by Josephine Cabrall, FGHG Naturopath
If you’ve been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), you might have found yourself confused about what to eat to manage and reduce your symptoms. There’s a plethora of information on the internet and I often find women asking whether they should do keto, vegan, low calorie, low GI, gluten-free, diary-free, or just being plain confused about what to eat at all.
To answer this question it helps to be aware of what PCOS is and how the food we eat impacts this condition. PCOS is a syndrome most often characterised by high levels of male-type hormones, such as testosterone, in the body. It is these male-type hormones circulating around that causes they symptoms of PCOS such as acne, male-pattern hair growth and hair loss, polycystic ovaries and difficulty falling pregnant (because of irregular or infrequent ovulation).
In the vast majority of cases women with PCOS have insulin resistance – a resistance to our blood sugar control hormone, insulin, leading to higher levels of this hormone in our body and poor blood sugar control. It is insulin that stimulates the ovaries to produce male-type hormones. So, overcoming PCOS, comes down to reducing insulin resistance.
Research indicates that the main driving force behind insulin resistance is Westernised diets, specifically, diets high in refined carbohydrates and fructose (think white bread, white rice, white flour products such as pizza, pastries and pasta, chips, lollies, soft drink, juices and sweet desserts). But it’s hard to change our entire diet overnight and many people find if they attempt to exclude all of these foods at once it becomes too difficult to keep up with, and they give up.
So what to do? One of the most powerful, achievable steps you can take is to do a sugar detox. That’s right, quit sugar completely for at least 2 weeks to reset your blood sugar balance. You might be surprised at how much sugar you really do eat when you thought you didn’t – desserts, pastries, cakes, muesli bars, ‘health’ food bars, most breakfast cereals, canned fruit, jarred sauces and dressings, sweetened yoghurt and energy drinks are some obvious ones, but you’ll need to exclude the natural sugars too – dates and other dried fruit, honey, maple syrup, agave syrup and any other type of syrup. Don’t worry, you’ll be able to re-introduce these in small amounts later on.
For best results, while you are doing your detox, quit alcohol completely too as this disturbs blood sugar balance. Also, you’ll need to include a source of protein with each meal to reduce sugar cravings – choose from lean beef, lamb or pork, fish, chicken, ricotta, goats cheese, organic natural yoghurt, raw nuts (walnut, Brazil, cashew, hazelnut, almond, coconut), seeds (sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, flaxseed, chia seed), eggs, organic tofu & tempeh, beans, chickpeas and lentils.
After 2 weeks of no sugar and no alcohol, most people notice they have more energy, less brain fog, improved mood and have even lost a bit of weight. Your PCOS symptoms might not have reduced yet, this will take longer, so this is why it’s best not to reintroduce ALL the sugar immediately after your detox. Consider having the occasional treat at celebrations and sticking to smaller serves. You’ll probably notice that what tasted good before now tastes super sweet and you may not want to finish it! If making the occasional dessert at home, stick to natural sugars and in sparing amounts – e.g. a few tablespoons of maple syrup to sweeten a whole food cake. If you keep going with your new low-sugar way of eating, you’ll likely start to notice your PCOS symptoms diminishing – less acne and hair growth, more regular ovulation and periods and no more weight gain.
If you attempt your detox and find it too hard to stick to because of cravings, you likely need some help. See your naturopath for herbs and nutrients that combat insulin resistance and slay sugar cravings.
So what are you waiting for, give it a go! For some, quitting sugar has astounding effects but if you don’t get the results you are after from quitting sugar alone, then you may need to take extra steps. I’ll be discussing this next time, outlining further, easy-to-do steps for controlling PCOS.
Josephine Cabrall is a degree-qualified Naturopath with a passion for empowering women to understand and overcome their PCOS symptoms such as acne, infertility, weight gain and male-pattern hair growth.