Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS is a hormonal and metabolic condition that affects many women across the nation. It can lead to a variety of unwanted symptoms, including irregular cycles, excess body hair, weight gain, and even infertility.
Proper treatment of PCOS involves a holistic approach that takes the whole body into account. As a nutritionist, I help my clients with PCOS get to the root cause of their symptoms and figure out the best treatment protocol that is right for them.
While PCOS management will likely be individualized, there are general dietary recommendations for PCOS that should be kept in mind.
In today’s article, I will be diving into my best nutrition tips for women with PCOS. Keep reading to learn how you can use nutrition to reduce your symptoms and live an overall healthier life!
If you haven’t already, make sure to check out my article on how to lose weight without dieting. It contains tons of tangible tips for how to support healthy weight loss without restricting yourself!
Why is Nutrition Important for PCOS?
The treatment for PCOS is often complex and involves a multifactorial approach. This is because PCOS can affect many of your bodily systems and inflict hormonal and metabolic changes.
You may be curious, why is nutrition important for PCOS? It actually is more important than you may think!
There is a large amount of scientific research and studies that show the connection between what you eat and the severity and symptoms of PCOS. When your body is deficient in nutrients or suffering from insulin resistance, you can start to see the condition worsen. For obvious reasons- this is not ideal!
The good news is that with a few dietary changes, along with other lifestyle habits, you can set your body up for success to deal with PCOS. While nutrition is not a cure for PCOS, it can absolutely help you feel better and improve your overall quality of life.
Dietary Recommendations for PCOS
Below I will share some of my top diet strategies for managing PCOS as a specialized women’s health dietitian!
- Include protein in every meal. Protein is one of the most important macronutrients for PCOS. A high-protein diet can help you avoid weight gain, feel more energetic, and improve insulin resistance (a hallmark symptom and driver of PCOS). I recommend including a protein source in as many meals and snacks as you can. Aim for at least ~15-20 grams per meal and ~10 grams for snacks. When possible, prioritize lean, high-quality protein sources that are low in saturated fat.
- Good sources of protein: grass-fed beef, chicken, turkey, eggs, soy products, beans, legumes, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese
- Increase your fiber intake. Dietary fiber is found in plants and goes undigested by your digestive tract. Women with PCOS are often not consuming enough fiber during their day. An increase in fiber has been shown to help metabolic markers such as cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It also can be beneficial for weight management with PCOS, as losing weight can be more challenging. A “high-fiber” food has at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.
- High-fiber foods include: beans, lentils, oats, oat bran, whole wheat, quinoa, fruits, and vegetables
- Eat a majority of whole foods. Whole foods over processed foods are the preferred source of fuel for PCOS. Processed foods are foods that are altered from their natural form. They typically have added sugars, preservatives, oils, and more, that can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. This can negatively impact your ability to utilize the hormone insulin and can lead to elevated blood sugars. Even further, whole foods are more nutrient-dense than processed foods and should be prioritized with PCOS.
- Swap simple carbs for complex carbs. Complex carbs take longer to digest than simple carbs do, making them a more stable source of energy. Simple carbs are found in sugars and syrups and can lead to spikes in blood sugar. It is important to make the majority of your carb intake come from complex carbs rather than simple carbs.
- Good examples of complex carbs: whole grain products, potato and sweet potato, oatmeal, brown rice, fruits, and vegetables
- Check-in with your micronutrient intake. Nutrient deficiencies are actually very common among the PCOS population. Not only can they lead to the development of the condition, but they can also affect the severity of symptoms. The best way to make sure you are getting the nutrients you need is to eat a diverse diet filled with nutritious foods. You also may want to consider getting a vitamin and mineral panel done to see where your nutrient levels are at. This can help you identify any gaps in your diet!
- Important micronutrients for PCOS: magnesium, vitamin D, B vitamins, zinc, vitamin E, selenium
- Focus on low-glycemic foods. Low-glycemic foods are foods that have a low score on the glycemic index scale. The glycemic index rates foods based on how likely they are to spike your blood sugar levels. The lower the rating, the least likely. Since women with PCOS deal with resistance to insulin, focusing on low-glycemic foods is key. There is even research to support a low glycemic diet for PCOS!
- Low glycemic foods to include in your diet: green vegetables, carrots, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, wheat bran, avocado, brown rice
- Incorporate healthy fats. Healthy fats are another important component of a PCOS-friendly diet. These fats can help correct hormonal imbalances and improve fertility outcomes. Healthy fats include poly and monounsaturated fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are one family of healthy fats that should be prioritized with PCOS. They have been shown to improve insulin resistance and metabolic parameters in women with PCOS.
- Sources of omega-3 fatty acids: seafood and fish (especially coldwater fish like salmon and tuna), flax seeds and oil, algae, walnuts
- Other sources of healthy fats: nuts and seeds, olive oil, avocado oil, avocado
- Supplement as necessary (but not blindly!). Supplements can be helpful for PCOS by addressing deficiencies and balancing hormonal levels. However, it is not recommended to blindly take supplements. You can potentially worsen your health rather than improve it! Instead, work together with your healthcare team to develop a supplement regimen that is right for you.
Benefits of Working with a PCOS Nutrition Specialist
Working with a certified dietitian-nutritionist (such as myself!) can be extremely helpful if you have PCOS. I am able to look at the full picture of your history and condition. This includes what the root cause of your PCOS is and what other factors may be at play.
Additionally, I develop a personalized nutrition plan that meets your needs. I take into account your schedule, current eating habits, past medical history, and more. Having a person in your corner for extra support and accountability can be very beneficial for your journey.
Hiring a dietitian helps to take the guesswork and confusion out of what you should be eating or how much. I know that it can be frustrating trying to figure it all out- and you do NOT have to do it alone! I am here for you.
As a functional integrative nutritionist, I help women support fertility, improve hormonal health, and achieve sustainable weight management. Learn more about my current private coaching offers and services at this link.
Interested in a group coaching setting? My 4Ever Method Group Coaching Program may be right for you! Find out if it’s a good fit by signing up here.
Diet for PCOS: The Takeaway
All in all, there are plenty of dietary recommendations for PCOS that you can implement into your daily life. It doesn’t need to be complicated, either. Choose a few from the list above to start with and then go from there!
Small habit changes start to compound on top of one another and add up over time. Before you know it, you will start to feel and look the best you ever have.
Looking for more fun and educational nutrition content? Make sure to follow along with my Instagram where I share weekly tips and tricks for hormonal health, fertility, and weight loss. So happy to have you here!