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Foods That Help PCOS

By Christy Callahan ; Updated July 18, 2017

Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, is a disorder that can affect women as young as 11. PCOS is likely caused by a hormone imbalance, although the exact cause is not known. High insulin levels are associated with this disorder, making diet and exercise an essential part of management. A healthy diet for PCOS begins with cutting out specific foods, like starches and sugars, while eating more vegetables, protein and whole grains.

The PCOS Cycle

Women's bodies have a balance of hormones, including estrogen, testosterone and progesterone. Typically, testosterone -- which is considered an androgen or male hormone -- is fairly low in women. However, in PCOS androgen levels are higher than normal, causing imbalances in estrogen and progesterone and disrupting normal ovarian function. When your hormone levels are normal, the ovaries develop sacs through which an egg is released and sent down the fallopian tubes to the uterus for fertilization. Higher levels of androgens can lead to anovulation, where the egg is not released and the sac becomes a cyst. Furthermore, progesterone is not produced -- without which women cannot menstruate. Your monthly cycle can become irregular as well as painful.

PCOS and Insulin

If you have PCOS, it is likely that you have high levels of insulin in your bloodstream. PCOS is linked with excess insulin, which removes sugar from your blood and gives it to cells for energy use. With too much insulin, however, your cells can become "resistant," not allowing the insulin to bring sugar into the cell. Sugar stays in your blood, and more insulin is continuously released. More insulin also means more androgens, exacerbating the PCOS cycle. You may experience skin darkening, acne, facial hair and weight gain, as well as irregular periods or infertility.

Foods to Avoid

Because sugar increases insulin secretion, avoiding starches and sugars is recommended if you have PCOS and insulin resistance. White potatoes and simple carbohydrates like sugar, fructose, candy, cookies, pastries, fruit juice, soda and alcoholic beverages will spike your sugar and insulin levels. Essentially, anything that tastes sweet -- even artificial sweeteners and Stevia -- can aggravate your blood sugar-insulin cycle. Whole grains, like quinoa, brown rice, barley and buckwheat are recommended in moderation while you should avoid white breads, corn products and white flour pastas. Fruits provide essential vitamins and minerals, but they are considered sugars. Eating protein, like almonds, with fruit will minimize the impact on your blood sugar.

Helpful Foods

Though cutting out certain foods may seem tough, good-for-you foods to include are tasty and can help alleviate some of your symptoms. The Center for Young Women's Health recommends including a source of protein, a high fiber whole grain and an unsaturated fat at each meal and snack. Excellent protein sources include beans, chicken, fish, almonds, yogurt and hummus. You can eat brown rice, whole wheat pasta, quinoa or whole wheat bread for your grain choice. Add avocados, olive oil, nut butters or canola oil to your cooking or menu for healthy fats. Vegetables in an array of colors are also a welcome addition to your diet.

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