Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS is a hormonal and metabolic condition that affects women all over the globe. If you have PCOS, you may be wondering what PCOS diet and lifestyle habits you can do to improve your condition.
Making dietary changes can help manage your PCOS symptoms, assist with weight loss, and treat hormonal imbalances. While there is no specific PCOS diet, there are certain foods and nutrients that you can add to your day to best support your health.
Keep reading to learn how your diet can play a role in PCOS and my favorite PCOS-friendly foods. These are foods that I recommend all of the time to my nutrition clients as a specialized PCOS dietitian!
How Can Diet Help Manage PCOS Symptoms?
Lifestyle and diet strategies are considered one of the first lines of defense against PCOS. What you decide to eat can help regulate your blood sugar levels, prevent insulin resistance, and manage your weight. These are common problems that women with PCOS face and lead to unwanted symptoms.
Here are a few benefits of a healthy diet for PCOS:
- Reducing inflammation
- Managing hormonal imbalances
- Improving fertility
- Promoting weight loss
- Regulating blood sugar levels and preventing further metabolic complications
- Increasing energy levels and overall quality of life
There is no one-size-fits-all PCOS diet. Each person will have unique dietary needs based on a variety of factors. It is always recommended to consult with your healthcare team or a registered dietitian before starting a new diet, supplement, or treatment protocol.
Can PCOS-Friendly Foods Help With Weight Loss?
Many women with PCOS come to me because they are frustrated that they aren’t losing weight. And trust me, I get it. Having PCOS can make it much harder to lose weight.
That being said, studies do show that women who can lose weight with PCOS have improved symptoms and metabolic markers. Which is hugely important for managing the condition!
Since PCOS can make weight loss more challenging, it may require a multifactorial approach. This means you will want to consider your physical activity, diet, supplement routine, and overall stress management techniques. You have to look at the full picture when it comes to PCOS weight loss.
While eating PCOS-friendly foods can help with weight loss, that is not the only goal of implementing a PCOS diet. The foods I have listed below will help you manage underlying hormonal issues associated with PCOS and weight loss can be a positive side effect.
PCOS-Friendly Foods to Prioritize
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3s are types of polyunsaturated fatty acids that have many benefits for your overall health. The two main types of omega-3s are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
Recent studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for women with PCOS. They can help improve insulin resistance, which is a common driver and side effect of PCOS. Additionally, they were shown to improve other metabolic markers such as triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
Foods high in omega-3s include:
- Fish and other seafood, especially cold-water fish (salmon, herring, sardines, tuna, mackerel)
- Seaweed and algae
- Flax seeds, flax seed oil
- Canola oil
It is important to note that plant-based sources of omega-3s are not as easily used by your body. Fish and fish oil are the best ways to get omega-3 fatty acids into your diet.
If you don’t like fish or are plant-based, you may want to consider taking a fish oil supplement to get your daily dose of omega-3s.
Dietary fiber is a type of carbohydrate and a component of plant foods that goes undigested in your digestive tract. Many people aren’t getting enough fiber throughout the day, which can have consequences for your overall health.
In fact, low intake of dietary fiber in women with PCOS is associated with insulin resistance and hyperandrogenism (excess male sex hormones). Both insulin resistance and high androgen levels can worsen PCOS symptoms.
Additionally, fiber is an important nutrient to help with weight management. It can increase your satiety and satisfaction after eating, which later on can curb your appetite and any cravings. An increase in fiber intake has been shown in studies to help with metabolic improvement and weight control in women with PCOS.
High-fiber foods include:
- Whole grains (quinoa, whole wheat, buckwheat)
- Legumes (lentils, beans)
- Nuts and seeds (chia, flax, walnuts, cashews)
- Fruits and vegetables (broccoli, apples, dried fruit, avocado, berries)
Lean Protein Sources
Protein is a vital macronutrient for many of your bodily processes. It can help you feel full for longer, satisfy cravings, stabilize your blood sugar levels, and more.
This macro is especially crucial for women with PCOS and should be prioritized at as many meals as possible. An increase in protein vs carbohydrates has been proven to increase weight loss and improve glucose metabolism in PCOS patients. Try to aim for around 15-20 grams of protein per meal.
Keep in mind that your protein intake should be primarily from sources that are lean and high quality. Protein that is high in saturated fats could have the opposite effect on your weight loss and metabolic markers.
Great sources of lean protein:
- Meat and poultry (turkey, lean and grass-fed beef, chicken)
- Greek yogurt
- Seafood and fish
- Plant protein (legumes, beans, tofu, tempeh, nuts, and seeds)
Low Glycemic Index Food
Low glycemic index (low GI) foods are foods that have a low value on the glycemic index scale. The glycemic index rates foods based on their ability to spike your blood sugar levels. Foods that rank low on the scale are less likely to raise your blood sugar than foods with higher values.
Eating low-GI foods can be beneficial for both weight loss and insulin resistance. When researchers looked at the effects of a low GI diet on PCOS, they found that it can have a variety of benefits.
A few studies found that it could positively impact fertility, hirsutism (dark hair growth), weight, and even emotional health. Because of this, low-GI foods seem to be a promising addition to a PCOS-friendly diet.
Some examples of low GI foods:
- Non-starchy vegetables (peppers, broccoli and other green vegetables, tomatoes, eggplant, lettuce)
- Fruits (berries, apples, lemon, limes, pears, avocado, apricots)
- Whole wheat/wheat bran
- Beans and legumes
Research has confirmed that chronic inflammation can be a big contributor to PCOS. Many women with PCOS are found to have higher levels of inflammatory markers.
Inflammation can lead to a whole host of negative consequences for your symptoms and the development of the condition.
One way to combat inflammation is to eat foods with anti-inflammatory properties. When emphasizing these foods, they can help correct hormonal balances, specifically by reducing your androgen levels.
Anti-inflammatory foods include:
- Berries (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries)
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts)
- Green tea
- Olive oil and other healthy fats (nuts, fatty fish)
- Other leafy greens
PCOS Diet: The Takeaway
As you can see, there are plenty of PCOS-friendly foods that you can add to your diet plan. I encourage you to choose a few options from the lists above and plan them into your meals.
Regardless of the specific benefits, eating a diet that is nutrient-dense and diverse is one of the best ways to support your body.
If you are looking to take the guesswork out of your diet, working with a registered dietitian can be extremely helpful!
In my nutrition coaching program, we will work together to come up with a personalized plan to help you manage your PCOS and any other health goals that you have. There is no better time to invest in your health! Head over to my services page to learn more about my current offers today.