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Eat More Pulses to Manage PCOS

Sharon Palmer

Eat more beans, lentils, and peas to help manage PCOS, according to the latest research.

Eating a diet rich in pulses—chickpeas, split peas, lentils, dried beans—may be an effective lifestyle intervention for women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the most common endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age, according to new research. Symptoms of PCOS include ovarian cysts, irregular periods, weight gain, and insulin resistance, which may be a factor in many of the symptoms. Pulses have been shown to lower fasting insulin. A recent study published in Clinical Endocrinology found that women who included daily pulses in their diets, along with aerobic exercise, and health care counseling for 16 weeks, were as likely to experience improvement in metabolic outcomes as women following the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes, or TLC, diet, a diet designed to help lower cholesterol and lower risk of heart disease or stroke by eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods.

In the study, 64 women aged 18 to 35 years with PCOS, were randomly selected to either a pulse-based diet or the TLC diet for 16 weeks, neither of which restricted energy (calories). The pulse group consumed two daily meals containing about 1 cup of split peas (90 grams), chickpeas (225 g), or lentils (150 g). Those in the TLC group were advised to consume low-fat meats, poultry, and low or skim dairy as their main protein sources, and to limit pulses. Both groups followed an aerobic exercise program and received monthly health counseling. From the start of the trial to 16 weeks, both groups experienced beneficial reproductive health changes, including lower body mass index (BMI), lower total body fat, without the loss of lean mass, and higher bone mineral content and density. Eating a pulse-based diet can be as effective as proven lifestyle modifications in the treatment of PCOS symptoms.

Heirloom Bean Cassoulet with Root Vegetables

Pulses are a low-glycemic food, which means they are slower to digest and beneficial for insulin regulation. They are also plant-based protein sources, which means they are low in sulfur amino acids. Foods high in sulfur amino acids, such as animal proteins, may threaten bone health, according to the researchers. Lifestyle interventions, such as eating daily pulses, is always the preferable treatment for PCOS symptoms. Note that the greatest health benefits for both study groups were seen at 16 weeks. However, at one year post-intervention and without support of health care counselors to keep the women on track, weight gain, increased insulin resistance, poor diet and exercise behaviors resulted.

Learn more about this study here: (Clinical Endocrinology, June 2020)

Written by Lori Zanteson

Photos by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN

To learn more about the benefits of eating pulses, check out:

Power Up on Protein-Rich Pulses
Pulses, Cornerstone of the Mediterranean Diet
Get Powered with Pulses

Image: Smoky Lentil Chili, Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN

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