PCOS Diet: Foods to Eat and Avoid

Feb 24, 2022 | Fertility Stories

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common endocrine disorders in women, causing hormonal imbalances and issues with metabolism. PCOS is an uncurable condition experienced by one out of 10 women of childbearing age that can lead to other health complications, such as diabetes, cardiovascular problems, depression, and risk of endometrial cancer.

Some symptoms of PCOS include irregular or missed periods, fertility issues, unwanted hair growth on the face and body, hair loss, and oily or acne-prone skin. Moreover, PCOS can cause alterations in skin pigmentation, frequent mood changes, pelvic pain, and weight gain, especially around the midsection.

Although there is no cure for polycystic ovary syndrome, its symptoms can be managed through specific dietary and lifestyle changes. Throughout this article, we’ll be reviewing foods you should eat and avoid to help you decrease your symptoms and promote a better life.

Yet, note that you should consult a hormone specialist before changing your diet or lifestyle to treat PCOS symptoms – there’s no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to hormonal disorders. Thus, make an appointment to get appropriately tested and determine which diet may be best for your specific hormone levels.

How Does Diet Affect PCOS?

How Does Diet Affect PCOS?

PCOS affects weight management and insulin production, and resistance. Using the proper diet, you’ll be able to promote good insulin levels, which in turn will help you prevent diabetes. Additionally, a wholesome and nutritious diet can facilitate the maintenance of a healthy weight. These two components are essential to relieve PCOS symptoms and reduce the risk of associated health problems.

Another way dieting can help is by balancing your hormone levels – PCOS can increase androgen levels (male hormone), which puts women at higher risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. By regulating your hormone levels, you can effectively control your symptoms, improve fertility issues related to PCOS and prevent other health complications. A PCOS fertility diet can also improve your ovarian function.

Lastly, since PCOS impacts a woman’s reproductive system, having a PCOS fertility diet can improve ovarian function, increasing the odds for conception, whether natural or assisted.

The Basics of a PCOS Diet

High Quality, High Fiber Carbohydrates

Women with PCOS have a predisposition to type 2 diabetes. So, much like a diabetic diet, women with PCOS should opt for high-quality, high fiber carbohydrates that will stabilize their blood sugar levels.

Balanced Diet

Consuming a well-balanced diet will help keep your body in a neutral, homeostatic state. This state allows insulin to function properly by bringing glucose to your cells for energy, resulting in less insulin in the bloodstream, decreased androgen production, and reduced PCOS symptoms.

Consistent Routine and Regular Meal Times

Skipping meals can crash your blood sugar levels, fostering food cravings and excess. Maintaining a routine allows your blood sugar levels to stabilize, which in turn promotes proper androgen production in your body and less severe PCOS symptoms. Try eating smaller, more frequent meals to regulate blood sugar better and establish better habits.

Choose Nutrient-Rich Food, High in Vitamins and Minerals

Ingesting foods high in Vitamin D, Vitamin B, Iodine, Selenium, and Magnesium can improve insulin resistance and lower the severity of symptoms associated with PCOS.

PCOS Food Lists to Eat

PCOS Food Lists to Eat

Even though there is no standard diet for PCOS, it’s been proven that there are certain foods that can alleviate or aggravate its symptoms. Three diets have been endorsed as PCOS’s improving:

Low glycemic index (GI) diet: foods with a low GI prevent insulin levels from rising as much or as quickly as other foods, such as carbohydrates, which is beneficial for someone suffering from PCOS. A few examples of foods to include in a low GI diet are whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, starchy vegetables.

Anti-inflammatory diet: anti-inflammatory foods like berries, fatty fish, leafy greens, and extra virgin olive oil reduce inflammation-related symptoms, such as fatigue.

DASH diet: doctors often advise the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet to reduce the risk or impact of heart disease and PCOS symptoms. This diet is rich in fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables, whole grain, and low-fat dairy produce while discouraging foods high in saturated fat and sugar.

A healthy PCOS diet can include natural, unprocessed foods, high-fiber foods, fatty fish (e.g., salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel), leafy greens ( e.g., kale and spinach), and dark red fruits (e.g., red grapes, blueberries, blackberries, and cherries). Furthermore, you can include broccoli and cauliflower, dried beans, lentils, healthful fats (e.g., olive oil, avocados, and coconuts), nuts (e.g., pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, and pistachios), spices (e.g., turmeric and cinnamon) and dark chocolate in moderation.

PCOS Food Lists to Avoid

People suffering from PCOS should avoid unhealthy foods such as refined carbohydrates (e.g., mass-produced pastries and white bread), fried foods (e.g., fast food), and sugary beverages (e.g., sodas and energy drinks). In addition, a PCOS diet keeps off processed meats (e.g., hot dogs, sausages, and luncheon meats), solid fats (e.g., margarine, shortening, and lard), and excess red meat (e.g., steaks, hamburgers, and pork).

Based on your overall health needs, you may need to adjust your consumption of specific macronutrients (fat, protein, carbohydrates) or add supplements to your food regime.

PCOS is Not a Life Sentence

Once you start your PCOS diet, don’t dispair – be patient and continue to adjust your nutrition as you tune into how it makes you feel. Over time, you’ll start seeing the effects of the PCOS treatment diet. To recap, find a short listicle of beneficial versus harmful foods below, and use it to navigate everyday meals and relieve your symptoms.

Beneficial food

  • High-fiber fruits and vegetables (apples, plums, broccoli, cauliflower) 

  • Leafy greens

  • Root veggies 

  • Red berries and grapes 

  • Beans, legumes, lentils

  • Whole-grain or multigrain bread, crackers, pasta, tortillas

  • Brown rice, quinoa

  • Oats, rye, barley 

  • Flax, chia, and sunflower seeds

  • Cottage cheese

  • Lean chicken or turkey (without the skin)

  • Fatty fish (salmon, tuna)

  • Veggie burgers

  • Eggs, egg whites, egg substitutes

  • Low-fat and Greek yogurt

  • Non-dairy milk alternatives 

  • Avocado 

  • Hummus 

  • Coconut and coconut oil 

  • Nuts and nut butters

  • Olive oil, flax seed oil 

  • Fresh herbs and spices (turmeric, cinnamon, ginger)

  • Dark chocolate (in moderation) 

  • Green tea

Harmful food

  • Bread, baked goods, crackers, pasta, and cereals from refined white flour

  • Starchy vegetables (white potatoes, corn, peas)

  • White rice

  • Red meat

  • Full-fat dairy 

  • Processed meat

  • Fried food, fast food

  • Potato chips, microwave popcorn, salted pretzels 

  • Dried fruit 

  • Packaged snack foods

  • Frozen meals and snacks

  • Artificial sweeteners 

  • Granola, cereal bars

  • Margarine, shortening, lard 

  • Instant noodles, packaged pasta/soup mix

  • Bouillon cubes, broth, stock 

  • Commercial salad dressing, marinades, seasonings 

  • Milk/chocolate, candy 

  • Ice cream, pudding, custard

  • Pastries, cake, cookies, pies

  • Soda and energy drinks

  • Sugary fruit juice 

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