful of nuts daily. Avocado, cold water fish, hemp oil, chia seeds and borage oil are also healthy sources of essential fatty acids. Use olive oil and/or organic coconut oil for cooking. Nuts and seeds must be raw, unsalted and unroasted.
- Ensure adequate fibre intake from whole grains, lentils, beans, vegetables, and fruits. Be adventurous with your grains – use millet, quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, and buckwheat kasha as part of your meal plans. Include a minimum of one cup whole grain daily for fiber and nutrient content.
- Use butter, never eat margarine (if vegan, substitute with coconut oil and “earth balance” margarine if you absolutely must.) For cooking, use organic coconut oil or cold-pressed virgin olive oil, adding a tablespoon of water to the oil for stir-frying.
- Improve liver function. Beets, carrots, cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, artichokes, asparagus and turmeric are especially beneficial for liver health. Eat as often as possible! Reduce alcohol, ibuprofin, caffeine and Tylenol.
- Eat at least one portion of dark leafy greens and one yellow-orange fruit or vegetable every single day. This includes kale, chard, dandelion, bok choy, beet greens, collards, spinach, watercress, arugula and squashes, sweet potato, peppers, carrots, apricots, peaches/nectarines (in season only).
Make breakfast. Avoid the usual quick bagel and coffee, and eat a cooked, warm breakfast that includes some fruit or vegetable and protein. If you are rushed, prepare breakfast the night before and heat it in the morning.
Eat substantial snacks. Plan ahead with humus with raw vegetables, rice cakes with nut butter, raw almonds, fresh fruit, raw nuts and seeds, celery with nut butter, spelt or kamut flatbreads. Eliminate chips, bready treats, sugar, coffees and pop.
Don’t go hungry: Eat every 2-4 hours. Getting over-hungry leads to poor food choices and wreaks havoc with insulin control. Start with breakfast and schedule small snacks between moderate meals for best blood sugar regulation.
Sit down and eat. Eat consistently, quietly and chew a lot (35 times per bite is recommended by macrobiotics.) Eat comfortably and enjoy your meal. Don’t walk, read, stand or do other activities while eating. Give yourself at least 15 minutes down-time to relax and enjoy your meal.
Having a consistent eating plan that allows some flexibility and variety has been proven to be more effective than stricter short term “diets.” Focus more on whole foods and good quality proteins than on the restrictions. Fat does not need to be restricted per say, but eliminating saturated and trans fats in the form of processed “treats” will naturally provide a lower fat diet. Do not choose “low fat” salad dressings or other options as these tend to be high in sugars. Read labels, read labels read labels! And, be nice to yourself – there will be easy days and hard days. A little compassion towards self goes a long way, and may be the best medicine!