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Women with PCOS typically suffer from hormonal imbalances, insulin resistance and problems with weight. These significantly increase the risk of infertility, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and affect the overall quality of life. Women with PCOS also face increased risk of generalized anxiety.
Diet is a crucial part of reversing PCOS. While a low-carb, good fat diet suits most women with PCOS, a question that experts are often asked is about the foods that should be avoided by women with PCOS symptoms.
Obesity can both be caused by PCOS and can also be the effect. Excessive weight, especially in terms of weight around the abdomen, can worsen PCOS by increasing the quantity and action of male hormones. In general, all foods that cause a sharp spike in the hormone insulin – mostly processed foods and grain carbohydrates like white rice, rotis, bread and bakery products – are best avoided by women with PCOS.
Eating too many carbs leads to an increase in insulin resistance and body weight in women with PCOS. Whenever limited amounts of grain carbohydrates are had in the form of rice or roti, they must be sufficiently balanced with good fats like ghee and butter, to ensure that the sugar in the carbs does not spike a sharp insulin response. When insulin is spiked regularly in the body, it leads to higher levels of male hormones like testosterone, which can worsen symptoms of PCOS. Fruits that are high in sugar load, like mangoes and chikus, processed cereal, all bread, rice, starchy vegetables like potatoes and sweet corn should be minimized or avoided.
Soda, candy, cookies and other desserts are the foods that should be completely avoided because they add a high amount of glucose to the body which in turn leads to insulin resistance and high levels of male hormones.
Foods with a high glycemic index digest faster and hence cause a spike in insulin levels and insulin resistance. Foods with a high glycemic index even increase some of the other health risks associated with PCOS including endometrial cancer. Some commonly-consumed high-GI foods are watermelon, honey, white rice, white bread and doughnuts. Foods having a high glycemic index also increase the risk of coronary heart diseases.
Processed and packaged carbohydrate-rich foods are generally stripped of their fiber content. Fiber slows the digestion and also helps in lowering the immediate surges in glucose levels after intake of food. Therefore, processed foods like breakfast cereals are an unhealthy choice, especially for women with PCOS.
Vegetables are a good source of fibers and help in slowing down the digestion, thus preventing an immediate surge in blood glucose level. Upon ripening, however, their glycemic index increases. Hence, ripened vegetables should not be included in the diet plan of women with PCOS. Pumpkin is one such vegetable which should be avoided.
Research shows that processed dairy products like milk and cheese can aggravate insulin resistance, male hormones and worsen PCOS symptoms like acne. Low-fat dairy products lead to an increased secretion of androgen which again worsens the symptoms of PCOS. Therefore, low-fat dairy products should be avoided by women with PCOS. If you must eat dairy, stick with whole fat dairy.
In general, soy products available in the market are poorly processed. Soy contains certain naturally occurring toxins which need fermentation in order to be removed. Unless you have a genuine Japanese or Korean source, avoid soy as it can make oestrogen dominance symptoms (common in women with PCOS) a lot worse.
Avoiding these foods and eating a diet that is rich in green vegetables and healthy fats is the best strategy to reversing PCOS symptoms.
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