Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) have increased insulin resistance, inflammation, and weight gain that may make them more susceptible to diabetes – which in turn can result in poor health and decreased longevity. The key to alleviating these symptoms is always a lifestyle change. Diet is the most important part of that change.
The solution is simple: choose “clean” foods – those without lots of added sugar or saturated fats – and then make sure you eat breakfast every morning. When you wake up your body hasn’t had food for at least 8 hours (sometimes 12) so it is primed to burn fat for energy instead of its own tissues. Skipping breakfast sets your metabolism on hold until lunchtime! Eating in the morning also helps improve insulin sensitivity and maintain steady energy levels throughout the day.
What To Eat For Breakfast If You Have PCOS?
Women with PCOS who eat a diet which reduces insulin resistance and inflammation will lose weight, stabilize blood sugar, balance hormones, have fewer acne outbreaks, and reduce the risk for diabetes. So what should you eat to alleviate these symptoms?
Minimally Processed Carbohydrates
Whole grains contain all three parts of the grain along with fiber and many other nutrients such as B vitamins, vitamin E and magnesium. Research has proven that diets that are high in fiber help lower blood sugar, assist with weight loss, lower cholesterol and support digestion (5).
For women with PCOS, minimally processed carbohydrates are crucial for balancing blood sugar, managing insulin resistance, and feeling energized all day. Examples of minimally processed carbs that should be part of a PCOS breakfast include:
- Beans and lentils
- Root vegetables
- Sweet potatoes and white potatoes
- Sprouted grain bread
Although most pre-made breakfast cereals are loaded with sugar, it’s possible to get a few PCOS friendly options. Check the ingredient list on the cereal box. The first item listed should be a whole grain. Examples include but are not limited to whole wheat, whole-grain corn, barley, oats, oatmeal, millet, quinoa and wheat berries.
The terms “multigrain,” “wheat,” “wheat germ,” and “bran” may not always be an indicator that a grain is whole or healthy. In fact, they may mean part of the grain is missing. Or in some cases the ingredient multigrain may imply many grains are included, none of which are whole.
Be warned that a cereal labeled “low in sugar” may not necessarily be PCOS friendly. It may have saturated fats, high levels of sodium, or lack whole grains. Therefore, it is important to read both the nutrition information panel as well as the ingredients to make a decision.
Protein is important for energy and to help maintain a healthy metabolism (1). The best way to get protein into your diet is by eating foods high in the amino acid leucine. Leucine stimulates the production of insulin-like growth factor 1(IGF-1) – which has been shown to make you feel full and help maintain muscle tissue (6). Protein, especially leucine-rich protein, also helps reduce blood sugar levels after meals and therefore can boost metabolism so that more fat is burned during exercise (11).
Studies show that diets high in seeds, nuts, vegetables, fish and soy are associated with significantly lower rates of breast cancer. In particular, women who have high consumption of legumes– a category which includes beans – were 7 times less likely to develop breast cancer than those who did not eat them on a regular basis (7).
Legumes also contain lecithin which helps reverse PCOS symptoms by increasing estrogen receptors in the liver. A study published in 2009 shows that a diet high in soy is linked to a reduction of serum levels of reproductive hormones, free testosterone and the adipokines leptin and visfatin (12).
Examples of lean proteins that should be included at breakfast include:
- Egg whites
- Lean meat such as chicken and turkey
- Fish with low levels of mercury, like flounder
- Low-fat dairy products (such as Greek yogurt)
- Seeds and nuts such as almonds and walnuts
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Women with PCOS have higher levels of inflammation due to insulin resistance so it makes sense that they should include anti-inflammatory fats in their diet. Even better if these fats are monounsaturated or Omega 3 fatty acids (15).
Minimally processed saturated fats from organic, grass-fed animals can be included. Studies show that these fats help improve insulin sensitivity by increasing glucose disposal in skeletal muscles and decreasing ectopic triglyceride accumulation in liver and muscle tissues (3).
Fish oils have been shown to raise the body’s omega 3 to omega 6 ratio, which in turn lowers insulin and testosterone levels. Omega 3 fatty acids like fish oils and flaxseeds are crucial to quelling inflammation as well (9). Other sources of Omega 3’s that are high in anti-inflammatory properties include eggs, olive oil, nuts, fatty fish such as trout or salmon.
Examples of healthy fats that can be included at breakfast include:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Nut butters such as almond butter and peanut butter
- Seeds like pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds
- Rainbow-Colored Fruits and Vegetables
Women with PCOS are at risk for having lower levels of carotenoids in their blood. This may be linked to insulin resistance since they aid liver function by metabolizing fats and boosting the production of antioxidants, which reduce free radical damage (2).
Studies show that diets rich in plant-based carotenoids provide an added protection against heart disease as well as cancer – particularly breast and ovarian cancers (4). Because women with PCOS have a higher risk for obesity, they should be especially mindful about adding colorful foods to their diet.
Topping your morning cereal with a sliced banana or serving a salad with spinach will add nutrients without stealing calories that you’re counting on from other sources like meat. These bright colors in vegetables and fruits also signify that they are rich in vitamins and phytochemicals– natural chemicals which provide antioxidant benefits.
Some rainbow-colored fruits and vegetables that should feature on your breakfast plate include:
Red and yellow bell peppers
- Black cherries
- Bok choy
- Black beans
- Romaine lettuce
Considerations For Planning A PCOS Breakfast
There are several things you should bear in mind when planning what to eat at breakfast if you have PCOS. There’s not one breakfast idea that would be best for all women – intolerances and preferences make a difference. Different meals work for different women, so it’s important to find what works specifically for you. Here are some tips to get the best out of your PCOS breakfast:
Pay Attention To Whether You’re Feeling Hungry Or Satiated After Eating Certain Foods
Putting in an effort to avoid blood sugar spikes is advisable when eating with PCOS. Studies have shown that lower carbohydrate diets improve insulin sensitivity more than higher-carbohydrate diets (13). Paying attention to whether or not something makes you feel full for longer is crucial when choosing meals with fewer carbohydrates.
Pay Attention To Your Food Intolerances
A PCOS diet isn’t necessarily anti-dairy or gluten free, so if you have intolerances, you’ll have to adjust it accordingly. If you are dairy intolerant, get lactose-free products. If you have a gluten sensitivity or allergy, try gluten-free varieties of your favorite breads and cereals.
If you’re unsure whether you have food intolerance, or which foods trigger a reaction you should go on an elimination diet. How this works is you remove the most common food intolerances from your diet for a month or two, then add one back in to see how you react. If symptoms appear after reintroducing it you’ll know that it’s something you shouldn’t be eating regularly if at all.
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Pay Attention To The Glycemic Index Of Your Breakfast Foods
Choose foods that are low on the glycemic index – you’ll likely find them filling well into the afternoon and won’t need to eat again until dinner. If you do need something in the afternoon, treat yourself with some nuts or a piece of fruit for an energy boost that’ll sustain you in time for dinner
Go For Anti-Inflammatory Foods
You can address inflammation by eliminating processed foods from your diet, which are high in omega-6 fatty acids. Instead, focus on nutrient-dense meals like bone broth soups made with healing herbs and vegetables. Blueberries are also rich in anti-inflammatory antioxidants – they’re great before workouts so your body can recover faster after exercising (10).
Choose Foods You Enjoy
Planning a PCOS breakfast becomes easier when you choose recipes that you already love. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day – treat yourself to something you love and you’ll have more energy through your day.
Choose Convenient Foods You Can Prepare Ahead Of Time
Try to factor in time when choosing a PCOS breakfast recipe. Breakfast can be such an important meal, that it’s worth taking the time to prepare a healthy breakfast instead of opting for cereal or toast every morning, which are low in nutrients and often cause blood sugar spikes.
If you choose nutritious foods that don’t require much prep work, you will likely stay on track with your diet better. Consider food like eggs, which only take 5 minutes to cook and can be prepared ahead of time or overnight then warmed up at the start of each week.
Pay Attention To What Your Body Needs As It Evolves
You may find that your PCOS symptoms change over time (8). This is because every woman has a different genetic predisposition, and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for the next. Pay attention to how your diet affects your body and adjust it accordingly so you stay on track with better health overall.
Breakfast Ideas For PCOS
Breakfast doesn’t have to be difficult, and you don’t have to sacrifice taste or nutrition. Try these 10 PCOS breakfast ideas for meals that are both delicious and nutritious:
- Pancakes made with coconut flour, a gluten-free ingredient that is easily digested. Add any plant-based milk of your choosing to make dairy-free pancakes.
- A bowl of oatmeal made from steel cut oats and topped with berries or pomegranate seeds makes for an easy breakfast that will keep you full through lunchtime. Add cinnamon and nutmeg to give it an extra flavor kick. Alternatively, try overnight oat breakfast ideas for PCOS.
- Eggs are one of the most nutrient-dense foods available – they’re high in protein and vitamin D (14). Try a frittata (an Italian omelette), which you can make in advance then warm up quickly at the beginning of each week. Fill this egg dish with tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms, or whatever veggies you have on hand.
- Whizzing up a PCOS breakfast smoothie, especially one packed with morning protein like Greek yogurt and berries makes for a great breakfast on-the-go. Prepare your smoothie ahead of time so you don’t even need to think about it when you are running late in the morning – just grab it out of the fridge and enjoy!
- Whip up these coconut pancakes with maple syrup as an easy weekend treat that won’t wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels. These will keep you feeling full well into midmorning thanks to the fiber from the flax seeds and blueberries, which both contain more fiber than any other food.
- Slices of leftover roasted chicken tossed in a homemade Italian dressing makes for a tasty morning meal. This meal contains protein to help you feel full and is both low in carbs and easy on digestion – just be sure to eat it with your other meals, not alone.
- Serve crispy roasted vegetables like kale or Brussels sprouts as the base of your PCOS breakfast instead of bread. To make this dish extra special, top each serving with some feta cheese!
- Toss together leftovers from last night’s dinner into an omelette that will keep you feeling full through breakfast and lunchtime. A Spanish tortilla (or potato frittata) is especially filling thanks to its combination of potatoes, onions, garlic, peppers, spices, and herbs
- If you crave sweet food for breakfast, try making your own cereal or granola bars. You can mix up the recipe to include whatever seeds, nuts and berries are in season.
- Paired with high fiber toast topped with avocado slices (or any other favorite nut butter), scrambled egg whites make for a filling PCOS breakfast that won’t leave you starving within an hour of starting your day.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. For women with PCOS, having the right meal in the morning can help maintain a healthy weight, reduce inflammation and excess body hair growth, and keep your energy levels up throughout the day. By planning your PCOS breakfast from the foods recommended in this article (or other anti-inflammatory foods), you will be well on your way to feeling more energized and even losing weight!
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!
- A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Comparison of dietary micronutrient intake in PCOS patients with and without metabolic syndrome – Journal of Ovarian Research (2021, ovarianresearch.biomedcentral.com)
- Effects of Saturated Fat, Polyunsaturated Fat, Monounsaturated Fat, and Carbohydrate on Glucose-Insulin Homeostasis: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomised Controlled Feeding Trials (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Food Antioxidants and Their Anti-Inflammatory Properties: A Potential Role in Cardiovascular Diseases and Cancer Prevention (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Health benefits of dietary fiber | Nutrition Reviews | Oxford Academic (2009, academic.oup.com)
- Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and leucine activate pig myogenic satellite cells through mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway (2008, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Intake of bean fiber, beans, and grains and reduced risk of hormone receptor‐negative breast cancer: the San Francisco Bay Area Breast Cancer Study (2018, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- Lifecycle of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): From In Utero to Menopause (2013, academic.oup.com)
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Health Professional Fact Sheet (nih.gov) (2021, ods.od.nih.gov)
- Recent Research on the Health Benefits of Blueberries and Their Anthocyanins (2019, academic.oup.com)
- Reviewing the Effects of l-Leucine Supplementation in the Regulation of Food Intake, Energy Balance, and Glucose Homeostasis (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Soy isoflavones, diet and physical exercise modify serum cytokines in healthy obese postmenopausal women (2011, sciencedirect.com)
- The case for low carbohydrate diets in diabetes management (2005, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Golden Egg: Nutritional Value, Bioactivities, and Emerging Benefits for Human Health (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Role of Essential Fatty Acids in Human Health – Norris R. Glick, Milton H. Fischer, 2013 – (2013, journals.sagepub.com)