Since being diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome, a disorder characterized by cyst-growing ovaries that affects one in every 10 women), I have experienced just about every symptom associated with the health problem: irregular periods, pervasive acne, weight gain especially in the midsection, depression, hirsutism (aka facial hair) and hair loss on my scalp.
Researchers are unsure what causes it, but it may be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. There is no cure for PCOS, so those afflicted with it spend their lives trying to mitigate its symptoms. For me, it has been a balance between regular exercise and a diet nicknamed “keto,” that’s been found to aid hormone regulation in women suffering from PCOS.
The Ketogenic diet, more commonly referred to as “keto,” were initially praised for their weight loss benefits—even for those not diagnosed with PCOS. Despite keto’s reliance on a high protein, high fat, and low-carb intake, it has been shown to burn more energy and store less fat than a traditional diet.
Keto and PCOS
A keto diet puts the body in a state of “ketosis,” working from the inside out. With its emphasis on low- to no carb intake, the body ultimately won’t store as many carbs in fat cells; instead, it burns the other foods you eat for energy (this state of being is referred to as ketosis). Ketosis helps manage how hard the pancreas has to work (decided by how many carbs, of the potato or sugar kind, you put into your body) and how much insulin is released into your blood.
Keto diets lessen the symptoms of PCOS by reducing insulin spikes, which in turn reduce acne, inflammation, and testosterone in women with. Duke University and State University of New York have proven that keto diets can improve mental clarity, as well as skin, hair, nails; curb food cravings; increase energy levels; lower cholesterol; and reduce the risk of heart disease.
What to Eat
A healthy keto diet cuts carbs down to 20 – 30 grams a day (this is ideal for lowering insulin levels). Remember: the fewer carbs you’re taking in, the faster you’ll enter ketosis and the longer you can remain in it. So, stay away from refined carbs (breads, rice, cereal), sugars (table sugar, honey, maple syrup) starchy foods (beans and potatoes), and almost all fruits (avocados and some berries are allowed in small servings).
Ketogenic Meal Site, ruled.me, recommends a diet consisting of “70% fats, 25% protein, and 5% carbohydrates.” Their list of good foods for your keto menu include: meats, leafy greens, above ground vegetables (sorry, no sweet potatoes), high-fat dairy, nuts and seeds, avocados, berries, sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit, and fats like coconut oil.
Tips to Remember
- Beware hidden carbs! These can pop up in places like smoothies (fruit sugars), specialty coffee drinks (milk and sugar), salad dressings, and sauces. When in doubt, check the label.
- Drink lots of water. It’s best to have a gallon a day.
- Don’t fret the fat. If you haven’t noticed, the ketogenic diet is 70% fats. They are your main source of energy. Good fats can be found in red meat, butter, eggs, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, and salmon.
- All protein is not good protein. A lot of bad stuff hides in some proteins. Whey protein, for example, can take you out of ketosis as fast as a bowl of cereal. If you’re the type who drinks protein shakes, refrain from whey protein powders. Drink milk? Try switching to almond milk.
- Keep away from “bad snacks.” Did you know there are quite a few high-carb nuts? These include chestnuts, cashews, pistachios, and peanuts.