March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Five percent to 10 percent of young women have a hormonal disorder called polycystic ovarian syndrome. Women with PCOS often have insulin resistance (the body does not use insulin well), resulting in too much insulin in the body. Excess insulin has been related to an increase in production of androgen, a male hormone made in fat cells, ovaries and adrenal glands.
PCOS tends to run in families, but the exact cause is not known. Symptoms include:
- Infrequent menstrual periods, no menstrual periods and/or irregular bleeding
- Infertility because of lack of ovulation
- Increased hair growth on the face, chest, stomach, back, thumbs or toes
- Acne, oily skin and dandruff
- Weight gain, especially around the mid-section
- Insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes
- High cholesterol and/or blood pressure
- Thinning hair on head
- Pelvic pain
- Depression due to appearance and/or infertility
If you are having symptoms you believe to be related to PCOS, see your physician.
Diet and PCOS
Research has shown changing eating habits and getting more exercise helps to manage PCOS.
Moderate weight loss (5-10 percent of total body weight) can help normalize menstrual cycles, regulate blood sugar and increase a woman’s chances of conceiving a baby. Eating more whole-grain foods, fruits, vegetables, lean meats and low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese or yogurt can help lower your blood sugar, improve your body’s use of insulin and normalize hormone levels.
A healthy eating plan for women with PCOS includes:
- Four to five meals or snacksevery day, including breakfast. Don’t skip meals.
- A variety of foods from all the MyPlate food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy. Moderate portions of healthy fats, like olive and canola oils, walnuts, almonds and avocados.
- Protein in all meals and snacks. Try nut butters, lean meats, fish, chicken, turkey and low-fat dairy products with all meals and snacks.
- Healthy beverages such as water, low-fat or fat-free milk or soy beverage or 100 percent fruit juice.
Physical Activity and PCOS
Regular exercise can help alleviate symptoms of PCOS. Get moving with at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity most days of the week. (For weight loss, additional physical activity may be needed.) Increase muscle mass with strength-training exercises at least two times a week.