How Dietary Fat Can Help - or Hurt - your PCOS

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You may be wondering how fat fits into a healthy meal plan for PCOS. The good news:
Dietary fat doesn't require insulin because it doesn't break down into glucose. The right
types of fat used carefully in a healthy eating plan helps to improve insulin levels and
protect your heart. The bad news: Eating the wrong types of dietary fat can make your
PCOS worse. Diets high in omega-6 fats and saturated and trans fats contribute to
insulin resistance and are the main contributors to high triglycerides and cholesterol.
This article tells you what you need to know about getting the right balance of dietary fat
to improve your PCOS and your health.

Why we need fat

Fat gets a bad rap, but you need it. Dietary fat:

  • keeps us satisfied longer and prevents overeating
  • provides a unique mouth feel and palatability to meals that carbohydrates and proteins do not
  • diets containing too little fat can contribute to overeating or bingeing since they make you feel hungrier and less satisfied
  • slows the release of glucose, resulting in a lower glycemic-index and better insulin management

Saturated fats

Saturated fat contributes to insulin resistance and elevates cholesterol and triglycerides.
Saturated fats, typically solid at room temperature, are found in animal products such as
butter, cheese, luncheon meats, red meat, sour cream and mayonnaise. These types of
foods should be eaten sparingly. National dietary guidelines recommend that your
saturated fat intake be no more than 10% of your total calorie intake. If you eat 1,800
calories a day, you should consume less than 20 grams of saturated fat.

Trans fats

Trans fats are essentially the result of changing the chemical structure of a liquid fat into
a solid fat. Trans fats raise LDL (the bad) cholesterol and lower protective HDL (the
good) cholesterol. The amount of trans fats are listed on the Nutrition Facts panel so
pay attention. However, just because a food claims to be trans fat-free does not mean it
is healthy. Products with 0.5 grams or less of trans fat per serving, can be listed as
having zero grams of trans fat or trans fat-free. Also, any food containing shortening,
partially or hydrogenated vegetable oil, intersterified or stearate-rich oil contains trans
fats and should be avoided in your diet. Fast foods, chips, crackers, baked goods,
cereals, candy and energy bars typically contain saturated and trans fats.

Benefits of omega-3 fats

Not all fats are created equal. You may have heard about a class of fats called omega-3
fatty acids. There are three different types of omega-3 fats:
• alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) are plant based omega-3s found in egg yolk, walnuts,
flaxseed, hemp and canola oil;
• eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are omega-3 fats
found in fatty or coldwater fish such as salmon, tuna, trout and halibut. Few other fish
are rich in omega-3s.

Omega-3 fats are essential for women with PCOS. They help improve mood, decrease
cholesterol and triglycerides, improve insulin, lower blood pressure and provide better
hair and skin quality. Despite the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, most Americans don't
consume enough of them. This can be attributed to two main factors: Our diets lack
foods rich in omega-3s or our diet is abundant in omega-6 fatty acids, which hamper the
benefits of omega-3s. Omega-3 foods containing ALA get converted slowly into DHA
and EPA in the body. For this reason, fish and fish oil are the preferred ways to meet
optimal omega-3 intake.

Bottom line: Even if you eat fatty fish at least twice a week you should take a daily fish
oil supplement consisting of 1 gram (1,000 mg) of a combination of EPA and DHA, not
to exceed 4 grams (4,000 mg) daily. If you have high cholesterol or triglycerides,
discuss how much omega-3s you need with your physician, especially if you are taking
blood thinning medications. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can take flaxseed oil
which contains a rich amount of ALA.

The following are tips for incorporating omega-3 fats into your diet:

• Use canola oil in cooking and baking
• Add walnuts or sunflower seeds to salads
• Snack on walnuts alone or in a trail mix
• Stir ground flaxseed into cereal, oatmeal, yogurt or smoothies
• Grill a fatty type of fish (tuna, salmon, trout) and add to salads
• Prepare fatty fish and poultry with crushed almonds
• Take a fish oil supplement of at least 1 gram daily
• Eat eggs for breakfast or add to salads

Omega-6 fats

Omega-6 fatty acids are unsaturated fats found in vegetable oils such as palm,
soybean, corn, safflower, cottonseed, rapeseed and sunflower oil. These types of fats
have flooded our food supply and are in most of the foods we eat. Excessive intake of
omega-6 fats is associated with heart attacks, stroke, arrhythmia, arthritis, osteoporosis,
inflammation, mood disorders and certain types of cancer.

The optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is 4 to 1. Most diets have ratios exceeding
10 to 1. Women with PCOS need to decrease foods they eat containing omega-6 fats
and increase their intake of omega-3 fats to reap the benefits of omega-3s. You can
spot omega-6 fats by checking the ingredient list. If palm, soybean, corn, safflower,
cottonseed, rapeseed or sunflower oil are ingredients listed in your food, they contain
omega-6 fats and like saturated fat, should be limited.

-adopted from The PCOS Workbook: Your Guide to Complete Physical and Emotional Health by Angela
Grassi and Stephanie B. Mattei.

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