7 Eating Habits to Avoid If You Have PCOS

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Sure, you know you need to eat a healthy diet to improve your symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), but sometimes what you think is healthy may actually be sabotaging your good efforts.

As a registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of the PCOS Nutrition Center, I have worked with thousands of women who suffer from PCOS. These women have come to me for help to improve their diets to better their condition and achieve their personal goals whether it be weight loss, reducing their risk for type 2 diabetes, or increasing their fertility.

I perform a PCOS nutrition assessment for each patient that I meet with to determine where they can make improvements to their eating, and if they are eating in a way that will undermine their efforts to achieve their goals.

Here are seven common diet mistakes women with PCOS tend to make and how to fix them.

Eating Too Much Fruit at Once

It’s a myth that women with PCOS should not eat fruit. No, fruit does not have too much sugar in it and no, fruit is not the same as eating sugar cubes. Fruit provides important nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants that can actually lower insulin levels.

A big mistake I see women with PCOS make though is eating too much fruit at once. For example, they make a smoothie which includes several pieces or cups of fruit. Or, maybe they think fruit is healthy, so the more the better at breakfast or snack time. This can be problematic as fruit is a carbohydrate food source.

Like other carbs, it is best to be spread out evenly throughout the day, such as one piece of fruit in a smoothie or with a snack, instead of all at once which will spike insulin and glucose levels.

Staying Away From 'Fattening' Foods

If you avoid high fat foods, you may be making a big mistake that can backfire on your good eating habits.

Some women with PCOS, especially those who grew up during the fat-free diet craze, may avoid fat out of fear it will make them fatter.

The problem with this is that foods with fat in them don’t raise glucose and insulin levels like protein and carbohydrate foods do. If anything, fats help to stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels. It also provides a creamy texture that adds satisfaction to meals. Those that eat too little fat may not feel satisfied with their meals, or have episodes of low blood sugar which can lead to carb cravings or food binges.

Foods that are rich in omega-3 fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts, fatty fish), are particularly beneficial to women with PCOS as they can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, fight inflammation, and support a healthy pregnancy.

The key is to consume an appropriate amount of fat for the calories you need. Government guidelines recommend Americans eat up to 30 percent of their total daily calories with fats, and encourage the replacement of refined carbohydrates with healthy omega-3 fats.

Skipping Meals

If you’re trying to shed pounds, skipping meals is not the way to do it. Our bodies are designed to use food for energy. Going too long without food causes blood sugar levels to dip.

If you experience “hangry” (becoming increasingly irritable or angry caused by lack of food), you know what I’m talking about. Usually, more food (calories) will need to be eaten to bring up that low blood sugar, which will only raise insulin levels more.

Instead of skipping meals, consume moderate amounts of whole grains, protein, and healthy fats at regular mealtimes.

Missing Out on Protein

Sometimes I notice women with PCOS don’t eat enough protein. A big reason for this could be that they have strong cravings for carbohydrate foods and sweets and seek out these types of foods to satisfy them, not protein.

Without sufficient protein, you are left with a diet higher in carbohydrates, which will only contribute to insulin resistance and inflammation, worsening PCOS symptoms. A high carbohydrate diet will also make it a challenge to stabilize blood sugar levels resulting in very high or very low levels.

If you struggle to get in enough protein in your diet, try and make protein the focus of your meals and snacks instead of carbohydrate foods. Eating a high protein breakfast (an omelet for example), is a good way to start the day with a balanced glucose level.

Not Eating Enough (or Any) Vegetables

There’s a reason why we are told to eat our veggies: vegetables provide antioxidants and fiber that can help PCOS and they are also low in carbohydrates.

If you are skimping on vegetables, eat the same ones, or don’t eat much of any, challenge yourself to add more. Aim for half of your plate to be non-starchy vegetables like carrots, spinach, green beans, and squash. Make vegetables more appetizing by using fresh herbs and spices, or flavored olive oil. Using different cooking methods (raw, roasted, sautéed) can also make eating your veggies that much more enjoyable.

You Only Drink Water

Water is certainly important for good health (and our survival), but there are other beverages that get overlooked that can count as fluid too, which provide some added benefits to women with PCOS that water doesn’t.

Green tea is loaded with antioxidants and has been shown to reduce insulin resistance and testosterone in women with PCOS. When added to an antioxidant rich diet, green tea helped women significantly reduce their body fat as well as improve metabolic markers associated with PCOS.

Resveratrol, another antioxidant that’s found in red wine, was shown to lower testosterone and insulin levels in women with PCOS.

And drinking coffee in moderation, a popular beverage, has been shown to lower insulin levels and reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes.

Eating Late at Night

If it’s after dinner and you’re feeling some hunger pains, it’s your body’s way of communicating to you that it needs energy. Alternatively, if you’re not hungry but are bored, tired, stressed or feeling other emotions and you want to eat, you are using food for emotional reasons. Eating when you’re not hungry contributes to weight gain.

If you find yourself mindless snacking while watching TV or doing other activities, put a stop to it. Try watching TV in a room further away from the kitchen, brushing your teeth, or having a cup of hot tea instead.

Sources:

Amany Alsayed  et al. Anti-Inflammatory Dietary Combo in Overweight and Obese Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. N Am J Med Sci. 2015 Jul; 7(7): 310–316.

Asemi Z et al. DASH Diet, Insulin Resistance, and Serum hs-CRP in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Horm Metab Res. 2014.

Ming Ding et al. Association of Coffee Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality in Three Large Prospective Cohorts. Circulation. 2015;132(24):2305-15.

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