Women with PCOS have a difficult time maintaining their weight. They are often faced with an increased appetite, difficulty regulating blood sugar levels, and insulin resistance. These three factors lead to overeating which leads to obesity and other health problems. One of the best ways for women with PCOS to manage their symptoms is through diet changes.
This article will discuss the best and worst foods for women with PCOS so that you can get started on your journey towards better health.
What Is PCOS?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal imbalance that affects the ovaries (13). It causes enlarged ovaries with multiple small cysts. The most common symptom of PCOS is irregular menstrual periods, but weight gain and acne are also symptoms. Women with PCOS often have high levels of testosterone in their bodies, which can lead to hair loss on the head or face.
What’s The Cause Of This Condition?
The endocrine system regulates hormones within the human body (15). For instance, insulin regulates blood sugar levels while cortisol helps maintain blood pressure when you’re stressed. On the other hand, estrogen governs reproductive cycles for women (and men); and progesterone supports pregnancy and lactation.
Not enough or too much hormone production from the glands causes an interruption in this delicate cycle, leading to various hormone imbalances affecting many areas of our lives.
Although there’s no treatment for PCOS yet, the following factors are known to trigger it (12):
- insulin resistance
- metabolic syndrome
- chronic stress
Therefore, controlling these factors can alleviate some of the symptoms of this condition.
Read More: How To Lose Weight With PCOS: 5 Easy Dietary Tweaks
What Does Diet Have To Do With PCOS?
PCOS is a chronic condition, which means symptoms can be managed but not cured (11). One way to help manage PCOS symptoms is through diet.
Many women with PCOS find relief by eating an anti-inflammatory diet that consists of plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, healthy fats from avocados and nuts and seeds as well as low glycemic index foods like beans or lentils (9). This type of protocol will reduce inflammation in the body by controlling insulin levels while providing essential nutrients for hormone production.
In contrast, unhealthy food choices such as processed carbohydrates (like breads), sweets (chocolate bars) or fast food meals are considered high inflammatory choices because they lead to spikes in blood glucose levels quickly after consumption – ultimately leading to an inflammatory response (3).
What Is The Best Diet For PCOS?
The best diet for women with PCOS is low-carb and low-glycemic. The goal is to reduce insulin resistance by restricting carbohydrates and sugar in the diet, which can also lead to weight loss.
Best Foods For Women With PCOS
A diet plan for PCOS should include the following foods:
A PCOS diet must feature protein from sources such as lean meats, beans, and eggs. Protein has a minimal effect on blood sugar levels with adequate insulin levels (14). They also help to keep your appetite in check by making you feel fuller on fewer calories.
PCOS sufferers should choose lean, grass-fed meat as it is lower in both fat and calories than the regular alternatives.
Low GI Foods
Foods that have low glycemic indexes include oatmeal, dark leafy greens, and other vegetables. These foods release energy in the form of glucose more slowly which will help to maintain stable blood sugar levels and regulate appetite (8).
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High Fiber Foods
Foods that have high fiber content include whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. Fiber helps your body better process sugars by slowing down how quickly they are absorbed into the bloodstream. This will help to regulate appetite and stabilize blood sugar levels (6).
Foods Rich in Omega Fatty Acids
Foods that are rich in omega-fatty acids include salmon, flaxseed oil, and walnuts. These foods have been shown to decrease inflammation (10) which can cause acne breakouts and make the symptoms of PCOS worse.
Healthy fats are necessary for production of some hormones (5). This may have benefits for reproductive health and fertility for women who are trying to conceive (4). Some sources of healthy fats include foods such as avocados, nuts, olive oil, and coconut oil. Keep in mind that all fats including those from healthy sources should be eaten in moderation.
High Antioxidant Foods
Anything high in antioxidants is good for the body. These foods are part of the best diet plan for PCOS because they reduce oxidative stress that’s common among those with the condition (1). Foods that are rich in antioxidants include dark chocolate, berries, and dark leafy greens. However, it is important to look at these foods in relation to their glycemic index (GI) as some fruits can cause a spike in blood sugar levels.
Foods To Avoid With PCOS
These are the foods that you should be avoiding, or cutting down on if you have been diagnosed with PCOS:
Processed foods are generally high in sugar, which is an ingredient that people with PCOS should be cutting down on. It’s also a good idea to avoid processed meats such as hot dogs and sausages because they have been shown to increase the risk of cancer (2). Processed foods include; canned vegetables, pizza crusts, microwavable meals, frozen dinners and anything else from the freezer aisle or fast food restaurant.
Many people with PCOS are finding relief by eliminating unhealthy fats and sugars from their diet. Unhealthy fat is high in calories, so it can lead to weight gain and increase risk of disease (18). Unhealthy fats include; too much dairy, fried foods, and processed meats.
Read More: Foods To Avoid With PCOS: Manage Your PCOS Symptoms Through Your Diet
It is a common trigger for people with PCOS. Dairy products are thought to increase the production of hormones in your body, which can make it difficult for you to lose weight (16).The best way to include dairy into your diet is by choosing low-fat or fat free options such as cottage cheese, yogurt, and skim milk.
Soy can also be a trigger for PCOS. It is high in estrogen and causes either estrogenic or antiestrogenic effects (17). Because women with this condition have high levels of estrogen, avoiding soy products is advisable.
Stick to soy products that have been fermented, such as tempeh or tofu, because they are higher in protein than other forms of the product and will help you maintain muscle mass which has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity.
The “wheat belly” that many people see on gluten-eaters may be due to the hormone imbalance with this condition. Gluten can lead to inflammation (7). Women with PCOS have higher inflammation markers than those without the disease, so it is better to keep off guten.
The only time when a person should include gluten in their diet is after they’ve tried cutting out and found no relief from symptoms. You’ll want to try whole (not processed) wheat breads, crackers, cookies and other baked goods that are made from a mixture of wheat and other flours.
7-Day Sample PCOS Meal Plan
Here is how your meals should look like if you have PCOS:
- Breakfast: 2 hard-boiled eggs, ½ cup melon, 1 cup whole wheat cereal, 1 cup milk.
- Snack: 1 cup carrot sticks, 3 tablespoons hummus.
- Lunch: 2 cups spinach or lettuce, 1-2 cup other vegetables (such as onions, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, and celery), ½ cup chickpeas or other bean, ¼ cup feta cheese, 1 tablespoon oil and vinegar dressing, and a small slice whole wheat pita bread.
- Snack: Yogurt parfait with 6 oz plain yogurt, ½ cup unsweetened frozen berries, 2 tablespoons slivered almonds.
- Dinner: 4 oz. baked salmon, 1 cup steamed broccoli and cauliflower, ¾ cup brown rice.
- Snack: 1 banana, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, 1 cup milk or water to drink.
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- Breakfast: ½ cup oatmeal with cinnamon, raisins and a teaspoon of olive oil or butter. ¼ sliced banana and half an apple to go with the oats. A glass of milk.
- Snack: Handful of mixed nuts (almonds, hazelnuts etc.)
- Lunch: Grilled chicken salad sandwich with whole wheat bread, light mayonnaise; lettuce leaves, tomato slices, and cucumber strips.
- Snack: Carrot and celery sticks with peanut butter dip.
- Dinner: Steamed vegetables cooked in vegetable broth then seasoned with salt and pepper, ½ cup cooked brown rice.
- Snack: Banana with peanut butter.
- Drinks: Water or milk to drink throughout the day.
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with bell pepper, onion and mushrooms. Half a grapefruit or orange juice to drink.
- Snack: Low-fat yogurt mixed with fruit (such as berries).
- Lunch: Whole wheat pita bread sandwich with lettuce, tomato, low-fat mayonnaise, and grilled turkey breast slices. Eat it with carrots, celery sticks.
- Snack: ¾ cup grapes.
- Dinner: Grilled chicken breast burger patty served with a whole wheat bun, lettuce and tomato on the side.
- Snack: Fruit salad with any fruit of choice (oranges, apples, bananas etc.)
- Drinks: Milk or water to drink throughout the day.
- Breakfast: ½ cup oatmeal with maple syrup and a sliced banana, ¼ cup of raisins.
- Snack: One hard-boiled egg.
- Lunch: Sandwich using whole wheat bread or tortilla wraps, low-fat cheese slices (such as mozzarella), tomato slices, cucumber strips; lettuce leaves if desired. Add grilled chicken breast pieces to make it more substantial.
- Snack: Low sugar granola bars.
- Dinner: Grilled salmon steak served over sauteed spinach and onion in vegetable broth seasoning, with brown rice on the side.
- Snacks: Low-fat yogurt.
- Breakfast: ½ cup oatmeal with cinnamon, raisins and a teaspoon of olive oil or butter. ¼ sliced banana and half an apple to go with the oats.
- Snack: Low-fat yogurt mixed with fruit such as strawberries.
- Lunch: Grilled chicken salad sandwich on whole wheat bread, light mayonnaise; lettuce leaves, tomato slices, cucumber strips. Add grilled mushroom pieces for more veggies!
- Snack: One scoop vanilla protein powder (such as Whey Protein Powder) in water or milk; add some berries for taste if desired.
- Dinner: Roasted vegetable dish over brown rice that is seasoned with salt and pepper, vegetable broth on the side.
- Drinks: water or milk, the latter in moderation.
- Breakfast: ½ cup blueberries, ¼ cup oatmeal.
- Snack: handful of almonds or sunflower seeds.
- Lunch: Salad with spinach leaves, tomatoes and cucumbers; grilled chicken breast (or canned tuna); boiled potatoes; olive oil-balsamic vinegar dressing; whole wheat bread roll.
- Snack: Mixed fruit salad with chopped apples, berries, melon slices in a tablespoon of honey yogurt and low-fat milk to drink.
- Dinner: Grilled chicken, green beans and mushrooms.
- Snack: handful of sunflower seeds or almonds.
Water to drink is recommended at all times throughout the day. Coffee with milk in the morning (caffeinated) and tea without any sugar are also permitted up to two cups per day only.
- Breakfast: Oats topped with blueberries, almond slivers; an apple on the side (sliced).
- Snack: 1 cup sliced carrots, celery, and cucumber.
- Lunch: Spinach salad with chickpeas and feta cheese; boiled potatoes drizzled with olive oil-balsamic vinegar dressing; whole wheat pita bread roll filled with tuna fish mixed in tomato sauce or grilled veggies marinated in honey yogurt sauce. Water as desired for lunchtime.
- Snack: ½ cup almonds and or a few pieces of dark chocolate.
- Dinner: Grilled chicken, eggplant, and zucchini grilled with olive oil, balsamic vinegar dressing, spinach salad without feta cheese, or any other dairy products to make the dish lower in fat. Water as desired for dinner time.
The Bottom Line
The best diet for women with PCOS is a low-carb, high protein diet that includes many vegetables and greens in addition to lean meat sources such as fish or bison. This will help balance estrogen levels while providing necessary nutrients for energy production throughout the day. It may take some time to find out what works best but it’s worth taking the time and effort in order not only to feel better about oneself but also aid in fertility rates due to ovulation being more regular when following this type of plan.
Sticking to a healthy diet based on your health needs, allergies and preferences is a great idea, however, when combined with a workout plan that meets your goals, it might bring you significant benefits. Better mood, stronger muscles, and endurance are just some.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
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- Dietary fat intake and reproductive hormone concentrations and ovulation in regularly menstruating women (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
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- Gluten Intake Is Positively Associated with Plasma α2-Macroglobulin in Young Adults (2015, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Low Glycemic Foods: Definitions, Facts, Examples, and Benefits (2021, webmd.com)
- Low Starch/Low Dairy Diet Results in Successful Treatment of Obesity and Co-Morbidities Linked to Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
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