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PCOS Diet: Foods to Eat and Avoid with PCOS

Medically reviewed by Dr Rohan J Harsoda – MBBS, DNB(General Surgery)

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder that impacts people during their reproductive years. It shows up with irregular periods, increased androgen levels, and the development of small cysts on the ovaries. And if not addressed, PCOS can lead to serious health complications like infertility, diabetes, and cardiovascular issues.

Hence, managing PCOS is crucial for overall well-being. This article digs into why addressing PCOS is crucial and zooms on the key role that diet plays by offering practical insights into beneficial food choices to make and avoid to effectively manage the condition with your dietary choices.

How Does Diet Affect PCOS?

PCOS revolves around four key factors:

  1. Insulin resistance
  2. Metabolic and hormonal changes
  3. High body fat levels
  4. Issues with gonadotrophin-releasing hormones crucial for reproductive well-being

These factors are all connected, forming a cycle that diet might play a role in breaking. A well-thought-out diet could potentially lessen the impact of PCOS and even reduce the risk of complications like diabetes and cancer.

Diet can influence PCOS by managing:

  • Body weight
  • Insulin production and resistance
  • Blood sugar levels
  • Oxidative stress, which heightens the risk of inflammation and cancer

It’s noteworthy that over half of those with PCOS develop diabetes or prediabetes before hitting 40, with diabetes linked to how the body handles insulin. Taking dietary steps to prevent diabetes becomes a crucial move toward managing PCOS effectively.

Best Foods for PCOS

A balanced and nutrient-rich diet is crucial for managing Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Incorporating specific food categories can contribute to better hormonal balance and overall well-being. Let’s dive into a range of PCOS-friendly foods, categorized to guide you in making smart dietary choices.

  1. Nutrient-Rich Vegetables

    Load up on non-starchy veggies and leafy greens for your PCOS diet. Spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, and bell peppers are not just low-calorie but also packed with vital vitamins and minerals, offering a nutritional boost to balance your hormones.

  2. Grass-Fed Lean Proteins

    Choose lean grass-fed meat sources to ensure a balance of protein and healthy fats. Include options like skinless chicken, turkey, and lean cuts of beef or lamb to meet your protein needs without excess saturated fats.

  3. Favourable Fats

    Incorporate healthy fats into your PCOS diet for hormonal regulation. Avocados, nuts, seeds, and coconut oil offer a dose of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, promoting heart health and hormone production.

  4. Antioxidant-Rich Foods

    Boost your antioxidant intake with a vibrant mix of berries (blueberries, strawberries), nuts (almonds, walnuts), and green tea. These powerful antioxidants combat oxidative stress and inflammation associated with PCOS.

  5. Whole Grains

    Opt for whole grains over refined carbs to maintain stable blood sugar levels. Quinoa, brown rice, and oats provide essential fiber, promoting digestive health and helping manage weight—an important factor for those dealing with PCOS.

  6. Omega-3 Rich Fish

    Include omega-3-rich fish such as salmon, mackerel, and trout in your meals. These fatty acids contribute to reducing inflammation and may help regulate menstrual cycles for individuals with PCOS. Twice a week is a good aim for optimal benefits.

  7. Olive Oil

    Make olive oil your go-to cooking oil. It’s packed with monounsaturated fats and has anti-inflammatory properties. Use it in salads or for light cooking to boost the nutrition of your meals.

  8. Boost Protein with Plant Power

    Give your protein intake a lift by incorporating legumes like beans, lentils, chickpeas, and split peas. These plant-based powerhouses aren’t just rich in protein but also high in fiber, making them perfect for stabilizing blood sugar levels—especially beneficial for those managing PCOS.

  9. Whole Fruits as Dessert

    Satisfy your sweet tooth with whole fruits instead of processed desserts. Berries, apples, and pears bring natural sugars and fiber, supporting better blood sugar control. A refreshing and nutritious way to wrap up your meals.

  10. Pulses for Plant-Based Protein

    Diversify your protein sources with pulses like beans, lentils, chickpeas, and split peas. These legumes pack a protein punch while delivering iron and folate, essential nutrients that contribute to overall health for individuals managing PCOS.

Foods to Avoid When Dealing with PCOS

Wondering which foods can make your PCOS symptoms worse? Take a look at the categories below: 

  1. Processed and Fried Foods

    These culprits are loaded with unhealthy fats, preservatives, and additives, triggering inflammation and insulin resistance. Skip the packaged snacks, deep-fried foods, and ready-to-eat meals.

  2. Dairy Alternatives

    Certain dairy products can mess with your hormonal balance. Go for low-lactose or lactose-free options, and don’t go overboard on full-fat dairy. Keep an eye on how your body reacts, as sensitivities vary.

  3. Unhealthy Fats

    Saturated and trans fats found in processed snacks and fast food can be troublesome. Swap them out for healthier fats from avocados, nuts, and olive oil.

  4. Soy Products

    While soy can be a good protein source, going overboard might mess with estrogen levels. Keep an eye on your intake of soy-based foods like tofu and soy milk.

  5. Gluten-Free Route

    Some people dealing with PCOS benefit from ditching gluten. Say no to wheat and try alternatives like quinoa, rice, and gluten-free oats for less inflammation and better digestion.

  6. Seed Oils

    Cut down on seed oils like corn, soybean, and sunflower oil—they may cause inflammation. Opt for healthier picks like olive or avocado oil.

  7. Caffeine Consciousness

    Moderation is key with caffeine. Too much coffee can mess with cortisol levels and throw hormones off balance. Keep an eye on your caffeine intake and maybe swap in herbal teas.

  8. Say No to Sugary and Alcoholic Beverages

    Sugary and alcoholic drinks can spike insulin and lead to weight gain. Ditch or limit sodas, energy drinks, and alcohol for better insulin resistance and PCOS symptom management.

  9. Refined Flour 

    White bread and pastries cause rapid blood sugar spikes. Opt for whole grains to keep your energy levels steady and blood sugar in check.

  10. White Rice 

    White rice shoots up blood sugar levels fast. Choose whole grains like brown rice or quinoa for a healthier, blood sugar-friendly option.

  11. Sugar

    Too much sugar worsens insulin resistance. Steer clear of sugary snacks, candies, and desserts, and be mindful of hidden sugars in processed foods. Go for natural sweeteners in moderation.

PCOS Diet Chart:

A PCOS-friendly diet should focus on balancing blood sugar levels, incorporating lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats, while minimizing processed foods and sugars. Here’s a sample PCOS diet chart:

Breakfast 1 cup Greek yogurt with berries and almonds
1 whole grain toast with avocado
Mid-Morning Handful of walnuts or a piece of fruit
Lunch Grilled chicken or tofu salad with mixed greens
Quinoa or brown rice as a side
Afternoon Snack Carrot and cucumber sticks with hummus
Dinner Baked salmon or lentil stew
Steamed broccoli or spinach as a side
Evening Snack Greek yogurt with a sprinkle of chia seeds
Hydration Drink plenty of water throughout the day

[Note: This sample diet is just a general guide and might need tweaking based on your likes, dislikes, dietary needs, and restrictions. For personalized advice, it’s always a good idea to chat with a healthcare pro or a registered dietitian.]

Other Lifestyle Changes to Manage PCOS

Making a few lifestyle changes can really make a difference in managing PCOS symptoms.

First off, getting active with regular exercise, aiming for about 150 minutes a week, and cutting back on refined carbs can help tackle insulin resistance.

If shedding some pounds is on your radar, incorporating daily activities, keeping sugar intake in check, and following a diet that’s anti-inflammation might be the ticket. Plus, weight loss could even boost ovulation.

The stress that comes with PCOS symptoms is real, but there are ways to dial it down. Try out stress-busting techniques like yoga and meditation to bring calm to your mind and connect with your body.

Sometimes, talking it out helps too. Consider chatting with a therapist or another healthcare pro for some extra support. It’s all about finding what works best for you!

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

The keto diet, with its low-carb and high-fat approach, has shown positive results for women dealing with PCOS. It’s been linked to weight loss and improved insulin sensitivity—key factors for those with PCOS. However, before diving into any diet, including keto, it’s important to have a chat with a healthcare pro or a nutrition guru. They’ll help ensure it’s the right match for your unique health needs.
Managing weight for those with PCOS involves a mix of a balanced diet, regular exercise, and lifestyle adjustments. Prioritize whole foods, loads of veggies, lean proteins, and complex carbs. Portion control and consistent physical activity are key elements of a PCOS-friendly weight loss strategy.
PCOS is a chronic condition, and while diet and exercise can work wonders in managing symptoms and boosting overall health, there’s no magic cure. Lifestyle shifts can, however, help ease symptoms like insulin resistance, irregular periods, and unwanted weight.
A well-rounded vegan diet packed with fruits, veggies, whole grains, and plant-based proteins can benefit those with PCOS. It might aid in weight management and provide essential nutrients. However, individual responses to diets vary, so monitoring your body’s signals and consulting with a healthcare professional is crucial.
Eggs, rich in protein and essential nutrients, can be part of a PCOS-friendly diet. They’re a valuable component of a balanced meal plan.
Whole grains, including brown rice, can be part of a PCOS-friendly diet. Opt for complex carbs over refined ones and maintain a well-balanced, portion-controlled diet.
Dairy is permissible in a PCOS diet, but opting for low-fat or fat-free options is advisable. Some may choose alternatives like almond or soy milk for lactose intolerance or a preference for plant-based options.
Yogurt, offering probiotics and protein, can be part of a PCOS-friendly diet. Opt for plain, unsweetened yogurt to avoid added sugars.
Bananas, packed with nutrients, can be included in moderation in a PCOS diet. They provide vitamins, minerals, and natural sugars, but as with any fruit, moderation is key.
Potatoes can be part of a PCOS-friendly diet in moderation. Choose baked or boiled options over fried, and be mindful of portion sizes.
Fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut can be good for gut health. A happy gut might contribute to overall well-being, but the direct link to PCOS isn’t crystal clear. A mix of nutrient-packed foods is the name of the game for a balanced diet.
Jigar Patel is the Founder of Health-e, a HealthTech app that simplifies health records management along with providing personalized and preventative healthcare solutions. Although he has 20+ years of operations and management experience in the EPC domain, Jigar’s true passion lies in making healthcare simpler, faster and more accessible for doctors and patients alike. He strongly believes that people need to be empowered to participate in their own healthcare and is constantly thinking of ways to build this into his app. He loves to keep things simple be it in life, product design, his work or the content he develops. Being married for 10 years and having 2 kids have taught him that perspective matters, so you can always count on him to share new perspectives on various topics.
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