NOTE: All the Weck jars in this post were kindly provided by MCM Emballages! Thanks!
IMPORTANT NOTE: this is my personal experience and, even though all people with PCOS I know had a very similar experience, I’m sure that WHAT WORKS FOR ME MIGHT NOT WORK FOR EVERYONE IN THE SAME WAY. Please refer to a specialist if your diet is not making you feel better.
Last year, I posted some Breakfast Recipes and shared my story about PCOS. I was amazed at your response, so I decided to keep up the posts about eating for PCOS, as it is quite a common disease and I am surprised that there is so little information about it. For those of you who do not know, PCOS stands for polycystic ovarian syndrome, and it is a kind of endocrine disease which causes the follicles in the ovaries that are responsible for hormone release and balance to grow and go crazy. This hormonal imbalance causes symptoms like: hair loss, body hair growth, depression, panic attacks, mood swings, insulin resistance, headaches, acne, high cholesterol levels, amenorrhoea and, worst case scenario, it might cause diabetes and infertility. You could get all these symptoms at once, or just one or two. they usually start at 15, and usually gets better as a woman gets older or has kids. When it started for me I was 15, and the disease has evolved a lot throughout the years. It got much, much better, thanks to a healthy lifestyle and some attention for details. Let me sum up my current situation: 3 years ago I started transitioning into a vegetarian and healthy diet. For these past three years, I’ve been on the pill for about 4 months per year. With optimal nutrition, during the 8 month hiatus I get about 3 spontaneous periods, which is a HUGE deal since I used to not get a period at all! During this timespan, I am also feeling very well, with no mood swings or other PCOS symptoms of any sort, I feel very energized every day and I keep a steady weight of 112-115 lbs at 5’3″. For some reason, when fall comes my hair starts falling off again, so I get on the pill to stop it and then the cycle begins anew. I feel SO blessed that september hair loss is the only symptom I get! But it wasn’t always like this and I believe that diet and sport is helping a lot. I also used to have insanely high cholesterol levels – both good and bad, but now I am just slightly above the limit with a prevalence of good cholesterol. These tips are a collection of what I learned throughout these years of research and experiments, and this granola is a great addition to your diet – just measure up about 1 oz of it and don’t go over that amount. though the tips might not be valid for everyone, I can assure you that they are valid for most people not only with PCOS, but for people with endocrine issues of all sorts (people with malfunctioning thyroids, listen up!).
1. WATCH CARBS, GLUTEN & GLYCEMIC INDEX I wish like crazy that I could be a high-carb vegan, but unfortunately that would totally wreck my system. After some experimenting, I came to the conclusion that a high protein, high fat diet is best for PCOS, and my conclusion is backed by several studies. I am really, reeeeally lucky that I am not insulin resistant, but I am sensitive to white/processed carbs and if you are desperately trying to lose weight and can’t no matter what you do, you should probably start reconsidering your carb intake. You want to stick to a low glycemic index diet: glycemic index (GI) is a scale that determines how certain foods act on glucose levels in your blood, and you want that number to be low. Ideally, you should choose foods that do not go above 60. Here is a chart with glycemic index numbers for most common foods. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have anything above that – you can still include raisins and dried fruit to your oatmeal, just make sure it’s not a ton. Let me review each kind of carb in more detail:
- WHITE CARBS (BREAD, PASTA, CEREAL…): processed and refined carbs are probably the worst things you can feed your body: they cause your blood sugar levels to spike, therefore causing lethargy, water retention, hindered fat burning and intestine inflammation. If you are insulin resistant, all white carbs are to be checked off your list. Trust me, once you switch to whole grains, you’ll wonder how you could have spent your life eating white carbs. The rule of thumbs to follow is that the higher the fiber amount, the lower the glycemic index. Therefore, choose: rye bread, spelt and whole wheat pasta, chickpea, rye, spelt, oat and any stone-milled flours, oats and rye flakes, sweet potatoes (instead of white potatoes), bran flakes, farro and spelt, barley, red, black and wild rice. Make sure these foods are organic and high quality.
- FRUIT: I eat fruit every morning. Every healthy diet should include fruit, which, along with veggies, really packs a long list of vitamins and minerals. But you should be wary that not all fruit is created equal, and that it does contain sugar. This table sums up the sugar content in each fruit, including dried. I personally consume about 150-200g (5-7oz) fruit per day, and up to 250g (9 oz) if it’s training day. If you choose fruit that is low in sugar eat a little more, if you choose fruit that is high in sugar eat a little less. I also include some dried fruit everyday: I eat cranberries, goji and blackberries everyday, which are the lowest in sugar. Always following the rule that the highest the fiber, the lower the glycemic index, fruit that is very high in fiber is good to eat even if it has more sugar than other – this is why dates can be a part of a healthy diet even though they are really high in sugar. Just use moderation.
- LEGUMES: The world of legumes is vast, and they should all be a part of a healthy diet. They are super high in fiber and protein, they are quite low in carbs and have a low GI. Some legumes might not be the best for PCOS though, like beans. There seems to be a lot of controversial studies about this subject, so I say: if they make you feel good, eat them. If not, don’t. I personally have a strong preference for lentils, chickpeas and split legumes, while my body seems to naturally avoid beans and peanuts. Listen to your body and you’ll be fine. More on soy later.
- GLUTEN FREE CARBS: If you find that you’re better off without gluten, you might decide to resort to gluten-free prepackaged products like bread and pasta. WRONG!! These products are usually made with lots of starches and thickeners and, on top of that, they are expensive. Starches have a really high GI, and should be used in moderation. Choose natural options instead: buckwheat, millet, brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, sweet potatoes and all the flours made with these things, as well as chickpea flour, chestnut flour, and nut flours. Check: Earthsprout’s guide to gluten-free grains.
- SWEETENERS: I do use one or two teaspoons of honey per day (usually just one). Maple syrup, coconut sugar and small amounts of virgin Muscovado sugar are also great options.
Also: remember that ‘low carb’ doesn’t mean ‘no carb’! Please don’t make this mistake.
2. RAISE YOUR PROTEIN INTAKE Let me just point something out as a vegetarian with PCOS: I’d be lying to you if I said that having salmon and rye bread for breakfast would be bad for you. I’d be lying because a big breakfast that is high in protein and healthy fat is the best thing you can possibly do for PCOS. So, if you’re not vegetarian, problem solved. But I am writing this for vegetarians, so always keep in mind that your breakfasts should always contain a decent amount of protein. Protein keeps you full and won’t spike your blood sugar levels and, combined with healthy fat, it will get your metabolism going. Eggs and small amounts of goat and sheep’s dairy are great for both sweet and savory breakfasts, and you can have them any way accompanied by some fruit or lots of veggies. For savory breakfasts, legumes and veggies do the trick. Always include some nuts – especially almonds and a little walnuts, and seeds like sesame seeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds which have TONS of protein and great fats (more on fats later).
3. KEEP DAIRY TO A MINIMUM Unfortunately, dairy is highly inflammatory for a body with PCOS – or, more specifically, A1 Casein is. A1 Casein is present in all cow dairy and, when digested, it breaks down into Casomorphin, which interferes with the process of releasing hormones for ovulation. Sheep and goat dairy contain a different kind of casein, which is not as bad. This article explains the whole issue thoroughly and I highly recommend you read it. Even though there are recipes on this blog that contain dairy, I personally have fresh sheep ricotta produced by a local farmer about once a month, some very occasional feta, as well as organic, artisanal gelato once a month (a little more often in the summer, but I go for fruit gelato as well!).
4. WATCH OUT FOR SOY The isoflavones in soy can help with many forms of cancer, but they also affect hormone release and, in the long term, could have a negative effect on ovaries with PCOS. Unfermented soy also contains high amounts of phytic and oxalic acids, which could interfere with calcium absorption. I personally do not eat any soy, mostly because I don’t like it. I had the chance of trying amazing fresh soy products at some japanese restaurant, but that is not the case anymore. Fermented soy products like miso, tamari and tempeh are, on the other hand, quite beneficial. The fermentation process takes out most of the negative substances in soy, and could even ease menopause symptoms. For the rest, unless you have the lucky chance of sourcing your organic tofu straight from a small local producer who has a shop in the back of a forest in Japan, I’d say you’re better off without it.
5. ADD THOSE HEALTHY FATS Healthy fats are a MUST for balancing hormones! You’ll want to make sure you have a balanced intake of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, as a surplus of Omega-6 can be inflammatory for the body. Avocado, coconut milk and extra virgin olive oil are the best fats you can consume for PCOS, as they are the most balanced. Nuts (especially macadamias, walnuts, and almonds), seeds and other cold-pressed organic oils should be present in your everyday meals in smaller quantities. Some people contacted me to tell me how beneficial coconut fat has been for their health, and I personally love it and use it. Seeds tend to be higher in Omega-6 than other fats, but they have so many great nutritional properties that they should not be cut out of your diet. I personally eat about about 1 oz. of nuts and seeds per day – of which 70% are nuts, and that is a great amount to get the health benefits without overdoing it. I also have about a teaspoon of chia seeds per day with my breakfast (I’d have more, but I tried having a whole tbsp once and my intestine didn’t appreciate it). Sunflower seeds are the highest in Omega-6, so if you love nut butters it’s best to choose almond butter over sun butter.
6. HELPFUL SUPPLEMENTS If you eat a balanced and varied diet you will probably not need any. Still, if you feel like you could use some supplements, you should consider: Omega-3 (there are vegetarian ones on sale), nutritional yeast (sprinkle some on your soup! or get the capsules), and supplements that contain Inulin, Inositol, Vitamins of the B group like tiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), biotin (B8) and Folic acid. All these substances are usually packed into supplements for hair and nail health, as well as in egg yolks (if you eat eggs, don’t even think of discarding the yolk). All superfoods are great.
7. THINK BEYOND NUTRITION Of course, keeping active is a must. What worked best for me was heavy weightlifting, especially compound lifts like squats, deadlift, bench presses and rows. No, you won’t become huge – it would take several supplements for a woman to get big with weightlifting, as well as a diet that is far from vegetarian. Complementing weightlifting (or functional training, or Crossfit) with a weekly run or long bike ride would make the perfect scenario. Anything you do to move your booty will help you greatly. Also, make sure you get a good night’s sleep and have a regular sleep cycle. Sleeping problems are one of the many things that could come with PCOS, and you’ll immediately know you’re feeling better when you’ll also have no trouble sleeping.
AND LASTLY, SOME EXAMPLES! At this point you’ll probably be left with: so what the heck am I supposed to eat?! Worry not – there are tons of options, and all delicious and healthy! Let me show you some, both from me and from some blogger friends.
A 3 Grain Breakfast Blend by Edible Perspective that is gluten-free (all her breakfasts are amazing).
Coconut Yogurt with Fruit Swirl by Gena Hamshaw – gotta love this girl.
Creamy Green Smoothie by Belén Amaro, who has other great recipes on her blog.
Anything by Green Kitchen Stories, but especially this Gingerbread Smoothie.
Make your own almond milk! (and other simple breakfast additions).
Budwig Cream is a healthy, creamy breakfast made with seeds, by my friend Valentina.
This Green Shakshuka with Smoky Socca stuffs so much awesome in a single pan.
Again by Dolly & Oatmeal, this Miso Tahini Avocado Toast (I’d make it with a thin slice of rye sourdough)
Rye Crepes! To be stuffed with fruit, or in the same fashion as these Skinny Omelettes.
Eggs en cocotte with Chanterelles!
My Vegetable Muffins are gluten-free (and can be frozen for convenience).
Jamie Oliver knows his Frittatas (maybe leave out the parmesan).
If you have tips, advice, questions, or any other things that you’d like me to talk more in-depth about, please let me know! And please please please don’t be afraid to leave a comment and share anything you might have to say about this. Let’s share some more info on this pesky disease. And now, on to today’s recipe!
This gluten-free granola was inspired both by Dolly & Oatmeal’s and Dagmar’s Kitchen’s. Both recipes are way better than mine, but I made this granola so that it suits my needs and tastes better. I indicate 2-3 tbsp of sweetener in the recipe for a tastier result, but I usually use just 1 tbsp of honey and add a tbsp of rose or orange water. I love the nutty taste of this granola, even if it is not very sweet. I dried berries with extremely high antioxidant properties (goji, cranberries, aronia, rose hips) , but you can of course customize it in any way you want. I know this is nothing special, but of all the ones I tried, this rose granola is my favorite and, now that spring is coming, it seems quite appropriate!
- 1 cup almonds
- ½ cup walnut halves
- ½ cup hazelnuts (or Macadamias)
- ½ cup quinoa, well rinsed
- ¼ cup hemp hearts
- ¼ cup chia seeds
- EXTRA: ¼ cup sunflower and pumpkin seeds
- 1 heaped tsp apple pie spice mix, pain d'épice spice mix, or cinnamon
- A pinch of salt
- 3 tbsp coconut oil
- 2-3 heaping tbsp honey or maple syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp of rose water (orange blossom water is delicious too!)
- FOR TOPPING: ¾ cup mixed berries like goji, cranberries, blueberries, and rose hips
- OR ½ cup or more coconut shavings and finely chopped extra dark chocolate
- First, add your nuts to a blender or food processor, and process for just a few seconds as to obtain a mix of pulverized and chopped nuts. Scrape them into a bowl, and add the rinsed quinoa, hemp hearts, all the seeds, salt and spices. Mix well.
- Preheat the oven to 320 Fº
- Combine the coconut oil, the vanilla and the sweetener, and heat them up to melt the oil and loosen up the honey. If you used 3 tbsp of sweetener, you might not need any water. I usually add a teaspoon of water or two to loosen up the mixture and not overload the granola. Pour it over the dry mix and mix well to get all the ingredients wet. Spread the mixture over a tray lined with baking paper, making an even layer. You can pinch some of the mixture together with you hands to help create more clumps.
- Put it in the oven and turn the temperature down to 300 Fº. Bake for about 20 minutes before checking how your granola is doing. At this point, I usually break it up with a spoon, bringing the granola on the edges towards the center of the tray, and vice-versa. If you like it clumpier, simply turn the tray around.
- Let it bake for 10 more minutes, keeping a close eye on it.
- Once it looks golden and toasty (and your kitchen will smell amazing), take it out and let it cool. Mix in your toppings of choice, and store it in a clean jar.
A special thanks to my precious Enrico for being such a great helper/human!