Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a condition that occurs when excess androgens (male hormones) are produced by the woman’s body which impacts its normal functioning. This condition affects one in every ten women on an average and about 50% of them go undiagnosed. This statistic varies from geography to geography. Assuming that the world has 8 billion people and the male and female population are roughly equal, this means that about 400 million women suffer from this condition!

There are a number of ways to address PCOS and in this article, we'll focus on the foods that will allow you to manage PCOS with ease. Diet is perhaps the single most important aspect of tackling PCOS. Diet is so inextricably linked with weight loss (and maintaining weight), managing bold sugar levels, and overall well-being that it’s meaningless to address PCOS without first talking about diet. In fitness circles, it’s often said that diet is for fat loss while exercise is for building muscles. That makes sense. What your body looks and feels like begins with what you put into it.

There are several foods that tremendously help alleviate PCOS. These are the ones that help restore the hormonal balance and reduce inflammation. Additionally, they ensure that you aren’t gaining weight. Weight gain is an important factor to consider because this impacts a whole host of issues associated with PCOS such as insulin resistance, fat accumulation, sleep apnea, and diabetes.

There are some rules of thumb when it comes to diet:

- Eat foods with low glycemic index (GI): These are foods that are digested by the body at a slower pace and hence don’t cause insulin levels to rise quickly in the body. Usually, carbohydrates such as white rice, white bread, potato, packaged cereals, etc have high GI while whole grains such as red and brown rice have low GI. Legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, starchy vegetables, and other unprocessed, low-carbohydrate foods are the other foods with low GI.

- Eat anti-inflammatory foods: These are the foods that prevent chronic inflammation in the body. Fruits and vegetables have phytonutrients in them that naturally help prevent inflammation. Greens such as celery, coriander, spinach, kale, etc have both anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Amongst fruits, berries are especially good. Foods containing omega-3 fatty acids and ‘good’ fats such as nuts and seeds, olive oil, algae, etc are great to curb inflammation too. Spices such as turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, cloves, sage, and rosemary have natural anti-inflammatory properties. And here’s the best one: dark chocolate! Though eat that sparingly:)

- Foods to avoid: Foods that are highly processed and mass-manufactured are a no-no. Avoid sugary beverages and refined carbohydrates such as pastries, white bread, etc. Fatty foods such as deep-fried foods such as fries aren’t the best choice either.

There are several diet plans you can follow that will allow you to satisfy your tastebuds and at the same time help you to manage PCOS. Here’s what I follow (this is a combination of what a nutritionist once recommended to me and what I discovered makes me feel like I’m eating healthy without depriving myself of food or satiation):

Breakfast: a large bowl of fruits (the more the merrier) with dry fruits and nuts such as almonds, cashews, raisins, walnuts, and dates. I top this with pumpkin, sunflower, chia, and flax seeds. As my nutritionist says, the idea is to pack as much nutrition into it as possible. I have a large bowl - usually 500 ml - and add at least 5-6 different fruits every time. After about an hour, I enjoy a cup of coffee with walnut milk.

Lunch: a large bowl of lentils (dal or sambar or rasam) with some red rice and a simple salad. I usually have one full cucumber, one carrot, and a tomato for salad in the afternoon. Red rice is the most nutritious rice variety to eat because it has much higher fibre, contains anthocyanins (which, amongst a host of other things, have been reported to have anti-inflammatory properties), and 10X more antioxidants than brown rice. Antioxidants help protect the body from cell damage which is linked to cancer, vision loss, and heart disease (and that’s naming just a few).

The idea is to load up on fresh vegetables and legumes and have a lesser amount of rice. I make sure that I’m feeling satisfied - but also that the proportions are such that carbs take up not more than 25-35% of my plate. I sometimes replace rice with a couple of wholewheat chapatis (flatbread made of whole wheat flour). Instead of lentils, I usually have some vegetable sabzi (vegetables cooked dry or in the form of curry along with spices) as a side for the chapattis.

Evening snack: Generally, I have a handful of nuts such as roasted chickpeas or peanuts with coffee with walnut milk or black tea.

Dinner: I like to go more light on my stomach in the evenings. I’ve found that the more raw fruits and vegetables I eat, the better I sleep. I do enjoy hot stuff for dinner, though! So I try to find a middle path and end up having a salad with either vegetable soup or some dal. My version of the soup is really simple - I just boil vegetables such as tomatoes, onions, carrots, beetroot, snake gourd, a small bit of potato, greens (half-cooked, usually) and blend them together with pepper and salt. For the salad, I eat boiled broccoli and baby corn with raw bell peppers and lettuce. I drink as much soup or lentil (dal) as I please with a small bowlful of the salad.

Here are some rules I try and follow that have helped me streamline my diet:

1. Eat a large fruit bowl with nuts and seeds for breakfast
2. Don’t have any caffeine past 6 pm
3. Chew each mouthful of food thoroughly before swallowing
4. Eat only up to 75% of my stomach. I translate this as ‘stop eating when you feel satiated but feel like you can eat a helping or two more’
5. Eat a portion of salad for lunch and dinner and make sure that it makes up for third of my plate
6. Eat at least 2-3 hours before going to bed at night

Diet is just so so important when it comes to PCOS that it might be a good idea to even meet a nutritionist to create a plan for you. Whether you have a nutritionist create a plan for you or create one for yourself, follow through with it - you’ll thank yourself for it 6 months down the road (and for the years to come). I know I did.

In the following posts, we'll cover two more important factors that can help you beat PCOS naturally - sleep and exercise!

Author's Bio: 

Ranjana TN is a Bangalore-based writer, dancer, and entrepreneur. As a young girl, she spent many an hour listening with rapt attention to the stories her creative mother enchanted her with. Soon, books became her best friends and authors, her heroes. To her, there's no greater gift than the gift of imagination and reading provided her the vast field upon which her imagination ran wild, untethered.

Her dream is to now pay it forward through her writing. She explores a wide range of topics from personal development to life as your girl-next-door through her books and blog. Read more at https://ranjanatn.com/blog/

Ranjana is also a trained Bharatanatyam dancer and like every South Indian, very much enjoys her filter coffee. A vegan for half a decade now and a fitness junkie, she loves experimenting with various plant-based diets, running, trekking, and meditating. In her spare time, you can catch her at a nearby cafe, immersed in a good novel and enjoying a hot cup of hazelnut soy latte.