Passover and PCOS - a Guide to Healthy Eating

Tonight, Jewish families and their friends will be gathering around Passover seder tables, to tell the story of Moses and the exodus of the Jewish slaves from Egypt, centuries ago. Like most holidays, this one will feature an abundant feast as well as the camaraderie of loved ones. For many women who have polycystic ovarian syndrome however, the feast on the holiday table may feel like a carbohydrate laden land mine waiting to go off. As someone who has successfully combated PCOS through diet and exercise, I wanted to share some info on PCOS as well as a few of my own eating strategies with you.

First off, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS, affects around 10% of women of reproductive age and is quite prevalent among Jewish women, particularly those of Ashkenazi descent. An endocrine disorder, PCOS is categorized by insulin resistance and results in irregular menstrual cycles, hirsutism and struggles with weight, as well as infertility. There is thought to be a genetic component to PCOS and insulin resistance, which is why it is more prevalent in certain populations than in others.

A hormone, one of insulin's jobs is metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. For women who are insulin resistant, the body's normal metabolic response is reduced, causing weight gain, which is triggered by the intake of foods that are high in simple carbohydrates. Some research currently links the insulin resistance - carbohydrate connection to decreased fertility as well.

So what's a girl to do when faced with the potato kugel, matzoh ball soup, and sweet wine that are mainstays at the Passover table? Here's what I do.

  • While eating matzoh is pretty much required this time of year, remember that just one sheet of unleavened bread has the equivalent in carbs and calories as one slice of the leavened stuff, and limit your portions. For other foods, consider making substitutions. It's easier than you might think.
  • Instead of the usual potato kugel, break tradition by making a delicious new variety using spinach or zucchini and mushrooms as the main ingredients.
  • Instead of sweet wine, pour a drier variety, and drink in moderation.
  • Hold the matzoh balls! Your mom's chicken soup will be just as tasty without this usual plop in, and you won't feel laden down and sleepy by the end of the seder.
  • As with every meal you eat all year round, fill up on healthy veggies, lean protein and some fruit instead of going for the starchier foods.
  • Impress everyone by reaching for the fresh fruit when its time for dessert instead of the candied ones.

Another wonderful new holiday tradition to consider is a late night walk as a family after the meal to help burn off calories and build muscle.

Take advantage of the fact that many people are now trying to limit their carbohydrate intake in order to break the insulin resistance cycle, and lots of cookbooks and websites are cleverly catering to this population of health conscious folks. There are tons of free recipes available for you to download, here are a few you can try:


For those concerned with gluten or who have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease, you can buy gluten free matzo here:

Next year in Jerusalem!

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