- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormone disorder that can affect menstrual cycles and metabolic health.
- Choose nutritious foods to combat inflammation caused by PCOS. These include fresh fruits and vegetables, unsaturated fats in nuts, seeds, and omega-3-rich fish.
- A registered dietitian specializing in PCOS can help you build an eating plan that includes your favorite foods and enables you to manage symptoms.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormone disorder in women, affecting up to 13% of women worldwide.
Fortunately, diet and lifestyle changes can significantly improve hormonal health and reduce PCOS symptoms.
Changes you can make include adding fiber-rich foods to snacks and meals and prioritizing anti-inflammatory foods.
Keep reading to learn more about the critical link between PCOS and diet, including which foods to eat for improved well-being.
Understanding the Importance of Diet for PCOS
PCOS is a hormonal condition heavily influenced by your diet and metabolic health.
Choosing foods that support healthy hormone function, especially healthy insulin levels, is critical for managing PCOS and reducing symptoms.
2021 literature shows that healthy dietary changes can result in:
- Reduced insulin resistance.
- Lower rates of type two diabetes.
- Successful weight loss.
- Restore menstruation.
- Improve fertility.
- Reduce hyperandrogenism (an excessive amount of sex hormones).
- Improve microbiome diversity in the gut.
Foods To Eat for PCOS
No dietary pattern has proven to be more beneficial for PCOS management.
This is because the symptoms and hormone changes are highly individualized.
However, the Mediterranean diet is naturally anti-inflammatory and can be an excellent option for people with PCOS.
The Mediterranean diet prioritizes delicious fresh produce, fish, lean meats, dairy in moderation, and other healthy fat sources such as olive oil, nuts, and seeds.
These nourishing foods contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory fats such as unsaturated fats, which all help decrease inflammation caused by PCOS.
Cultures outside Europe may need help following the Mediterranean diet because some meals are not typical (or readily available) in other cuisines.
You can ask your dietitian for an eating plan that aligns with your PCOS goals and includes your favorite foods.
Complex carbohydrates are large chains consisting of three or more sugar molecules.
These are naturally found in whole foods such as fruits, dairy products, whole grains, vegetables, legumes, and pulses.
All carbohydrates affect your blood sugar levels and trigger an insulin response.
Because they are larger, complex carbohydrates take longer to digest.
This slows down how quickly sugars from food can enter the bloodstream, which helps the insulin hormone function normally.
Choosing lean protein options can benefit PCOS management because they contain less saturated fats, a type of fat that can worsen inflammation in PCOS.
Lean protein sources include poultry, seafood, eggs, and plant-based options such as soy, legumes, and pulses.
You can also have leaner cuts of red meat, such as pork loin or extra lean ground beef, to add variety to your diet.
High-Fiber Fruits and Vegetables
Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate naturally found in most whole foods.
A small 2022 study found that people with PCOS who ate a high-fiber diet experienced several benefits, including reduced inflammation and improved gut-brain peptide secretion (peptides can regulate your appetite and metabolism).
Here are simple changes that can help you add more fiber to your diet:
- Enjoy a bowl of oatmeal with nuts, seeds, fresh berries, and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
- Add canned beans to your soups, salads, or stir-fries (be sure to drain and wash them thoroughly first).
- Choose whole grain breads, crackers, cereals, and side dishes when possible.
- Opt for whole fresh fruits and vegetables instead of smoothies or juiced products.
From a culinary perspective, fat makes food taste delicious and adds mouth-watering texture to meals.
Clinically, dietary fat helps with fat-soluble vitamin absorption and contributes to meal-time satisfaction.
For PCOS, choose high-quality fats proven to support long-term health, mainly polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
These are most commonly found in plant-based foods but also in fish, including salmon and trout.
Other examples of healthy fats include:
- Avocados. You can enjoy them mashed on toast or add them to a salad.
- Nuts and seeds. Add walnuts to your salad and ground flaxseed to a yogurt cup or breakfast cereal.
- Olive oil and other plant-based oils.
- Soybeans. Season them with grated ginger and cooked garlic for extra flavor.
Inflammation in the body is a form of stress.
Prolonged inflammation is common with chronic conditions, such as PCOS, and can weaken your immune response over time.
Foods rich in antioxidants are proven to neutralize inflammatory responses and should be consumed daily.
The following flavorful foods are rich in beneficial antioxidants:
- Berries, including blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and cranberries.
- Vegetables such as okra, spinach, kale, tomatoes, etc.
- Fresh herbs, including parsley and mint.
- Aromatic foods like garlic, ginger, turmeric root (or spice), and onion.
Maintaining a healthy digestive system is important for PCOS management.
Research has shown that gut dysbiosis (missing healthy gut bacteria) can contribute to insulin resistance and other metabolic changes.
Eating probiotic-rich foods nourishes your digestive tract and ensures your gut remains healthy.
Foods rich in health-promoting bacteria include fermented products, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, tempeh, and different types of yogurt.
Low-Glycemic Index Foods
People with PCOS are at a higher risk of developing insulin resistance, prediabetes, and type two diabetes.
Choosing foods that promote healthy blood sugar control is critical.
Low-glycemic index (GI) foods are known to have a delayed impact on raising your blood sugar levels, which helps you maintain tighter glucose control.
Many carbohydrates have a glycemic index score. Below are a few examples of low-GI foods.
- All fresh berries, apples, plums, pears, apricots.
- All non-starchy vegetables, including lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, onion, garlic, eggplant, and zucchini.
- Whole grains include bulgar, wheat berries, buckwheat, and rye.
- Plain dairy products, including yogurts, milk, and drinkable products like kefir. Some cheeses contain high amounts of saturated fats and should be eaten in moderation.
Your dietitian can review more options with you during your appointment.
Choosing whole grains is one of the quickest ways to add more fiber to your diet.
Whole grains have more vitamins and minerals than refined products, providing additional nutrition to your meals.
Many whole grains have already been mentioned, but here are a few more to add to your grocery list:
- Brown rice.
- Whole grain pasta and bread.
Foods To Avoid for PCOS
Common dietary culprits include refined and heavily processed foods, which may contain high amounts of added salt and sugar.
You can work with a dietitian to eliminate some of these foods to see if you feel better.
Restricting foods without seeing an improvement in your symptoms is generally a sign that the food was not an issue and is safe to consume.
There is an abundance of food choices that support PCOS management.
Choosing foods that reduce inflammation is an excellent step to improving hormonal health.
Opt for more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and minimally processed items as often as possible.
How a Dietitian Can Help with PCOS
Taking care of yourself is more enjoyable when you focus on all the foods you can add to your diet.
A dietitian can help you build an eating plan filled with delicious meals that excite you to eat and help you feel your best.
Frequently Asked Questions
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