If you're struggling with polycystic ovary syndrome, you're not alone. As many as 1 in 10 women have the condition, according to the Office on Women's Health. Women with PCOS produce high amounts of male hormones called androgens, which affect many systems of the body. As a result, symptoms such as weight gain, acne, insulin resistance, low mood and excess hair growth occur. A restricted-carbohydrate diet may help manage some of your PCOS symptoms. First, talk it over with your health care provider, or consult a clinical nutritionist for help with an individualized meal plan that provides adequate nutrients.
How Many Carbohydrates for PCOS
Low-carb diets for PCOS are completely individualized. Typically, you can expect to consume somewhere between 20 and 150 grams of carbs per day. Your doctor may recommend a certain number and then make adjustments based on your results. Women with PCOS who restricted their carb intake to 20 grams per day for six months experienced significant improvements in weight, insulin sensitivity, triglycerides and testosterone levels, according to a study published in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism in December 2005. Researchers report that even a modest reduction in carbohydrates improves PCOS symptoms. In one study, sticking to 27 percent of calories from carbohydrates resulted in significant improvements in testosterone, cholesterol and insulin sensitivity. If you're following a diet consisting of 1,800 calories, that equals about 120 grams of carbohydrates.
Choosing Your Carb-Containing Foods
A restricted-carbohydrate diet for PCOS means choosing nutritious foods that contain a low number of carbs. To balance out your carbs and remain within your daily goal, limit the portion size of foods that are higher in carbohydrates. For example, grains are rich in carbohydrates. If you limit your serving size to 1/2 cup of cooked brown rice, you'll make out with 24 grams of net carbs, compared to 48 grams in 1 cup. Many low-carb plans use "net carbs," which are simply the total carb grams minus the grams of fiber.
When you go grocery shopping, load up on nonstarchy vegetables, protein-rich foods and lower-sugar fruits like berries, grapefruit, apples and pears. Stock up on lots of green vegetables like asparagus, bell peppers, spinach, cabbage and other leafy greens. Make steel-cut oats, muesli, soybeans, chickpeas, chia seeds, wheat bran and flaxseeds a part of your low-carb meal plan.
Making Low-Carbohydrate Meals
One of the easiest ways to get started on a low-carbohydrate diet to help ease PCOS symptoms is to use a modified version of the plate method. With the plate method you divide your plate into four equal parts and fill half with nonstarchy vegetables, a quarter with lean protein and the other quarter with a high-fiber, low- to moderate-carbohydrate food such as lentils. Because the goal is to get the bulk of your carbohydrates from nonstarchy vegetables, the plate method makes it easy for you to count carbohydrates. Divide your daily carbohydrate target evenly among your main meals and have protein-rich snacks. For example, if your doctor recommends 100 grams of carbs per day, aim to have about 25 to 30 grams with each of your main meals. Snack on foods like a container of Greek yogurt with 1/2 ounce -- about 11 whole kernels -- of almonds, for a total of about 8 net carbs. Having a similar amount of carbs with each meal helps to keep your blood sugar steady and to prevent insulin spikes.
Sample Low-Carb Menu for PCOS
Keep things simple when planning low-carbohydrate meals. Remember lean protein and nonstarchy vegetables are your go-to foods, making up 75 percent of your plate. A typical breakfast on this plan is eggs scrambled with chopped broccoli and shredded cheese, and steel-cut oats with strawberries. A lunch consisting of grilled chicken breast, asparagus, a salad and chickpeas is also suitable. Dinners on a low-carb plan for PCOS are much the same as lunches. Lean proteins such as tofu, chicken breast or salmon will make up a quarter of the plate, with a high-fiber food like soybeans making up another quarter. Load the other half of your plate with nonstarchy vegetables like zucchini, cauliflower or spinach. An example of a snack on this meal plan is 1/2 cup of cottage cheese with 1 ounce -- about 14 -- walnut halves. Sprinkle on a dash of cinnamon for some added flavor.
- WomensHealth.gov: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) Fact Sheet
- Nutrition and Metabolism: The Effects of a Low-Carbohydrate, Ketogenic Diet on the Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Pilot Study
- Clinical Endocrinology: Favourable Metabolic Effects of a Eucaloric Lower-Carbohydrate Diet in Women with PCOS
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Almonds
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Plain Yogurt
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Cottage Cheese 1 Percent Milkfat
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Walnuts
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Collard Greens
- U.S Department of Agriculture: Brown Rice
- Glycemic Index Foundation: Your Low GI Shopping List
- Indiana University Health: Carbohydrate Counting Food Lists