Women typically run on a 28-35 day cycle, during this time we enter 4 different phases that play an instrumental role in our menstrual cycle: Menstruation, the Follicular phase, Ovulation and the Luteal phase. With each phase our hormones fluctuate, resulting in potential mood swings, gastrointestinal disturbances and appetite changes.
PCOS is a hormonal disorder that intricately influences the menstrual cycle, therefore it can further complicate these hormonal changes and intensify symptoms experienced by women.
Registered Dietitian, Nicole Keeling, gives her top tips to empower you in managing your PCOS symptoms through diet and shares some of her PCOS friendly recipes designed to support blood sugar balance.
PCOS management through diet
As a registered dietitian with a keen interest in women’s health, I see women on a daily basis who struggle with PCOS. Most of which have never seen a dietitian, despite having been diagnosed for many years. Management of PCOS is intricately linked to diet, playing a crucial role in alleviating symptoms and improving overall health.
It’s important to note that everyone is different, so taking a personalised approach definitely helps! Here are some of my top tips for women living with PCOS to incorporate into their lives to help you embrace a healthier, more balanced lifestyle.
1. There is no magic diet
Women with PCOS are often told to cut out certain food groups, such as foods containing gluten or dairy and this can be misleading. If it were as simple as starting a ‘gluten-free’ diet, then the management of PCOS would be much easier, however this is not the case. Eliminating food groups can lead to nutritional deficiencies and reduced variety in your diet.
Whole, minimally processed or unprocessed foods should be prioritised and consumed daily while minimising the intake of overly processed foods and snacks. High-fibre carbohydrates, lean proteins and unsaturated fats should be the focus at meal times. Fibre is essential for healthy blood sugar levels, gut health and maintaining levels of satiety. Proteins are essential for muscle mass, metabolic health and appetite while unsaturated fats play a role in hormone regulation and vitamin transportation throughout the body.
A holistic approach that includes lifestyle modifications alongside dietary changes is often more effective than focusing solely on food choices.
2. Managing blood sugar levels is crucial
Many women with PCOS experience insulin resistance, a condition where the body's cells become less responsive to the effects of insulin. This can lead to elevated levels of insulin in the blood. Insulin resistance is closely linked to hormonal imbalances seen in PCOS, particularly elevated levels of androgens (male hormones).
Insulin resistance contributes to an overproduction of insulin, which can stimulate the ovaries to produce more androgens. Elevated androgen levels can disrupt the normal menstrual cycle, leading to irregular periods and issues with ovulation. Blood sugar management helps reduce insulin levels, mitigating these hormonal disruptions.
Ways to support your blood sugar levels:
- Choose complex carbohydrates over refined carbohydrates (brown over white as a general rule)
- Include a source of protein and fibre at each meal
- Reduce intake of sugary, overly processed foods
- Stay hydrated
- Eat mindfully and slowly
3. Inositol has proven benefits
Inositol addresses two critical aspects of PCOS - insulin sensitivity and hormonal balance. Individuals with PCOS commonly face insulin resistance, and inositol has demonstrated the potential to enhance insulin sensitivity, thereby regulating blood sugar levels. Moreover, inositol plays a role in hormonal regulation, influencing luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and androgen levels, which are often imbalanced in PCOS. The compound's positive impact extends to menstrual regularity, fertility, and potential improvements in egg quality.
4. Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), offer potential benefits for managing PCOS. Benefits have been linked to hormone production, menstrual regularities and improved lipid profiles. Including these foods in the diet can be a valuable component of a comprehensive approach to managing PCOS, promoting overall health and well-being. Sources of omega 3’s include fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, trout), plant sources (flaxseeds, chia, walnuts, hemp seeds) and supplements (fish or algae based supplements containing EPA and DHA).
The whole concept of ‘eat less, move more’ does not always work with women with PCOS, this oversimplifies the solution while ignoring the complexities of hormonal imbalances. In reality, PCOS is far more than infertility and cysts on the ovaries and it is worthwhile investing some time to chat to healthcare professionals such as dietitians who can help navigate the appropriate care plan going forward.
My 3 favourite PCOS friendly recipes
Designed to help balance your blood sugar while tasting delicious!
High protein French toast:
- 1 large / 2 small whole-grain bread roll
- 1 egg
- 25ml milk of choice
- 15g Free Soul Salted Caramel Vegan Protein Blend
- ¾ tsp cinnamon
- ½ cup blueberries
- 1 tbsp almond butter
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- 70g plain yoghurt
- Cut your roll into cubes – roughly 6 pieces
- In a bowl whisk together the egg, milk, protein powder and cinnamon
- Dip and coat the pieces of the roll into the mixture
- Place in the air-fryer on high heat for 10-15 minutes – continually watching until crisp, 5 minutes before they’re ready pour over the maple syrup and place back in the air-fryer to crisp up further
- Serve with yoghurt, blueberries and almond butter
- 40g oats
- 90g low-fat cottage cheese
- 5g chia seeds
- 30g Free Soul Berry Vegan Protein Blend
- 100ml water/milk of choice
- ½ cup mixed berries
- To a pot on a medium heat stove, add the oats, chia seeds and 20g of the protein powder. Stir in the milk/water.
- Continue to stir until properly cooked and then transfer to a glass bowl.
- Mix the cottage cheese with the rest of the protein powder (10g)
- Top the oats mixture with the yoghurt mixture and store in the fridge overnight.
- The next morning, top with berries and enjoy!
Pomegranate salmon and quinoa
- 4 salmon fillets
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 1.5 tbsp olive oil
- 200g pomegranate seeds
- A handful of finely chopped mint leaves
- Salt and pepper
- Quinoa to serve
- Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
- In a bowl, whisk together the honey, 1 tbsp olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and seasonings.
- Place the salmon on a baking tray, skin side down and pour over the honey mixture.
- Mix the pomegranate seeds with the mint and ½ tbsp olive oil.
- Bake the salmon for 12-15 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and top with the pomegranate mixture.
- Serve with cooked quinoa and enjoy!
**At Free Soul, your well-being is our priority, and although we pride ourselves on our expertise in women's health and wellbeing, it is important to acknowledge the individuality of each person. Features published by Free Soul are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease, or replace the advice of your GP. We always recommend consulting with a healthcare provider if you encounter any health concerns, and we’ll always be here to support you so you’re never alone on your journey.