What you eat plays a vital role in your body function, especially the ways in which your hormones function. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine or hormonal condition. Therefore, the type of food you eat matters a lot as certain foods can affect your hormones and worsen symptoms. The good news is that Nigeria is blessed with a vast array of food options, among which are lots of healthy Nigerian foods to manage the PCOS condition.
One of the most effective ways to naturally manage PCOS apart from taking drugs like metformin to lower the level of insulin or Clomid to induce ovulation is by eating right and healthy.
Making lifestyle modifications such as eating healthy is one of the best and most natural ways to manage PCOS. Eating healthy food can help treat some of the causes as well as the symptoms of PCOS, such as obesity, high levels of insulin, high cholesterol levels and hyperthyroidism.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal condition experienced in 15% of women of reproductive age. It is a condition in which the reproductive hormones – androgen, progesterone and insulin are out of balance, causing problems with the ovaries and affecting the menstrual cycle. PCOS can affect one’s ability to conceive and bear a child.
Aside from causing infertility, most women with PCOS have features of metabolic syndromes such as obesity, high levels of insulin, insulin resistance, and high cholesterol levels, which can increase the risk of developing health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.
Causes of PCOS
The precise cause of PCOS is complicated and unclear. The following are some of the factors that could play a role:
• Hereditary predisposition
• High level of insulin
• High level of stress hormone (cortisol)
• Chronic inflammation
• Poor food choice (high glycemic index food)
• Excess androgen
Symptoms of PCOS
• Missed, irregular or prolonged menstrual periods
• Cysts on the ovaries
• Insulin resistance
• Weight gain, especially at the mid-region and difficulty losing weight.
• Excessive facial and body hair
• Thinning or balding head hair
• Skin tags
Eating Healthy for Managing PCOS
Obesity, high insulin levels, insulin resistance, and inflammation are factors that play major roles in PCOS. They increase the severity of the symptoms and worsen the complications of PCOS.
Studies have revealed that losing 5% to 10% of your body weight can help to lower insulin and androgen levels and possibly restore ovulation.
Losing weight, maintaining a healthy weight and lowering your insulin level are some of the ways to manage PCOS and reduce the risk of developing health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. One way to achieve these is by eating right and healthy.
Eating foods that are high in calories, especially foods with lots of simple sugar can make you pack a lot of weight in the abdomen. It can cause inflammation, spike your blood sugar level, increase insulin level and exacerbate insulin resistance.
On the other hand, eating the right type of food and the right quantity can help you cut down some couple of pounds, maintain a healthy weight, lower your insulin level and improve your PCOS symptoms.
Healthy Nigerian Foods for PCOS Management
Carbohydrates, protein and fat are the macronutrients contained in substantial amounts in Nigerian meals. It was once believed that fat is the major cause of obesity, but now most people are blaming carbohydrates.
It doesn’t matter which macronutrient you consume more; you will definitely gain weight and become obese when you are consuming more calories than you are expending. So, everything now comes down to how many calories you are consuming and how many you burn.
Furthermore, it is not a myth that carbs can spike your blood sugar level and increase your insulin level. But, this does not mean that carbs are bad or that you should eliminate them entirely. Carbs provide our body with energy, but refined and processed carbs such as white flours, noodles, white bread, and pastries are high in calories and can quickly increase your blood sugar level and cause inflammation.
Typical Nigerian foods consist of carbohydrate or starch like yam, potatoes, rice, garri, fufu, pap (ogi), amala, tuwo and semolina. Most of these foods are usually paired with
- Proteins foods such as beans, moin moin, akara, groundnuts
- Soups e.g. okra, egusi, pepper soup, ewedu, gbegiri (beans soup), oha soup, bitter leaf soup, groundnut soup, afang soup, black soup etc.,
- Stews and sauces
- Highly processed carbs such as pastas, noodles, soft drinks, white breads, and other pastries made with white flour
Most of these foods are healthy, while some are junk with lots of calories but low nutritional value. There is really no standard diet for managing PCOS, but one can lose weight and manage PCOS with Nigerian foods, depending on how you prepare them and the number of calories consumed.
When trying to manage PCOS with Nigerian foods, go for:
1. Nutritionally balanced meal:
Depending on the type of food and how you prepare it, eat food that basically contains carbs, protein, fat and oil, vitamins and minerals. For instance, you can eat any of the Nigerian soups with low carb swallows made with cabbage, eggplants or unripe plantain instead of garri and fufu.
You can also pair your rice with vegetable salads and fish or lean meat. This will increase the nutrients you get from your meal. Add more fibre and protein to your diet which will keep you full for a long time. Also, slow down the increase in insulin level as fibre and protein slows down the rate at which sugar is released into your blood.
2. Food with low Glycemic Index (GI):
Foods with low glycemic index are foods that are low in carbs or sugar. They can help you maintain weight. These kind of foods don’t easily spike the blood sugar level and are less likely to worsen insulin resistance. Examples of Nigerian foods with a low GI are:
• Legumes e.g. Beans and lentils
• Whole grains such as millet, wheat, oat and guinea corn
• High fibre foods, e.g., apple, oranges and grapefruit; and non-starchy vegetables, e.g. Irish potatoes, cabbages, carrots, lettuce, cucumber
• Nuts, e.g. peanuts, cashews, almonds and walnuts,
• Seeds like chia and flax seeds
• Fruits such as pawpaw and watermelon, garden eggs.
• Unprocessed, low carbohydrate foods, e.g. yam, brown rice, unripe plantain and potatoes.
3. Anti-inflammatory foods:
These foods may help reduce inflammation and symptoms related to inflammation. Such food includes
• Berries, e.g. black and blueberries
• fatty fish, e.g. mackerel, sardines, salmon, and tuna
• leafy greens such as spinach, pumpkin leaves
• Healthy fats, such as olive oil, pear, avocados, coconuts and egusi (melon)
• Poultry, e.g. skinned chicken, turkey and eggs
Other healthy PCOS foods you can also include are:
• dark chocolate (in moderation)
• spices, such as ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, and liquorice.
• low-fat dairy product, greek and unsweetened yoghurt
Cut down or eliminate highly processed foods and drinks, especially those loaded with artificial sweeteners, preservatives and saturated oil. You should also avoid drinks such as Soda, juice, ice cream and alcohol. Reduce your intake of snacks like cakes, cookies, chips and candies; pancakes; jams; corn syrup; refined carbs such as white bread, pasta, white rice and cereals as well as fried foods.
There is no one-size-fits-all diet when it comes to using diets to manage PCOS. However, we have a lot of healthy Nigerian foods options out there to choose from. Just ensure that you don’t consume more calories than what your body needs so that you don’t end up gaining more weight instead of losing the weight.
It is important to Consult your Doctor before going on any form of diet, and also, don’t stop your medication without discussing it with your doctor.