You can turbocharge your treatment by giving sugar the heave-ho, completely, for two weeks. This will give your body a fresh start and break the cycle of sugar cravings so that you don’t actually want that sugar fix. It will also cause your metabolism to shift gears to favour weight loss.
Step 1. Remove sugar
During the two-week detox strictly exclude all refined sugars (including honey, molasses, maple syrup, agave syrup, coconut nectar/sugar, rice syrup and other syrups), dried fruit, alcohol, all grains, dairy products, legumes (peas, beans and lentils), corn, banana, watermelon, and white potato.
Limit fruit to two pieces per day and stick mostly to berries, citrus, apples and kiwi fruit. During this time you will most likely get sugar cravings. The next step helps with that.
Step 2. Stabilise your blood sugar levels
What we are after is the slow and steady release of sugar into our bloodstream across the entire day. This will ensure that insulin levels don’t skyrocket, which helps reduce insulin resistance and break the PCOS cycle.
- Eat lean protein and quality fats with every meal. Unlike sugar and refined carbohydrate foods, protein and fats slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream and do not cause blood sugar spikes. Including lean protein and good fats with every meal helps ensure the slow and steady release of glucose into our bloodstream across the entire day. This maintains energy levels and limits the insulin response.
The type of fat you eat is important to avoid excess inflammation in the body – a contributor to PCOS.
Sources of good fats: avocado, raw nuts and seeds, coconut milk, coconut yoghurt, coconut oil, olive oil, fish, eggs, organic butter and ghee. Use only olive oil, coconut oil, butter or ghee for cooking and do not heat these oils to smoking point. Avoid all other refined vegetable oils. Use cold-pressed virgin olive oil as a salad dressing.
Eating mostly lean sources of protein is important for avoiding excess animal fat, which leads to inflammation.
Sources of lean protein: fish, seafood, chicken, lean beef and lamb, raw nuts (Brazil, almond, walnut, cashew, hazelnut, coconut), raw seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, flaxseed, soaked chia seed) and eggs. If you are vegetarian include legumes and brown basmati rice, quinoa, millet, farro, pearl barley, steel-cut oats and buckwheat as sources of protein.
- Eat snacks between meals. Try to eat every 2-3 hours. Aim to have a larger meal at breakfast, lunch and dinner so that you feel truly satisfied and smaller snacks in between. Including protein and good fats with snacks will help make them more satisfying – e.g. boiled eggs. This will help maintain steady blood sugar levels throughout the day and avoid you getting cravings for carbs and sugar. Eat as much as you want – don’t go hungry.
- Greens, greens, greens. Green veggies contain chromium – a mineral that enhances insulin sensitivity, thus combating insulin resistance. Aim to eat 2-3 serves of dark green veggies per day with one serve being one cup before cooking. Include a variety, choosing from spinach, rocket, endive, chicory, kale, silverbeet, chard, watercress, beet leaves, bok choy, broccoli and broccolini.For example, add a handful of rocket or spinach to any meal, make a chicken soup/minestrone with lots of green veg and eat for lunch daily, make a stir-fry, have some sautéed spinach beside eggs for breakfast, make a frittata with silverbeet or spinach, toss rocket through pasta sauce and have over zucchini noodles instead of pasta, have a big leafy salad beside meat/fish for dinner or lunch.
- More veggies and some fruit. Don’t stop at greens. Eat 3-5 more servings of other veg and 1-2 serves of fruit, with one serve being about ½ a cup. Fruit and veggies are full of fibre and antioxidants. Fibre slows the release of glucose from your meal and antioxidants help protect against inflammation. Include a variety of different colours in your diet to get the full range of antioxidants.There is plenty to choose from: berries (especially blueberries), kiwi, pomegranate, stone fruit, citrus, red capsicum, tomato, beetroot, eggplant, radicchio, celery, cucumber, green capsicum, snow peas, green beans, broad beans, peas, avocado, squash, zucchini, okra, pumpkin, sweet potato, carrot, red cabbage, green cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, wombok, witlof, bok choy, pak choy, choi sum, broccoli, asparagus, artichoke, radish, daikon, turnip, swede.The recipe books Plenty and Plenty More are a great place to start for delicious ways to cook all these veggies. You’ll be hooked before you know it.
- Spices and herbs. How to make your veggies and proteins taste good? Add loads of spices and herbs. Toss veg in ground cumin, coriander and cayenne before roasting, sprinkle lamb with dried oregano and lemon before grilling, and add loads of basil, parsley, dill, mint or coriander to salads.Add cinnamon to food as often as possible for added blood sugar control (great with coconut yoghurt and berries or in chia coconut milk pudding). Drink a chai tea or licorice and cinnamon herbal blend between meals or with a snack to curb sugar cravings.
- Plan ahead. Planning ahead is your secret weapon for success. This stops you reaching for a sugary treats or getting caught out with nothing to eat. Find recipes and write down a plan for the meals you will have each day. Write a shopping list and go out and buy everything you need.Next, have a cooking and prep day where you chop, prep, cook, and portion everything you need for the week. Freeze some meals and have ingredients prepped and ready to throw into the pot or pan. If you don’t like cooking, learn to like it or find an online meal delivery service that prepares quality food and ask them if they can cater to your needs.
Step 3. When the two weeks are up reintroduce limited carbohydrates.
Once you have completed your two-week sugar detox continue to limit sugar, refined grains and alcohol while slowly reintroducing carbohydrates that have a low-glycaemic load. Stick to these guidelines for best results:
- Limit bread to two slices per day (maximum) and choose dense, whole grain bread. Steer clear of wheat unless it is long-fermented sourdough bread, because wheat causes inflammation in the gut. Look for a bakery in your local area that uses a 24-hour fermentation process for their sourdough loaves.
- Exclude all refined grains (especially wheat and corn products) but begin to introduce selected wholegrains back into your diet. Choose from brown basmati rice, whole oats, pearly barley, farro, quinoa and buckwheat. These elicit a gentler rise to your blood sugar than refined grains and are less inflammatory.They should be gently boiled in water until cooked, not eaten in the puffed form (this is a form of refining). Occasional white rice is ok but choose basmati rice and lower the carbohydrate content by roasting it prior to cooking; stir it around in a dry pan for a few minutes (until it begins to smell nutty) before cooking as usual.
- Have no more than 1-2 standard drinks in an evening and no more than four standard drinks per week. Stick to quality red wine as this contains beneficial antioxidants.
- Include legumes in moderation if your gut tolerates them. Legumes contain carbohydrates, but they also contain protein and are rich in fibre (great for insulin resistance).Legumes are difficult to digest for some people, so they should be soaked overnight with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per cup of beans, cooked well and chewed well for best results. If they give you indigestion or make you excessively gassy, limit them (this may actually be a sign that your gut needs some healing – see a naturopath for further help).
- Introduce certain forms of dairy, if desired. After about a month of dairy free eating, you might like to try the less inflammatory types of dairy in your diet. The rule of thumb is that they should be used more like a condiment than a food. For example, sprinkle goat’s cheese on salads or have a dollop of quality, plain yoghurt on a meal. Organic is always best.
- 100% Jersey cow milk
- Heavy cream
- Sheep or goats yoghurt
- Any cheese made from goat, buffalo or sheep milk
- Also use dairy replacements such as organic coconut or almond milk. Fresh pressed is best. Always check the label and make sure they don’t contain sugar or vegetable oil.
Continue to avoid all forms of refined sugar and limit fruit to two pieces daily. Simply learn to snack on other things – e.g. boiled egg and green beans, carrot and hummus, celery and ABC (almond, brazil and cashew) butter, capsicum, snow peas and a handful of nuts, frittata, soup, chia pudding, yoghurt with berries.
A few pieces of 85% dark chocolate a few times per week or some low sugar bliss balls are ok. An occasional sugary treat (e.g. once a month) may not cause you problems, but ask yourself: do I really want this? Often times it will taste sickly sweet and you won’t even want to finish it. If making the occasional dessert at home, sweeten with about a tablespoon of honey, coconut sugar or maple syrup and the addition of fruit.
As time goes on, you will begin to know what level of sugar, dairy and grain consumption works for you. If your symptoms get worse, you will need to cut down on these. Some of us will need to exclude them all together for quite some time, but all is not lost.
As you start to look at food differently, let yourself be inspired by delicious, whole-food recipes that offer alternatives to refined carb, dairy and sugar-laden eating. Get started by checking out these recipe creators (remember the sweet recipes are occasional treats): Teresa Cutter, Nourish & Inspire Me, Nutrilious & Yotam Ottolenghi.