For thousands of women in India, Polycystic Ovarian Disease or PCOD is a painful, traumatic and humiliating reality. Irregular, absent or painful periods, excessive acne and facial hair growth, and mental health effects like mood swings and depression are just some of the symptoms of PCOD, which results from hormonal imbalances affecting the functioning of the ovaries.
While estimates suggest that one in three Indian women have PCOD, I have seen in my practice that taboos surrounding women’s reproductive health mean that there is little awareness around this condition. What’s most troubling about this is that so few women are aware of the everyday changes that could help manage the severity of this condition.
While the exact causes of PCOD are not known, elements like diet, body weight and stress play a key role in how this condition manifests in women. The three corners which need to be tackled for PCOD are unhealthy eating habits, lack of exercise and high stress levels.
The role of diet
Diet plays a major role in the onset and severity of PCOD, because insulin resistance is one of the major contributing factors in this condition. In insulin resistance, the cells of the body cannot properly utilize insulin, which impacts the body’s ability to process sugars.
Unfortunately, the variety and nutritional value of our meals have suffered. The average plate of food should consist of one cup of grains, one cup of protein, and a double portion of vegetables. However, most women fall short on proteins and the variety of micronutrients coming from vegetables.
One constant refrain I hear from patients is, “I don’t like vegetables”, or that “proteins are difficult to cook.” Many others only like one or two vegetables. As a result, people often forsake healthier vegetable options like gourds, which are packed with nutrients but add far less calories.
While meat can be difficult to cook for some, cooking dals – rich vegetarian sources of proteins – is actually pretty easy. Women must make it habit to have enough protein in every meal they have.
Variety is disappearing
The biodiversity of our country is fantastic, offering so many options besides starchy vegetables like potato. However, recent surveys have found that the number and variety of vegetables bought by people is steadily declining.
Research has also found that Indians are eating less protein than they did 25 years ago. Indeed, 73% of the urban rich are protein deficient, and 93% of them are unaware of their protein needs. Protein plays an important role in managing PCOD since it boosts metabolism, impacts blood sugar control and insulin regulation, and also contributes to the production of important hormones.
The bane of processed foods
Another major change in our diets involves the massive increase in processed and commercially produced food. This automatically ups the calorie intake, while reducing the nutritional value of food. Even a simple food like idli, when made at home contributes 30 calories. But outside, each idli could carry up to 80 calories, because they are bigger in size and processed differently.
While there is no cure for PCOD, mitigating its severity is within reach. For that, we must return to the richness and diversity of our traditional diets.
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