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Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that causes hormonal imbalances and problems with metabolism. Today, PCOS being one of the most common health condition, is experienced by 1 out of 10 women. This can also lead to other serious health challenges such as diabetes, cardiovascular problems, depression, and increased risk of endometrial cancer.

PCOS is typically earmarked by irregular periods or by no menstruation at all. With PCOS, many small sacs of fluid develop along the outer edge of the ovary.

People with PCOS may also be at greater risk of heart disease, endometrial cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure.

People with PCOS are often found to have higher than normal insulin levels. Insulin is a hormone that’s produced in the pancreas. It helps the cells in the body turn sugar (glucose) into energy.

Many people with PCOS find they’re able to manage their symptoms and reduce their risk of other health concerns with changes to their diet and lifestyle.

If you don’t produce enough insulin, your blood sugar levels can rise. This can also happen if you have insulin resistance, meaning you aren’t able to use the insulin you do produce effectively.

If you have insulin resistance, your body may try to pump out high levels of insulin in an effort to keep your blood sugar levels normal. However, high levels of insulin can cause your ovaries to produce more androgens like testosterone.

Insulin resistance may also be caused by having a higher body mass index. Insulin resistance can make it harder to lose weight, which is why people with PCOS often experience this issue.

Two of the primary ways that diet affects PCOS are weight management and insulin production and resistance.

However, insulin plays a significant role in PCOS, so managing insulin levels with a PCOS diet is one of the best steps people can take to manage the condition.

Many people with PCOS have insulin resistance. In fact, more than 50 percent of those with PCOS develop diabetes or pre-diabetes before the age of 40.

A diet high in refined carbohydrates, like starchy and sugary foods, can make insulin resistance, and therefore weight loss, more difficult to manage.

Foods to eat

There is widespread agreement about which foods are beneficial and seem to help people manage their condition, and which foods to avoid.

Three diets that may help people with PCOS manage their symptoms are:

  • A low glycemic index (GI) diet: The body digests foods with a low GI more slowly, meaning they do not cause insulin levels to rise as much or as quickly as other foods, such as some carbohydrates. Foods in a low GI diet include whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, starchy vegetables, and other unprocessed, low-carbohydrate foods.
  • An anti-inflammatory diet: Anti-inflammatory foods, such as berries, fatty fish, leafy greens, and extra virgin olive oil, may reduce inflammation-related symptoms, such as fatigue.
  • The DASH diet: Doctors often recommend the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet to reduce the risk or impact of heart disease. It may also help manage PCOS symptoms. A DASH diet is rich in fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables whole grain, and low-fat dairy produce. The diet discourages foods that are high in saturated fat and sugar.

A healthful PCOS diet can also include the following food items:

  • natural, unprocessed foods
  • high-fiber foods
  • fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel
  • kale, spinach, and other dark, leafy greens
  • dark red fruits, such as red grapes, blueberries, blackberries, and cherries
  • broccoli and cauliflower
  • dried beans, lentils, and other legumes
  • healthful fats, such as olive oil, as well as avocados and coconuts
  • nuts, including pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, and pistachios
  • dark chocolate in moderation
  • spices, such as turmeric and cinnamon

Foods to avoid

In general, people on a PCOS diet should avoid foods which include:

  • Refined carbohydrates, such as mass-produced pastries and white bread.
  • Fried foods, such as fast food.
  • Sugary beverages, such as sodas and energy drinks.
  • Processed meats, such as hot dogs, sausages, and luncheon meats.
  • Solid fats, including margarine, shortening, and lard.
  • Excess red meat, such as steaks, hamburgers, and pork.
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