What is PCOS? Polycystic ovary syndrome is a condition that affects the lives of up to 12% of women and usually begins at childbearing age. Women with PCOS produce excess insulin and androgens – hormones that, if imbalanced, can cause difficulty ovulating (and hence irregular periods and fertility problems), small ovarian cysts, acne, thinning hair, and insulin resistance. There is also a link between PCOS and obesity. Ultimately, women with PCOS can develop serious complications such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Because women with PCOS are often insulin resistant – and there are several complications that can result from it, treating PCOS may include making changes to your diet and lifestyle, as well as taking medications to regulate ovulation and insulin levels. Diet and lifestyle strategies are usually part of the lifelong approach to treating PCOS. Here are three ways to improve your diet for PCOS.
1. Manage your weight
Up to 80% of women with PCOS are very overweight and, given this relationship, weight loss is often recommended. Losing weight has been shown to help manage many PCOS symptoms, including regulating periods, improving insulin levels, and reducing acne.
While there is constant debate over which type of diet is best for weight loss, a review of several studies found that any sustainable approach can help in managing PCOS symptoms. However, there may be some additional benefits for women following a low-carb diet.
What is the best diet for PCOS? A low-carbohydrate diet is often recommended to control insulin resistance, which is why it can be helpful for PCOS. A review of seven studies found that a diet that got no more than 45% of calories from carbohydrates resulted in better hormone levels and an improvement in pregnancy rates in overweight women with PCOS.
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While weight loss is often recommended, women with PCOS can have difficulty losing weight. Therefore, in addition to focusing on nutritional strategies, it can also be helpful to adopt other healthy lifestyle habits. Learning to deal with emotional and environmental triggers (e.g., a bad day or a walk past a pizza place) can aid the process. Similarly, symptoms of PCOS can be emotionally challenging and cause additional stress. Therefore, finding ways to deal with these aspects of the condition is an important part of managing PCOS – and it can aid weight management as well.
2. Include anti-inflammatory foods
Inflammation is believed to be the cause of some of the longer-term health risks associated with PCOS, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. A Mediterranean diet that includes foods like fish, vegetables, and legumes, and limits anti-inflammatory foods like high-sugar sugars and refined grains, can be especially helpful in reducing the health risk of women with PCOS. In a small 12-week study, participants who followed this eating plan lost an average of 7% of their weight and saw improvements in body composition, markers of inflammation, blood pressure, period cycles, and blood sugar regulation. In the short study period, there was also a 12% increase in pregnancy rates.
3. Focus on fiber
Fiber-filled foods promote bloating, which means that after a high-fiber meal (or snack), you can potentially cover a longer distance without feeling hungry, which will help you manage your weight better. In a year-long study, simply focusing on a daily intake of 30 grams of fiber from foods like vegetables and fruits resulted in about 5 pounds of weight loss, as well as an improvement in participants' response to insulin – a result that may translate into lower risk for type 2 diabetes. And here's the kicker: while the advice was to eat 30 grams of fiber per day, participants averaged 19 grams of fiber, so they experienced benefits even though they didn't get the goal.
Eating a high-fiber diet can also lead to an improvement in insulin sensitivity. In a 2019 study among women with PCOS, there was an inverse relationship between fiber intake and insulin resistance, meaning that women who consumed less fiber were more likely to have insulin resistance while those who consumed more fiber compared to women who consumed more fiber who ate on a high-fiber diet, this metabolic complication was less likely.
What to Eat for PCOS: A Delicious Sample Meal Plan
Here is a sample menu to help you put these nutritional strategies into practice. You will find that this rehearsal day has fiber and carbohydrates from healthy sources such as non-starchy and starchy vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. It also offers heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory foods like fish, avocados, and extra virgin olive oil. There is even a snack and a treat. In total, this day of rehearsals provides around 1,700 calories. (te that some women with PCOS may need more calories and others less.) About 35% of those calories come from carbohydrates, and this menu has 39 grams of fiber.
BREAKFAST: sweet potato toast
Cut a sweet potato in half, cut this serving into slices and saute until cooked. Divide an avocado in half, cut this portion into slices and alternate the avocado slices with the roasted sweet potato slices on a piece of toast and top them with 2 eggs boiled as desired.
LUNCH: Greek Chicken and Chickpea Salad
Combine a mixture of chopped grape tomatoes, cucumber, and red onions (for a total of 2 cups) with 1/4 cup kalamata olives, 1/3 cup chickpeas, 4 ounces pre-cooked chicken and 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar and 1 teaspoon Greek or Italian spice.
DINNER: pan pan salmon
Whisk 1 teaspoon honey, 1/4 cup coconut aminos or soy sauce, 1 teaspoon each of garlic powder and ginger powder, and 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Place a salmon fillet (about 1 pound) on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and use a paintbrush to season the salmon with the marinade mixture. Throw 4 cups of broccoli florets with the remaining mixture. Place in the sheet pan and spread the broccoli around the salmon. Bake at 450 degrees for 7 to 10 minutes – or until the salmon is done. Once the salmon is done, take it out of the sheet pan and continue toasting the broccoli until it is what you want. (Makes 4 servings)
Serve with a mixture of 1/2 cup cooked brown rice and 1/2 cup cooked rice cauliflower.
- 1 apple, cut into slices and brushed with nut or seed butter
- Chocolate mousse made by mixing 1/3 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk with 2 tablespoons of chia seeds and cocoa powder, 2 teaspoons of almond butter, ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1 1/2 teaspoons of maple syrup. Chill and serve.