By Amy Medling, founder of PCOS Diva
Balanced blood sugar is an issue for most everyone with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) whether they are lean, obese, or anywhere in between. This imbalance in blood sugar results in many of our most common symptoms. Fortunately, a diet which incorporates lean proteins, a variety of vegetables, fiber, whole grains, and healthy fats can go a long way to balancing blood sugar naturally. In fact, certain foods can give your body extra support in keeping blood sugar balanced and symptoms at bay.
Many with PCOS have blood sugar imbalances which lead to insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone secreted by our pancreas. Its purpose is to take the glucose (sugar) from the carbohydrates you eat and use it for energy or store it for future use in the muscles, fat, and liver. This storage reduces the amount of glucose in the blood which signals the body to slow insulin production.
Insulin’s main function is to keep your blood sugar levels from getting too high. Insulin is also responsible for regulating carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism, as well as promoting healthy cell growth. When this hormone is out of whack, it can increase the risk of gestational diabetes, as well as produce symptoms like weight gain, anxiety, brain fog, and fatigue. Insulin plays a critical role in many functions of the body, so anything that makes it less effective will cause negative effects on our health. One of the most common “insulin issues” is insulin resistance (IR), a vicious cycle those of us with PCOS know all too well. For more about insulin resistance, read, “PCOS Basics: Insulin & Insulin Resistance.”
Glycemic Index vs. Glycemic Load
The glycemic index ranks foods by how likely they are to affect your blood sugar levels. Anything lower than 55 is considered to have a low glycemic load. 56-69 is medium, and 70+ is high. For example, cherries have a low glycemic index of 7 while your average slice of white bread has an index of 100. The glycemic index is a good initial guide, but it does not consider how much of a food you may eat. For this reason, the glycemic load is used. For example, watermelon has a high glycemic index of 80, but since it has very few digestible carbohydrates per serving, you would need to eat a huge amount to raise your blood sugar, so its glycemic load is a 5 on the scale[i]. You will find foods like beans to be considered in the same way.
Using Foods to Help Control Your Blood Sugar
Diet can play an important role in managing blood sugar. This is far from a complete list of foods which can help, but it’s a good place to start. For more about developing a PCOS-friendly diet that works for you, visit PCOSDiva.com or download my Seasonal Meal Plans.
4 Foods to Balance Blood Sugar
Berries such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, currants, and cranberries are packed with immune boosting, cancer-preventing, heart-protecting, obesity-preventing antioxidant components, including specific polyphenols, flavonoids, and other phytocomponents that fight inflammation and disease. Researchers are learning that phytonutrients in raspberries may prevent obesity and fatty liver by regulating certain enzymes. Importantly, berries are high in fiber which helps control blood sugar. They also have a low glycemic index, so they are not likely to spike your blood sugar. In fact, studies show that people with Type 2 diabetes who ate three servings of berries and other low-glycemic fruits had improvements in their HbA1c levels.
Technically a type of fruit known as a drupe, avocados are often misunderstood and overlooked as a nutritional superfood due to their high concentration of saturated fat. Fear not, PCOS Divas! Their low-carb, high fiber ratio is terrific for maintaining blood sugar levels. Avocados are also packed with vitamins, minerals, and heart healthy fatty acids that help quell systemic inflammation, promote healthy endocrine and immune system function, and make your skin glow! Adding an avocado per day to an already well-balanced diet has been shown to lower risk of heart disease, lower LDL cholesterol, and reduce oxidative stress. Tip: Use avocado oil for sautéing vegetables and lean protein. It has a high smoke point, so it won’t be damaged by the heat, tastes great, and has a superior fatty acid profile, high antioxidant content, and contains cholesterol-blocking phytosterols. Check out my perfect guacamole recipe!
Nuts & Seeds
Brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, macadamia nuts, flax, chia, and hemp seeds are protein-packed powerhouses that provide an array of minerals including magnesium, calcium, and selenium. When eaten in combination with fruit or other high glycemic foods, nuts and seeds help lower the glycemic index and improve glucose-insulin. Pumpkin seeds, in particular, contain essential fatty acids (EFAs) that our bodies need. These EFAs help regulate hormone function, improve hair, skin and nails, lower insulin levels, stabilize blood sugars, and help regulate periods. These little powerhouses may also help with hirsutism, or male pattern hair growth.
Beans & Legumes
Most beans and legumes have a very low glycemic load and are not likely to raise your blood sugar. In fact, many consider beans to be the “ultimate blood sugar regulator” due to their high fiber content. Their soluble fiber prevents glucose from other foods you consume from digesting as quickly making them even more powerful. In fact, studies[ii] show that just one cup of beans or lentils each day helps to lower blood sugar levels in those with type 2 diabetes.
Next time you plan a meal or snack, try including one of these foods and notice the difference! Then, branch out into other foods which naturally help balance your blood sugar. Before you know it, you’ll be feeling energized with each meal.
Amy Medling, best-selling author of Healing PCOS and certified health coach, specializes in working with women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), who are frustrated and have lost all hope when the only solution their doctors offer is to lose weight, take a pill, and live with their symptoms. In response, Amy founded PCOS Diva and developed a proven protocol of supplements, diet, and lifestyle programs that offer women tools to help gain control of their PCOS and regain their fertility, femininity, health, and happiness.
[i] “Glycemic Index Diet: What’s behind the Claims.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 25 Aug. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/glycemic-index-diet/art-20048478.
[ii] Jenkins DJA, Kendall CWC, Augustin LSA, et al. Effect of Legumes as Part of a Low Glycemic Index Diet on Glycemic Control and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(21):1653–1660. doi:10.1001/2013.jamainternmed.70