How following a low glycemic diet supports PCOS
PCOS doesn’t have to be a lifelong battle that you go through alone — Well + Easy is here to help ease you through your diagnosis.
In this blog post, we’re going to break down the PCOS and insulin resistance relationship and explain the benefits of a low GI diet for PCOS.
What is PCOS
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder affecting 5% to 10% of women of reproductive age worldwide.
It’s a condition characterized by cysts on the ovaries, irregular periods, hormonal imbalance, and an increased risk of infertility. But despite its name, it’s one that is also closely tied to insulin resistance as it can develop in response to a substantial amount of weight gain.
Let’s break down the PCOS and insulin resistance connection:
PCOS & Insulin Resistance
In otherwise healthy individuals, insulin rises briefly after eating, stimulating the body to take up glucose and convert it to energy.
When one has insulin resistance, though, the pancreas is creating more insulin to overcompensate for the rise in blood sugar levels. And as insulin levels continue to build, it can lead to inflammation, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes.
While the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, what is certain is that women with PCOS are intrinsically insulin resistant.
In other words, insulin resistance isn’t a symptom but rather a key feature of PCOS.
For example, research shows that the skeletal muscle of overweight women with PCOS is deeply embedded with defects in glucose transport and insulin signaling.
Additionally, it’s the high insulin levels that harm ovulation and cause the ovaries to make excess testosterone.
The Low GI solution
Because low glycemic foods are slow to break down in the body, they keep you full longer and don’t raise your insulin levels like foods higher on the GI scale do.
That’s what makes a low GI diet for PCOS so beneficial for managing and treating symptoms as high insulin levels are a feature of PCOS, and eating low GI foods will help you manage your weight.
Low GI research
A study placed premenopausal women with PCOS on a low glycemic diet and a macronutrient matched diet to compare their insulin sensitivity. They were followed for 12 months (or until they had a weight loss of 7%).
The results showed those who followed a low GI diet had improved their insulin resistance than those who followed the alternative diet.
Another study looked at the ovulation cycles of women with PCOS for three months while following either a low glycemic diet or a normal diet and found that those who followed a low GI diet had improved their cycles.
Related reading: Low GI foods for PCOS - Which ones are good for me?
Low GI diet for PCOS
Losing weight is one of the most effective ways you can regulate your menstrual cycle and improve your symptoms of PCOS, and a low glycemic diet can do just that.
A low GI diet requires that you use the glycemic index scale to keep your blood sugar levels in check. This means the majority of your diet should consist of foods that have a glycemic index of 55 or less, and a moderate amount should have a GI of 56 to 69.
A low GI diet for PCOS includes but is not limited to:
- Non-starchy vegetables such as cauliflower, spinach, and sweet potatoes
- Fruits such as berries, grapefruit, and apples
- Whole grains such as steel-cut oats, millet, and quinoa
- Lean Proteins such as eggs, salmon, and turkey
- Healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, and nuts
The benefits of low GI
If you have PCOS, there are several benefits to following a low glycemic diet such as:
- Weight loss promotion — Research shows weight gain to be associated with PCOS. Moreover, eating foods high on the GI scale causes insulin and blood sugar levels to rise and fall. This makes you vulnerable to overeating and weight gain.
Low GI foods have the opposite effect. They keep you full longer and give you fewer food cravings which help you lose weight in a sustainable way.
- Diabetes prevention — When you have PCOS, more insulin is traveling through your body, putting you at a higher risk of developing diabetes. Thus, eating low GI foods will reduce your risk of developing diabetes significantly.
- Hormone balance — Eating an excess of high GI foods is more likely to cause an imbalance of your hormones.
Foods to avoid
Foods high on the glycemic index scale should be avoided as much as possible. This means foods that have a GI of 70 or higher. These include:
- Refined carbohydrates, i.e., “empty calorie” foods or foods that have been processed.
- White bread, rice, pasta; pastries, and potatoes
- Sugary beverages such as fruit juice and soda
- Fried foods
To manage your PCOS symptoms, it’s important to have a holistic view of health as PCOS can be draining on not just your physical health but also your mental health.
In addition to diet, consider:
- Incorporating exercise into your routine, e.g., walk, bike, or swim for at least 30 minutes a day.
- Reduce stress with meditation, yoga, or talking with friends and family.
- Lean on community by joining a PCOS support group