For Latinas with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), learning how to manage PCOS can be challenging.
Not only is PCOS more severe for us Latinas, but we may also be at higher risk for PCOS in the first place. Despite this, most nutrition resources about PCOS are not built for us.
Most PCOS nutrition information ignores our cultural foods, and creates fear around starchy staple foods like tortillas or rice. This can make Latinas feel like it’s more difficult for them to manage their PCOS.
But the truth is managing PCOS can be simple, and it can be inclusive of our Latin American food culture. As a dietitian with PCOS myself, I like to teach other Latinas how Latin American cultural foods can help manage this condition.
If you’ve found yourself wondering how to manage PCOS when you’re Latina, here are 8 things you need to know:
1. PCOS Symptoms May be More Severe in Latina Women
Not every person with PCOS will have all of the symptoms associated with PCOS. However, Latina women with PCOS are more likely to report hirsutism (excess hair growth), high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance than non-Latina women with PCOS (1).
2. It’s not your fault
3. PCOS can increase your risk for other chronic conditions
Many people with PCOS are told not to worry about it until they’re ready to get pregnant. This is such a disservice to the patient!
In addition to the discomfort and stigma associated with common PCOS symptoms, people with PCOS are at higher risk for Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.
You deserve to feel better and improve your PCOS, regardless of your reproductive plans.
4. Most PCOS nutrition advice is not designed with Latin American food in mind
Fad diets aside, even the solid evidence-based nutrition advice for PCOS may not translate well to Latin American diets. A popular example is the Plate method, which advises eaters to fill half their plate with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter with protein, and a quarter with carbs.
Don’t get me wrong, the Plate method is an overall healthy eating pattern. If it makes sense for you to eat this way, that’s great! But, it might be hard to see how to do that when eating Latin American food.
Latin American food features mixed dishes a lot like soups, stews, and bean dishes, as well as sauces and garnishes (like salsa and mole) that are not accounted for in the Plate method. This makes the visual division of the plate into sections less applicable to Latin American foods.
5. You don’t have to stop eating tortillas or rice
Because insulin resistance and PCOS often go hand in hand, people often assume you have to cut out carbs to manage PCOS. While some changes to carbohydrate intake can help manage PCOS, there is still space in a PCOS-friendly diet for carbs.
Some of your favorite foods are exactly those high fiber, low glycemic carbs that can be so beneficial. Corn tortillas have fiber and resistant starch.
And don’t forget that in Latin American culture we eat rice and beans together. Adding beans to white rice can lower the impact on blood sugar compared to rice alone (#).
6. Some of your cultural faves are REALLY good for PCOS.
Some of the most important nutrients for PCOS are unsaturated fats and fiber (6).
And it just so happens that some of our Latin American staples, are great sources of these nutrients.
Avocados are a great source of anti-inflammatory unsaturated fats (7). Fats can help you feel full and manage those PCOS cravings (8). Unsaturated fats, in particular, are heart-healthy (9). This is important because women with PCOS are at higher risk for heart disease.
Avocado and beans are both excellent sources of fiber (10, 11). High fiber foods can be helpful in PCOS because they improve insulin sensitivity and help you feel full.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg! Our cultural foods are full of health-promoting fruits and vegetables.
7. Nutrition can help manage PCOS, but PCOS can make nutrition more difficult
One of the great frustrations of having PCOS is being told just to eat less, when PCOS increases your appetite and makes it harder to feel full!
Regardless of whether or not you want to lose weight, it’s true that nutrition can help improve symptoms. A diet high in protein, fiber, plant-foods, and unsaturated fats may be associated with improved inflammation and testosterone levels in people with PCOS, regardless of weight (12).
But it’s sometimes easier said than done. PCOS can disrupt your appetite, making you feel hungrier more quickly after a meal (13).
Plus, people with PCOS face a lot of pressure to lose weight. The history of restriction and dietiting may be another reason why women with PCOS face higher rates of binge eating (14).
This is why one of the best things you can do for PCOS is eat consistent, regular meals with a balance of different food groups.
8. You don’t have to do it alone.
So many Latinas with PCOS feel frustrated. They’re surrounded by restrictive diet information telling them to cut everything out. They’re told to eat less, but no one seems to understand how PCOS affects appetite.
And the nutrition advice that IS good, may not work for them because it doesn’t take into account their cultural foods.
That’s why I help Latinas manage symptoms and feel better while incorporating their culture.
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