Nutritionist Namrata Manyal on Managing PCOS Through Food & Nutrition
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects nearly 1 in 5 women in India. Even though it is an extremely common syndrome, there is limited information available about it’s management. PCOS is beyond the obvious symptoms such as irregular periods, excessive facial hair, hair thinning, acne, pigmentation & infertility. It also has major implications on physical & mental health. It directly increases the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, Thyroid disorders, high cholesterol etc. Other than these, it is closely associated with depression, anxiety, insomnia, frequent headaches, lethargy, brain fog & disordered eating.
Theoretically speaking, the exact cause of PCOS still remains a mystery, however, hormonal irregularities & insulin resistance are the driving factors. While conventional treatment strategies just talk about medications/hormonal pills it is next to impossible to overlook at the side effect these pills hold. Thus, the only proven, tried, tested & trusted method of managing PCOS is : Lifestyle Modifications.
What is Lifestyle Modification?
If you are reading this, I am sure you have come across this phrase more than a million times. Let us first decode the crux of it.
The Pillars of our Lifestyle are:
- Food & Nutrition
- Activity & Movement
- Relations, Emotions & Thoughts
Thus, when we talk about Lifestyle Modification we should ideally be taking all of the above into consideration & work on them equally.
Don’t eat less, eat smart: Extremely low calorie & low carbohydrates diets have often been advocated as a go-to strategy for PCOS. However, it is a big NO. Simply switch from refined calories & carbohydrates to whole foods. Select whole grains over refined cereals, herbal teas or buttermilk over fruit juices & carbonated drinks & natural sweet foods over refined sugars.
Go Green: Green leafy vegetables & cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, collard greens, broccoli, brussel sprouts support & strengthen the liver & gut. This in turn helps in clearing the excess estrogen, balancing insulin & thus balancing hormones. Make sure to add some greens on a daily basis & cruciferous vegetables at least 2-3 times a week. Make sure cruciferous vegetables are cooked to avoid bloating. Prefer stir-frying or steaming over boiling to preserve bioactive compounds.
Where is your protein? Protein is a very important macronutrient & ideally must be included in all meals. Always combine your carbs & proteins to regulate insulin . Not only does it aid in muscle preservation but is also very satiating & balances hormones. If you are a vegan or vegetarian choose dals, beans, lentils, nuts & oilseeds. Non-dairy milk, peas. For my non-vegetarian girls, prefer eggs, fish like salmon, sardine, mackerel, white meat.
Don’t go low fat: Fat is very essential since all female hormones are fat based. It is the bad-quality & excess fat that is a red flag. Consume a fistful of nuts like almonds, walnuts, pistachios, brazil nuts, pine nuts & about 2 tablespoon of seeds like pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, garden cress seeds, flax seeds, white sesame seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds. You may also follow Seed Cycling for added benefits. Besides good quality fat, these are also sources of essential micronutrients magnesium, zinc, selenium, iron & certain B-complex vitamins. Along with this the fishes mentioned above are also great sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Gluten & Dairy: The most debatable & frequently asked doubt. A Lot of times it is important to go totally gluten free & dairy free especially if you have inflammatory symptoms like bloating, acne & brain fog. However, please do this in a staged & stepwise manner rather than making life difficult for you.
Herbs: Many herbs like turmeric, ginger, licorice, cinnamon, ashwagandha have been known to balance hormones. However, the exact dose & use of these herbs varies depending on the type of PCOS, symptoms & presence of any other disorder.
Ditch the hormones & chemicals: Many processed foods as well as skin care & hair care products have preservatives, artificial colors & sweeteners, injected hormones. These mimic the action of estrogen & further disrupt hormones. Thus, it is important to go natural & be mindful about your choices.
Listen to your body & mind before you listen to others. Our bodies have a very powerful & natural wisdom to heal and understand what is best for it. What works for one body may not work for another.
This post has been written by Namrata Manyal. She is a Registered Dietitian & Clinical Nutritionist, and a Life Member: Indian Dietetic Association (Mumbai Chapter).