Our dietary friends in the management of PCOS
Protein, and fats, most of them, are incredible compounds that help slow down the absorption of carbohydrates, which, as you’re well aware, tend to cause many challenges in our PCOS bodies. These particular compounds are what help in decreasing the overall effect that our meals have on our blood sugar levels and are VERY crucial for maintaining proper functioning in our bodies as well as keeping our blood glucose levels stable. Let me share with you exactly how these can help you with managing your PCOS!
What's so important about protein and fats, and what does this mean for PCOS?
I touched briefly on this within the carbohydrates education section, however, we will be going into more detail here. Let’s begin! Our food is made up of macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are needed by the body in large amounts, hence macro, and micronutrients are needed by the body in small amounts, hence micro. I will be focusing on macronutrients here and the 3 macronutrients our bodies require are carbohydrates, protein and fat. As I already discussed, we struggle with our processing of carbohydrates, however, protein and fat can help buffer that flawed process.
PROTEIN – protein, by itself, is crucial for maintaining the structure of our muscle, brain, nervous system, hair, blood and skin. It’s also a major player in the transportation of vitamins, minerals, fats, and oxygen and it helps in forming antibodies that are used to fight infections and are catalysts in certain chemical processes within our bodies (Digate Muth, 2013). Obviously, these structures and processes are crucial for every BODY. Protein can be found in:
- Animal flesh such as,
- Poultry-chicken and turkey
- Beans and lentils, however, cannot be eaten alone due to their high-carbohydrate content
- Dairy, however is not the best choice for hormonal balance with PCOS
- Soy, however is also not the best choice for hormonal balance with PCOS
Now, when it comes to digestion, it can take anywhere from 1 to 4 hours for a body to break down protein consumed in which digestion begins in the stomach. Carbohydrates take dramatically less time, anywhere from 10-30 minutes depending on the type of carbohydrate, simple or complex, to digest in your small intestine and they are fast-tracked to the muscles and liver for distribution and storage, while the body breaks down proteins much slower (Digate Muth, 2013). This is a HUGE benefit for PCOS! Why, you may ask? You see, the quicker your small intestine can get its hands on carbohydrates, the quicker it’s going to digest it and spike your glucose levels, therefore when you consume both protein and carbohydrates together, it will take longer for your small intestine to receive the carbohydrates because the protein is taking its sweet time beginning digestion in the stomach. Because of this, our bodies will have a slow and steady gentle increase and plateau in our glucose levels, which in turn reduces the amount of insulin being produced, which leads to less excess glucose in our blood stream and less synthesis of androgens. The same is true for fat!
FAT – Fats are truly amazing compounds. Although they are the most energy dense of all the macronutrients so you must eat them in moderation, they are responsible “insulation, cell structure, nerve transmission, vitamin absorption and hormone production” (Digate Muth, 2013). Fats actually make up the cellular membrane of every cell in our body. What a critical role! There are a few types of fats:
- Unsaturated – are recommended to be the fat category from which you intake most of your fat
- Polyunsaturated – includes essential fatty acids like omega-3s and include nuts, seeds, cold-water fish (they must stay warm in cold water so tend to be fatty) and leafy greens such as spinach
- Monounsaturated – includes canola oil, olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds. These have been known to increase your HDL (good cholesterol) when consumed
- Saturated – can be consumed in moderation. These are found within animal-based products such as meats and dairy. Coconut oil is high in saturated fat, however, it contains a particular type of saturated fat referred to as Lauric acid, which is phenomenal for our health. It also contains a triglyceride (fat) chain called MCT (medium-chained triglycerides) that are immediately fast-tracked to the liver and used as energy, rather than being stored. This is why coconut oil is not the typical saturated fat.
- Trans – these are lab-created fats that are detrimental to our health. These are primarily found in processed foods such as baked goods and things that come out of boxes, bags or cans. Avoid these at all costs.
Due to their very large structures, fats take a considerable amount of time to digest. Due to this, just as in the case of protein, when eaten with a carbohydrate-rich food, it slowly increases the glucose level which in turn reduces the amount of insulin being produced, which leads to less excess glucose in our blood stream and less synthesis of androgens. This is exactly what we need to achieve balance!
Take home message-Knowledge IS Power
Not only are protein and fats crucial for our body to function, they possess the remarkable ability to slow down the absorption of carbohydrate rich foods when eaten together. A good example of this would be an apple and peanut butter, or brown rice with chicken. As I mentioned, this leads to the secretion of less insulin due to a slow and steady glucose spike which, in turn, produces less androgens. Anything that can decrease the amount of androgens surging throughout our bodies is a WIN for PCOS! Ensure that you take full advantage of the benefits of fats and protein to keep your PCOS in balance!
Digate Muth, N. (2013). ACE Health Coach Manual: Basic Nutrition and Digestion. San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise.