The Best Diet for Managing PCOS Symptoms

While there is no cure for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), research indicates that certain dietary and lifestyle changes can help manage the condition. If you have PCOS, a healthcare provider may recommend a personalized PCOS diet plan to help prevent symptoms and potential complications that occur due to the condition’s associated hormonal imbalances, insulin resistance, and inflammation.

This article discusses nutritional guidance for managing PCOS.

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Benefits

Certain eating habits have been shown to help relieve PCOS symptoms and may reduce your risk of associated health problems. Its benefits stem from the following key goals of a PCOS diet.

Mitigating Hormone-Related Issues

PCOS is primarily linked to hormonal disruption, specifically high levels of androgens like testosterone in people assigned female at birth. The classic symptoms of PCOS—abnormal hair growth, acne, trouble getting pregnant, and weight gain—are due to these imbalances.

This is partially influenced by the amount of insulin your body is producing, as well as your weight. Additionally, PCOS disrupts insulin production and regulation, and metabolic functions related to maintaining a healthy weight.

Nearly half of people with PCOS are overweight or obese. Furthermore, roughly half of people with PCOS have insulin control issues, which can lead to prediabetes or type 2 diabetes by middle age. Unmanaged hormonal imbalances can increase your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and certain cancers.

Eating low glycemic index (GI) foods and watching your carbohydrate intake can be beneficial if you have PCOS, especially if you are overweight or have high insulin levels.

Weight Management

In a six-month trial, people with PCOS who ate a high-protein (more than 40% protein and 30% fat) diet lost more weight and body fat than those following a standard protein (less than 15% protein, 30% fat) diet.

Neither diet type restricted calories. Since high-protein diets tend to be filling, researchers suggest eating more protein led to less eating and more weight loss.

Reducing Inflammation

Excess weight and PCOS can both be related to inflammation. The relationship can feel like an endless loop. People with PCOS are more likely to be overweight. Excess weight is linked to inflammation, and inflammation can contribute to PCOS.

Many people with PCOS find that following an anti-inflammatory diet is helpful for managing their symptoms. Research has shown that dietary changes that support a healthy weight and reduce inflammation may interrupt this loop.

In a study published in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences, people with PCOS who followed an anti-inflammatory diet for three months lost 7% of their body weight and showed significant improvements in cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammatory markers.

There also seemed to be reproductive health benefits: 63% of patients in the study returned to having normal menstrual cycles and 12% conceived while following the diet.

Another plan, the DASH diet, reduces salt intake and focuses on heart-healthy foods. It's a popular eating plan for reducing heart disease risk—another concern for people with PCOS.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Hormone and Metabolic Research found that overweight patients with PCOS following the DASH diet lost more abdominal fat and showed significant improvements in insulin resistance and inflammatory markers compared to patients following a standard diet.

In addition to helping your body cope with the physical symptoms, research has also indicated that changes to diet and lifestyle may provide psychological benefits for people with PCOS.

How It Works

There is no scripted PCOS diet. Yours will be designed in a way that suits your needs and helps you achieve health goals.

If you aren’t sure where to start, a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) can help you design your eating plan.

Duration

There’s no definitive cure for PCOS, and the symptoms and health effects can persist after menopause. If you are making changes to your diet and lifestyle to help manage PCOS, you’ll want to use a sustainable plan.

However, it’s important to remember that your body, including hormones and how you process nutrition, will change as you get older. While the healthy eating and physical activity routines you adopt now will remain beneficial throughout your life, be prepared to make minor adjustments to reflect the changes to your overall health, lifestyle, needs, and preferences. 

What to Eat

The basic guidelines for a PCOS diet are to focus on whole grains, fresh produce, and plant-based proteins while limiting sugar, processed food, and trans fat. 

Depending on your overall health needs, you may need to adjust your intake of specific macronutrients (fat, protein, carbohydrates) or add supplements. 

You can use this general list as a starting point, but keep in mind that your healthcare provider or dietician may suggest that you include or avoid certain foods as part of your specific PCOS diet plan. 

*You may choose to experiment with reducing or eliminating gluten, wheat, and/or soy from your diet. For some people with PCOS, these food groups worsen their symptoms, but others have no problem with them.

**Phytoestrogens from plant-based proteins like soy have a complicated relationship with hormonal conditions. Research in rats and humans has been mixed; some studies demonstrated dietary phytoestrogens worsen symptoms, while others noted that compounds have a neutral or protective effect. 

Fruits and Vegetables: Fresh produce is versatile and nutrition-packed. Choose fruits and veggies that are full of fiber, like crucifers (e.g., broccoli), leafy greens, apples, and plums. Red berries and grapes also have anti-inflammatory properties that make them particularly well-suited for a PCOS diet.

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Dairy: The PCOS diet generally recommends avoiding full-fat dairy. Small portions of low-fat, low-lactose dairy products like cottage cheese or Greek yogurt are usually fine. Consider also trying dairy-free and low sugar alternatives like almond, rice, or coconut milk.

Grains: Whole-grain or multigrain bread, pasta, and cereals are approved on a PCOS diet. Avoid heavily processed food made with refined white flour. Choose brown rice instead of white, make overnight oats topped with fresh fruit instead of instant oatmeal packets (which can have added sugar), and try adding protein-packed quinoa to salads instead of salty carbs like croutons.

Protein: You can have a mix of proteins on a PCOS diet, but many people choose to focus on plant-based sources such as nuts, nut butter, and vegetarian meat patties. Avoid red meat or any meat or fish that's fried or prepared with a lot of salt, butter, and/or oil. Lean cuts of poultry cooked without the skin are good picks. Eggs are another good choice. Avoid processed meats such as hot dogs, sausage, lunch meat, and bacon, which are high in sodium, trans fat, and additives.

Desserts: Sugar can increase inflammation, so it's best to try to limit sweets. While a small serving of dark chocolate in moderation can be fine for a PCOS diet, avoid baked goods, candy, packaged snacks, and other treats.

Beverages: You may choose to avoid caffeinated beverages like coffee and black tea if they worsen your symptoms. Alcohol can cause you to rack up calories quickly, so it's best to avoid it or consume it only occasionally. Avoid high-sugar beverages like soda, sweetened fruit juice, and energy drinks. Water is the healthiest choice for staying hydrated, and other options like coconut water and green tea are also approved on a PCOS diet.

Recommended Timing

If you are working to manage your weight with a PCOS diet, it's helpful to structure your eating plan around several well-balanced, nutritious, meals each day and to limit snacks. Research has shown this approach can promote weight loss in people with PCOS.

If you have other health conditions that cause digestive symptoms or have trouble with your blood sugar levels, you may need to eat frequent small meals. 

Try not to go more than a few hours without eating. A regular eating routine keeps your blood sugar level stable, and it can also help prevent food cravings, snacking, overeating, and binge eating behaviors, which can affect people with PCOS.

Cooking Tips

The nutrition you get from the food you include in your PCOS diet can be affected by how you choose to prepare it. Some produce is most nutritious when purchased fresh and eaten raw. Others benefit from a little steaming or boiling. 

Some cooking methods can make food less nutritious and even make it unsuitable for a PCOS diet. For example, eggs can be the basis for a protein-packed breakfast, but not if they’re fried with butter. Instead, try poaching eggs and pairing them with whole-grain toast and a piece of fruit, instead of bacon or sausage. 

If you’re trying to lose weight, you may find it helpful to use low-fat and low-carb swaps, such as spiralized veggie “noodles” instead of pasta.

Modifications

If you are trying to get pregnant or are currently pregnant, breastfeeding or chestfeeding, you have special nutrition needs. You may need to adjust your PCOS diet or take supplements during this time to ensure you are properly nourished. Seek guidance from a healthcare provider.

Research has shown a link between gluten and inflammation, but it's unclear if reducing or eliminating it from your diet helps PCOS. If you choose to experiment with making this change, be sure to learn more about the pros and cons so you are aware of how this might impact your health.

Considerations

A PCOS diet has a fair amount of flexibility, and the eating plan may differ from person to person. Still, there are universal considerations to keep in mind if you embark on this diet to improve your symptoms.

General Nutrition 

This type of eating plan isn’t highly restrictive, so potential nutrient deficiencies are not a major concern. However, if you aren't getting enough of certain nutrients, that can impact your condition.

If you have any vitamin deficiencies, a healthcare provider may recommend adding supplements if to your PCOS diet.

Flexibility

Many of the foods to avoid on a PCOS diet are standard fare at fast-food drive-thrus, chain restaurants, and convenience stores. French fries, high-fat, high-carb meals in large portions, and salty, sugary, packaged snacks lack nutrition and can contribute to symptoms and health issues related to PCOS. 

For example, a diet high in sodium can lead to hypertension (high blood pressure), which increases your risk for cardiovascular disease. The added and hidden sugar in processed snacks, baked goods, and soft drinks can worsen insulin resistance. 

If you’re planning to dine out, it can be helpful to get acquainted with the menu ahead of time. The more you know about the ingredients in your food, how it’s prepared, and what the portion sizes are, the easier it will be to order something that fits your PCOS diet.

Support and Community

There may be times when you feel like talking with someone who is also living with your condition.

You can. look for support groups for people with PCOS in your community or online. Many reputable organizations have websites, social media accounts, blogs, and forums that patients can use to communicate.

Ask others for an idea of what has (and hasn’t) worked for them on their PCOS diet. While their guidelines may not always be right for you, these discussions can give you suggestions to work with and even inspiration, motivation, and emotional support. 

Cost

If a healthcare provider recommends nutritional supplements as part of your PCOS diet, these products can be expensive. Ask the healthcare provider if they can prescribe these supplements for you. If you have health insurance and a healthcare provider orders the supplements, your plan is more likely to cover some or all of the cost.

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PCOS Diet vs. Other Diets

Some popular eating plans for weight loss, lowering blood pressure, and managing insulin levels may work well for you if you have PCOS.

One study reviewing different dietary approaches found that losing weight improves metabolic and reproductive health for people with PCOS regardless of which of these specific diets they choose.

Your decision about which diet to try will likely be guided by whether you are also managing other conditions in addition to your PCOS. For example, people who have high blood pressure and PCOS may benefit from trying the DASH diet. 

Work with a qualified professional to design a PCOS diet plan that's tailored to your health needs and personal preferences. Research has generally supported this type of patient-centered approach.

A Word From Verywell

After starting your PCOS diet, be sure to give the changes time to have an effect. Be patient with your body and continue to make adjustments to the way you eat as you tune into how it makes you feel.


— Update: 07-01-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article Can a Diet Help Relieve Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) Symptoms? from the website www.prevention.com for the keyword polycystic ovary syndrome diet.

Polycystic ovary syndrome, commonly known as PCOS, affects up to 12% ( as many as 5 million) of American women of reproductive age. It has even impacted celebrities like Keke Palmer, Lea Michele, and HGTV’s Christina Anstead, but the hormone-related disorder is wildly understudied and under diagnosed. This often leaves some confusion for women who suffer from the disorder. The first course of action many medical professionals recommend is lifestyle changes, especially following a PCOS diet that can help manage symptoms. Here, we chat with experts about how diet affects PCOS, what PCOS diet foods you can incorporate into meals, and some foods that may trigger PCOS symptoms more often.

What is PCOS?

PCOS is an endocrine disorder that impacts hormonal production, reception, and transportation, explains Hannah Alderson, B.A.N.T., registered nutritionist and founder of The Positive Method. It’s most often diagnosed by experiencing at least two of infrequent ovulation (leading to irregular or absent periods), hyperandrogenism (high levels of androgens), or polycystic ovaries, she says. Symptoms of PCOS vary person-to-person but can include:

  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Acne
  • Hair growth (especially on the chest, chin, upper lip, and places women typically don’t expect hair)
  • Hair loss from the scalp
  • Infertility or other pregnancy complications
  • Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
  • High cholesterol and triglycerides
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep apnea
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Skin tags
  • Fatigue and brain fog
  • Skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis
  • Darkened patches of skin
  • Symptoms of insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, or type-2 diabetes

How does diet affect PCOS?

It may be confusing as to why diet has such an impact on a hormonal disorder, but the fundamental problem with PCOS is there is a tendency to be glucose-sensitive and experience insulin resistance, explains G. Thomas Ruiz, M.D., ob/gyn lead at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley.

Insulin is the hormone that processes glucose (a type of sugar) and turns it into energy for the body to use, explains Rebecca Blake, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., senior manager of preventive health at Carrot Fertility. When the body requires more insulin than is considered normal to process glucose and convert it to a usable form, this is called insulin resistance, she says. This leads to higher insulin levels in the body which can lead to health conditions including prediabetes and diabetes in your 40s and beyond, Dr. Ruiz says.

“The risks of PCOS don’t go away once you’re beyond childbearing years. All of the risks we see with PCOS like diabetes, heart disease, and uterine cancer we tend to see that pop up in the 40s,” adds Melissa Groves Azzaro, R.D.N., L.D., integrative and functional medicine dietitian specializing in women’s health and hormones.

Because of this insulin resistance, managing symptoms and losing weight with PCOS can be extremely difficult. Dr. Ruiz explains that following a healthy diet can control the amount of blood glucose circulating and avoid spikes in blood sugar.

Additionally, it’s essential to target the root cause when planning a diet with PCOS because even though the majority of women are impacted by insulin resistance, many are also experiencing symptoms due to gut dysfunction, inflammation, and other imbalances, Azzaro says.

Foods to eat if you have PCOS

So, if insulin is related to sugar, it’s best to just cut out all sugar, right? Well, not exactly. Most experts agree that a diet similar to the Mediterranean diet is ideal for the long term. Eating anti-inflammatory foods can be helpful, and focusing on balancing your plate with lean protein (like fish and legumes), healthy fats (like salmon and walnuts), and fiber-containing fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help regulate blood sugar and manage PCOS, Blake says.

Additionally, research has linked diet changes that include fruits and vegetables with a low glycemic index, low-fat dairy, seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids, lean red meat and poultry, legumes, whole grains, and moderate alcohol intake improved PCOS symptoms and lab results. It’s best to work with a dietitian or your medical provider to determine the best foods for you, but these expert-approved foods are known to support healthy hormones and manage PCOS symptoms.

Whole grains

Foods like farro, bulgur, brown rice, and whole wheat bread have a lot of fiber, causing a lower spike in blood sugar, Dr. Ruiz says. It’s also important to avoid “naked carbs,” meaning even whole wheat grains can spike blood sugar if not paired properly, says Carolyn Brown, M.S., R.D., integrative nutritionist and co-founder of Indigo Wellness Group. She suggests always pairing carbs with good fat and protein to slow the sugar spike and increase long-term satiation.

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Sweet potatoes

Though the occasional white potato is acceptable, sweet potatoes are higher in fiber and have a lower glycemic index, Dr. Ruiz says.

Lean proteins

There’s definitely a space in the diet for lean chicken, fish, and red meat periodically, says Dr. Ruiz. And Azzarro agrees, encouraging those with PCOS to increase their protein intake and be sure to spread it out evenly throughout the day. Brown also likes plant-based options like beans and lentils that contain insulin-friendly inositol.

Full-fat dairy

Foods like yogurt, cheese, and kefir contain hormones that most people with PCOS find balancing, says Felice Ramallo, M.S.C.N., R.D., L.D., and Lead Dietitian at Allara. She suggests two to three servings per day or a dairy alternative if it’s not tolerated well.

Vegetables

Veggies like dark leafy greens, broccoli, and cauliflower are great sources of fiber that can help keep the gut healthy and improve bathroom visits, Brown suggests. Aim for three to four servings of veggies per day, Ramallo adds.

“Colourful vegetables high in antioxidants and phytonutrients, in particular, phytoestrogens are great. Variety is key with a big focus on whole foods,” Alderson agrees.

Fruit

Dr. Ruiz says fruits lower in sugar, like berries, are especially great to incorporate into a PCOS-friendly diet.

“Vegetables and fruits are excellent sources of fiber and nutrients that are essential for our bodies regardless of PCOS and should be included liberally,” Blake says. “When eating fruits that are high in sugar content, it may be helpful to balance them with a source of protein and/or fat so that those fruits have a milder impact on blood sugar. Think of adding some unsweetened yogurt to your fruit or balancing an apple with a handful of almonds.”

Healthy fats

Mono and polyunsaturated fats from nuts, nut butter, avocados, seeds, extra-virgin olive oil, and avocado oil can be helpful with PCOS, Blake says. Brown likes to add two tablespoons of seeds like hemp, chia, or flax to her meals every day for an extra boost.

“Fats are your friend with PCOS because they don’t raise blood sugar,” Azzaro says. “They slow digestion, slow the transit of foods from the stomach to the small intestine, and they taste good.” Additionally, seafood like salmon and mackerel that contain lean protein and healthy fats are great additions to your diet. Brown suggests aiming for incorporating these foods three times per week.

Supplements

Though research is limited, some experts recommend trying blood sugar-supporting supplements like berberine, inositol, vitamin D, and omega-3, Brown suggests.

Foods to limit if you have PCOS

It’s important with PCOS to keep blood sugar steady throughout the day, eat regularly, and choose foods that encourage stability and balance. Ramallo encourages avoiding low-carb, keto, intermittent fasting, and other trendy diets, and opting for small, frequent meals throughout the day. When you eat, our experts suggest limiting these foods:

Simple carbohydrates

Foods high in uncomplex carbs, like white bread and refined grains, tend to spike blood sugar, Dr. Ruiz says. Additionally, for some people with PCOS, gluten-containing foods (even the whole grain kind) can be inflammatory and exacerbate symptoms. If you find that you feel better by avoiding gluten due to celiac disease, gluten sensitivities, or thyroid dysfunction, Brown encourages opting for gluten-free, whole-grain options.

Sugary foods

Any raw sugars can also cause your blood sugar to spike and increase insulin in your blood, Dr. Ruiz says. Blake adds that this includes both foods like cakes, candies, and cookies, but also sugary drinks like juice and soda.

Alcohol

Not only does alcohol cause inflammation in the body, but it can disrupt sleep, impact food choices, and cause gut distress.

Processed foods

Azzaro says highly processed, fried foods that use poor-quality oils, and many packaged snacks can be inflammatory.

“Minimising ultra-processed food is very important as this type of food will drive inflammation in the body, which will exasperate PCOS symptoms,” Alderson says.

Other lifestyle changes to manage PCOS

Weight loss is often the first line of defense when it comes to managing PCOS, but Ramallo reminds us that a healthy weight is one that’s easy to maintain and stable after three to six months of healthy changes, not what the scale or BMI might say.

Though following a healthy diet can be a great assist in lowering insulin levels, managing PCOS, and controlling hormone fluctuations, Dr. Ruiz adds to those suffering from PCOS that ultimately medication is often the best option. If not handled by a medical professional, PCOS can put patients at an increased risk for endometrial cancer, something diet alone isn’t able to prevent.

Dr. Ruiz says your doctor will often prescribe a birth control pill or IUD with either combined hormones or progestin-only. Other medications can be prescribed to assist in blocking certain hormones. Plus, if a patient chooses they want to get pregnant, there are medications a doctor can prescribe to help with ovulation and encourage fertility, he notes.

Patients with PCOS should also add exercise to their regular routine, Blake says. She suggests easing yourself into daily movement with a five to 10-minute brisk walk after meals to improve the body’s glucose processing. Ramallo encourages working your way up to 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week. But, It’s also important not to over-exercise, which can add additional stress to the body, Brown notes.

Additionally, research has found that PCOS is related to mental health and stress. Brown encourages practicing meditation, yoga, journaling, and regularly walking. If you’re struggling with weight loss after a PCOS diagnosis, it is essential to work with a medical professional to manage symptoms who is sensitive to your experience and consider seeking mental health support.

Lastly, sleeping a full seven to nine hours per night and maintaining a stable bedtime schedule is crucial to managing PCOS symptoms, Ramallo says.

References

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