Are you familiar with the phrase “food is medicine”? Most people don’t consider that everything they eat affects their overall health. The general idea is that food stops hunger, rather than being healing and nourishing in its own right.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is characterized by inflammation and insulin resistance. Women who live with this condition often contend with symptoms such as weight gain, hirsutism (unwanted body hair), missed/irregular periods, and lessened fertility.
Fortunately, most of these issues can be addressed by altering one’s diet. This can be a bit daunting at first, since many people’s favourite comfort foods incorporate ingredients that are inflammatory, and cause insulin resistance.
That said, investing in your health is well worth eliminating the foods that are damaging your body on a cellular level. Read on to learn which 5 foods to ditch to alleviate (and begin to reverse) your PCOS.
1. Say “No” to Sugar
Sugar really doesn’t have many redeeming qualities. Sure, it tastes good for a moment, but then it causes a rapid blood sugar spike, followed by a solid crash.
Whenever sugar rises in the blood, insulin rises as well. This end up creating a cascade efect, because when insulin rises, ovaries get the heads-up to release testosterone.
In addition, when insulin levels are too high for too long, fat burning slows exponentially. Sugar even disrupts the bacterial balance inside our small intestines, changing the types of microorganism species that live in there.
Leave sugar to the hummingbirds, who are designed to process that into energy. Aim for nutrient-dense proteins, healthy fats, and non-starchy vegetables instead.
2. Ditch Dairy
Oh, we get it. Cheese is amazing and real cream in coffee is delicious… but dairy protein stimulates insulin so strongly that it’s really best to avoid it.
The Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) that dairy products are packed with are huge triggers for insulin resistance. It’s why PCOS is so aggravated by even small amounts of dairy.
This kind of insulin stimulation contributes to fat gain (and growth). It doesn’t help that dairy in the USA often contains growth hormones. Concentrated amounts of pesticides and environmental toxins (like glyphosate) have been found in all kind of dairy products as well.
Additionally, many people are lactose intolerant or have dairy allergies and aren’t even aware of them. These products cause low-grade inflammation throughout the body, exacerbating autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
3. Walk Away from Wheat (and Flour Products)
The modern Western diet has far too many grains and carbohydrates incorporated into it. Do you remember the food pyramid that many of us grew up with? It insisted that 5-7 servings of breads, grains, and cereals was ideal for good health.
A different type of food pyramid would be much better, with main emphasis being on leafy and non-starchy veg as the most important part of our diet.
Most flour products have a high glycemic index, which means that they get turned into sugar more quickly. Grains, especially those containing gluten (such as wheat, spelt, rye, and barley) contain inflammatory substances like gliadin.
This substance is most problematic in people with Celiac disease, but it can be irritating to non-Celiacs as well. Gluten can cause leaky gut as well as immune reactions. If you think you may be sensitive to gluten, eliminate it for a month and see how you feel. If you feel better overall, ditch it! If not, you’re likely not terribly sensitive to it.
If you don’t have Celiac disease, you can allow yourself the occasional wheat or grain products. North American wheat products, however, tend to be extremely modified and highly processed. Wheat products from Europe tend to be tolerated much better, as those countries use a completely different variety known as soft wheat which contains less gluten and the gluten it contains is “softer” meaning it is easier to break down.
4. Pass on the Packaged Foods
Take a look at any pre-packaged food item you’ve bought from the grocery store, and check out the ingredients list. How many items are in there that you can barely pronounce, let alone recognize?
These “edible products” are absolutely packed with processed flours, sugars, artificial flavours, and preservatives. Many also contain ingredients that are high in calories, while also being “empty”.
What this means is that those calories aren’t doing anything to nourish your body. They’re just filling you up and spiking your blood sugar levels to give you the illusion of energy.
Even “gluten-free” foods can be problematic, as they can be packed with corn (a known allergen) or legumes (which are inflammatory).
Minimizing your consumption of these products will reduce a plethora of different health problems. Ditch these, and go for whole foods instead, as found in nature!
Most people notice a marked improvement in their health after only a short time, after dropping processed, packaged foods from their diet.
Cook with whole, natural ingredients, and don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t have recognized as food.
5. Drop Diet Sodas and Artificial Sweeteners
The diet industry has led people to believe that zero-calorie diet sodas are absolutely okay to consume. After all, if there aren’t any calories, you can’t gain any weight, right?
Diet soft drinks are packed with artificial sweeteners, which do far more harm than most realize. These sweet chemicals can lead to metabolic disorders and obesity by damaging blood vessels.
Even worse, studies have shown that they reduce impulse control by affection the brain’s prefrontal cortex! This literally makes it more difficult for people to say “no” to sweets.
Not only are artificial sweeteners of no help in weight loss, they actually affect the brain in ways that make it MUCH harder for people to avoid eating foods highest in calories and fats (like cookies, cake, and ice cream).
Ditch these drinks (and artificially sweetened items) asap, and replace them with delicious, healthier options. Herbal teas (like spearmint, which lowers androgens), sparkling water, green tea, and homemade vegetable juices are a few wonderful options.
Don’t think you have to give up on delicious foods to alleviate your PCOS! It’s just a matter of swapping in healthier options. Like using spaghetti squash or spiralized zucchini or squash instead of grain-based pasta noodles. You can enjoy all the deliciousness, with none of the blood sugar spikes.
If you’re interested in learning more, my Eating for PCOS course covers everything you need to know about how to adjust your diet to reverse your PCOS symptoms and break through the insulin resistance cycle.