What is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and how does it affect fertility?
PCOS is a health condition that causes women to have an imbalance of reproductive hormones. This hormonal imbalance interferes with the ovaries’ function to undergo regular ovulation and menstruation, causing missed or irregular menstrual periods. As a result, the egg that should be released each month is not being released, which affects their ability to conceive.
What is considered infertility?
Infertility is defined as failure to conceive after 12 months of unprotected sex for women under 35 of age, or failure to conceive after 6 months if the woman is age 35 and up.
The important thing to know is that having PCOS does NOT mean you can’t get pregnant.
Since PCOS heavily revolves around hormones, doctors tend to start infertility workup as soon as one is ready to start trying to become pregnant. And the good news is, food and nutrition also play a huge role in boosting fertility, by improving the metabolic and reproductive factors that contribute to ovulation and egg development. And when we’re talking about food and nutrition for a PCOS diet, it is more than just about losing weight. In fact, there is no one size fits all solution that works for everyone struggling with PCOS. This post is to help you discover what your options are to create a PCOS diet for fertility that is individually tailored, and most importantly, one that works for you.
What is the PCOS diet for fertility?
Here are some components of what a PCOS diet for fertility may consist of:
- Eat more plant-based proteins.
Plant-based proteins are a great alternative to animal proteins as plants are a good source of fiber, and they also do not contain the saturated fat and cholesterol that is typically found in animal meats. Turns out, plant-based proteins also provide an additional benefit – they can increase your fertility!
Studies have shown that those who consumed more plant-based proteins had higher amounts of fertility compared to those who consumed more animal proteins.
Some great sources of plant-based proteins to incorporate into your diet include:
- Soy, tofu, tempeh, edamame
- Omega-3 Fats
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of healthy fat that can help improve inflammation, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels. Omega 3s have also been shown to improve androgen and insulin levels in PCOS, and therefore helps to improve fertility outcomes.
Some foods that are rich in omega-3s include:
- Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines
- Nuts such as walnuts and almonds
- Seeds such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds
- Plant oils such as soybean oil, flaxseed oil
And if fish, nuts, and seeds aren’t exactly your favorite foods, no worry! You can also consider taking an omega-3 fish oil supplement, especially if you are feeling that you aren’t consuming enough omega-3 in your diet alone.
- Eat your breakfast!
You heard me right, eating breakfast can help with fertility!
A study has shown that eating a high-calorie breakfast and a low-calorie dinner helped women with PCOS increase their ovulation rate. And an increase in ovulation rate means you have more chances of conceiving. Plus, having breakfast can help manage your insulin levels and give you the energy you need to start your day on the right foot.
It’s time to eat a big, yummy breakfast and get your ovulation going!
- Consider a vitamin D supplement if you are vitamin D deficient.
Many women with PCOS may also have low levels of vitamin D. You may want to speak with your doctor about your vitamin D levels to see if you are within the recommended range and whether it is necessary for you to add a vitamin D supplement to your daily regimen.
Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with reduced fertility outcomes if PCOS was the underlying cause of infertility. If your vitamin D levels are low, you will want to increase your vitamin D consumption through diet, and also spend some time under the sun if possible!
Some good sources of vitamin D include:
- Egg yolks
- Fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel
- Dairy or plant-based milks that are fortified with vitamin D
- Orange juice fortified with vitamin D
Cereals and other foods fortified with vitamin D
What about PCOS Foods To Avoid?
There are so many sources out there that claim you need to avoid this and that if you have PCOS. But if you are reading this, I am here to tell you that you don’t have to completely avoid the foods that you love. Try eating less of these foods and see if your symptoms and fertility outcomes improve.
- Eat less animal meat.
As mentioned above for what is in a PCOS diet for fertility, those who consumed more
plant-based proteins were found to have higher amounts of fertility. So, try cutting down on animal meats by substituting them with a plant-based protein!
There are also quite a few plant-based products in the market that are meant to replicate meats. If you really enjoy the flavor and texture of animal meat, try out some vegan or vegetarian “meats” such as veggie burger patties, soy chicken, or some meatless ground beef. Honestly, some of these products look and taste exactly like meat, you’ll forget that they are even a plant-based product!
- Eat less high glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates.
First of all, what are high glycemic index carbohydrates?
High GI carbohydrates are carbohydrates that are quickly digested and absorbed in our bodies, which causes a rapid spike in blood sugar. There are high GI carbohydrates and low GI carbohydrates. Low GI carbohydrates are digested and absorbed by the body much slower, so they cause a slower and smaller rise in blood sugar levels.
Women who consumed the highest GI carbohydrates in their diet had more ovulatory infertility. This means we want to limit our intake of high GI carbohydrates to improve fertility outcomes.
Some examples of high glycemic index carbohydrates include:
- Starchy vegetables like potatoes, French fries, squash
- White rice
- White bread
- Sugary breakfast cereals
- Instant oatmeal
- Overripe bananas
- Processed foods such as cakes, cookies, and other sweet treats
Low glycemic index carbohydrates that you’ll want to focus on instead include:
- Non-starchy vegetables: spinach, cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, peppers
- Whole grains: barley, rye, bulgur
- All Bran breakfast cereals
- Steel-cut oats (not instant)
- Low GI fruits: apples, cherries, strawberries, blueberries
Now remember, this is absolutely not a “PCOS diet” with a list of PCOS foods to avoid! This is just a list of some foods that you want to consider having less of, along with what foods and nutrients you want to focus more on. If you are really having a sweet tooth for dessert tonight, go for it. But ask yourself some of these questions:
- How much of it are you eating? Maybe you can cut down half a serving and share it
with someone, or just save it for next time!
- How often are you eating it? If you find yourself eating one of the “eat less” foods often, try finding a way to cut back to having it once a day, every other day, or once a
- Can you substitute it with something else? Try out some new recipes and get creative with some healthier alternatives, like swapping out animal meat for tofu, or white bread for whole grains.
- How does your body feel after eating it? Are you showing any signs or symptoms as a result? Maybe having one whole banana causes your blood sugar to rise too quickly, but half a banana seems to be good. Paying attention to how you feel after eating will help you understand how your body reacts to certain foods.
Hopefully this helped break down how food and nutrition can help with fertility!