PCOS meal planning – what on earth is that and why should it matter? That’s exactly what we’re going to talk about. And I’m going to give you some tips and tricks to make meal planning a little easier and much less of a chore.
But before we get on to that, let’s talk about why you might want to consider meal planning if you have PCOS.
What is PCOS?
For those of you who have PCOS (otherwise known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), you know the symptoms all too well. But just so that we’re all on the same page, let’s quickly review what PCOS is and what is means for us.
PCOS is fundamentally an endocrine disorder that causes a hormonal imbalance in our bodies. It is characterised by symptoms like weight gain, unwanted hair, an irregular menstrual cycle and difficulties with getting pregnant. Not really a pretty picture.
Unfortunately there is no “miracle cure” and when we are diagnosed with PCOS, we have it for life.
So, now you might be wondering what you can actually do to better manage those PCOS symptoms. And there is good news – there are things that you can do!
Research has clearly shown that dietary and lifestyle changes should be the first line in treatment of PCOS. (1)
So let’s have a look at what some of those dietary changes may involve.
The PCOS Diet – What to eat and what to avoid
Okay, so we have said that PCOS is ultimately a hormone disorder and if we are going to see any improvements in our PCOS symptoms, we need to look at how we can better manage our hormones.
One of the main ways that we can do this is by changing the way that we eat.
You see, one of the key hormones involved in PCOS is insulin. The beta cells of the pancreas are dysfunctional in women with PCOS (2). What this means is that you body tends to release too much insulin and this insulin causes your ovaries to produce too much testosterone (3).
So, if we can better manage our insulin levels, we should be able to better manage our testosterone levels and our overall PCOS symptoms.
Sounds easy, right?
Well, let’s talk about the foods that we should be including and those that we should be avoiding to better manage our PCOS.
Milk, cheese, yoghurts… We grew up hearing that calcium is crucial to our bone health and we must have dairy on a daily basis.
But do we really need all this dairy?
You see, the problem with dairy is that it contains a growth factor called IGF-1. IGF-1’s main job is to promote growth in newborn babies. Think about how much growing a baby does in its first year of life. That is largely down to IGF-1 (4).
The problem with this IGF-1 is that it also mimics insulin in our bodies. Something we do not want. Remember, the more insulin or IGF-1 we have floating around, the more testosterone we are going to be producing from our ovaries.
And that is only going to make your PCOS symptoms so much worse.
So, we need to seriously think about giving up dairy products. And yes, that does include lactose-free products (they still have IGF-1 in them, even if they don’t have lactose).
A lot of women that I work with report that they feel so much better off dairy – less bloating and their acne clears up pretty quickly after giving up dairy.
Next, let’s talk about something that we want a lot more of in our diets.
Focus on Foods with a Low Glycemic Load
You’ve probably heard of the glycemic index but you may not know about the glycemic load of foods. Glycemic load can be defined as:
Glycemic Load (or GL) combines both the quantity and quality of carbohydrates. It looks at how much your blood sugars are likely to rise after a certain meal, and therefore, how much insulin you are likely to need.
Remember, when you cause a spike in your insulin levels, you will have a knock on effect on your testosterone levels and it is more than likely going to make your PCOS worse. So, you need to make sure you are eating meals that have a low GL.
Now, you may be wondering how you go about working out the GL of meals. Well, there is a complicated formula you could use but the easiest way it to eat foods in their most natural state as possible. We’re talking about whole, unprocessed foods here.
If something that you are eating has ingredients that you can’t pronounce or comes in fancy packaging, chances are it has been processed and is likely to have a higher GL than unprocessed foods.
Okay, we have spoken about dairy and foods with a low glycemic load. Let’s move on to something else…. Gluten.
Now, before you decide that gluten is the one thing you can’t let go of, let’s talk this through.
Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat and many other grains (barley, some oats). It is what gives dough it’s stretchiness. There are a couple of things that we need to be aware of when it comes to gluten.
Firstly, the gluten found in our food is significantly more now than what was found in food even 50 years ago. You see, the wheat that we eat today has been genetically modified or cross-bred to produce higher yield. This makes it cheaper and more economical to grow, in comparison to some of the older forms of wheat.
Not only that, we also prepare our wheat differently. We used to ferment and sprout grains before cooking them. Now, we strip wheat of the bran and germ (the most nutritional part of wheat) and we’re left with the higher-carb, less nutritionally dense endosperm. That is what we use to make our breads and flours (5).
There is another problem. A huge portion of the population tend to be sensitive to gluten and there are a lot of PCOS practitioners who have found that women with PCOS are more prone to gluten sensitivity.
Now here is the thing. If you do have a gluten sensitivity, every single time you eat gluten, you are causing an inflammatory response in your body. And the problem with that is that we know that women with PCOS already struggle with chronic inflammation (7).
This inflammation can also make insulin resistance worse which will also make your general PCOS symptoms worse.
So, the bottom line is that you should seriously consider eliminating gluten. If you’re unsure, why not consider doing a gluten free challenge? Consider eliminating gluten for 30 days and see how you feel? It’s certainly not going to do any harm and you may well find that you feel much less bloated, clearer headed and that you have more energy (these are all things that I hear on a regular basis from women who have taken the gluten free challenge).
Okay, so with those three pillars of a PCOS diet in mind, let’s look at some tips to meal plan with PCOS if you aren’t a planner (this is me to a T!)
Why you should meal plan if you have PCOS
So we have spoken about what a PCOS diet looks like. Now we need to take this knowledge and start building out a pcos diet plan.
Why, you may ask?
Well, here are some reasons:
Failure to plan is planning to fail
Benjamin Franklin really did know what he was talking about when he said this. Think about it. You’ve had a busy day. Your tired. No, you’re exhausted and feel like you can’t even think straight. You’ve just gotten home and now you need to start thinking about you’re going to have for supper.
But you have no idea what fits the PCOS guidelines we’ve just spoken about. What do you do? You probably fall back on what you know. On the things that you normally eat – pasta, ready meals, anything really.
If you had done a meal plan, you would know exactly what you would be eating, you’d have the ingredients ready to go and you wouldn’t even have to think about it. And, best of all, you know that you are doing everything you can to improve your PCOS symptoms.
Meal planning will enable you to save money in so many ways.
You’ll only buy the ingredients that you need, allowing you to save money on foods that you won’t land up eating and that will just sit in the fridge until they reach their best before date (I know, I am guilty of this too).
You’ll be less likely to eat out. When you don’t have a plan and you’re exhausted, you’re going to be tempted to eat out. The thing is research has shown that eating at a restaurant or ordering take aways is FIVE times more expensive than eating the exact same meal at home.
Not only will you be saving money, you will also be saving time in a couple of ways:
You can do one trip to the grocery store. This will save you multiple trips as you rush out each day to buy food.
You can build leftovers into your meal plan. So, you could cook a bigger meal one night and eat the leftovers for lunch or dinner the next night. Time saved in the kitchen!
So, with all that being said, here are some tips to get started on your PCOS diet plan, even if you aren’t a planner.
Plan meals you love
There is no point in planning meals that you actually don’t enjoy eating. There is nothing worse than spending an age in the kitchen only to sit down to a bland meal that no one actually enjoys.
So, look at the meals that you make on a regular basis, check that they are PCOS friendly and start planning those meals first. That way you’re sure to enjoy the meals that you eat and you’ll be more likely to stick with the meal plan.