What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a very common health condition experienced by 10% of women of childbearing age. PCOS can also lead to other serious health challenges, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and mental health conditions.
In PCOS, women have high levels of male hormones (androgens), such as testosterone. High androgen levels can prevent ovulation, affect periods, cause acne, cause excess hair growth, and more.
PCOS also leads to insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone required to control blood sugar in the body. With insulin resistance, the body’s cells cannot respond to insulin and thus blood sugars increase. This can further lead to diabetes, cause weight gain, and affect the function of the ovaries.
Along with regular exercise, medications, and supplementation, nutrition plays a huge role in PCOS management. I am a Registered PCOS Dietitian (PCOS Nutritionist) and these are my tips regarding the best diet for PCOS.
Diet is a direct way to control the amount of insulin produced by the body, as well as the cell’s response to insulin. Foods that cause a sharp increase in blood sugar levels also cause a spike in insulin levels.
Since insulin resistance is so common in PCOS, managing insulin levels with a PCOS diet is one of the best steps you can take to manage the condition and its symptoms. A healthy, balanced PCOS diet plan can reduce unwanted acne, weight gain, hair loss, and more.
The Best Diet for PCOS
As you can imagine, there’s, unfortunately, no one-size-fits-all solution that describes the best PCOS diet.
However, nutrient-dense whole foods are essential and certain foods are especially beneficial in a PCOS diet. These foods improve gut health, reduce chronic inflammation and help in blood sugar regulation.
1. Get enough fibre
When including grains in your meals (such as rice, pasta, or bread), reach for whole grains or whole wheat products, rather than white rice, pasta and bread products. Whole fruits and vegetables are also high in fibre and healthy vitamins. A variety of fruits and vegetables should be eaten daily.
Fibre-rich foods help you stabilize your blood sugars. They also help you feel full for longer, aiding in weight loss with PCOS.
2. Eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day
To avoid crazy blood sugar responses, you should aim to eat a balanced meal or snack every 3-5 hours. When you go more than 6 hours without food, your blood sugar may drop, leaving you feeling dizzy, nauseous, and tired.
3. Aim to include protein in all meals and snacks
In addition to fueling the body with energy and providing the building blocks for bones, muscles, skin, and blood, protein plays a role in digestion, metabolism, and insulin control.
Protein also helps in losing weight with PCOS.
Your PCOS meal plan should include protein in every snack, and at least 20g of protein at each meal. Here are some protein sources:
- Chicken breast: 30 grams of protein
- Canned tuna: 27 grams per can
- Cottage cheese: 28 grams per cup
- Shrimp: 20 grams per 3-oz serving
- Tofu: 20 grams per 1 cup
- Legumes: 14 grams per 1 cup
- Milk: 9 grams per 1 cup
- Quinoa: 8 grams per 1 cup
- Nut butters: 8 grams per 2 tbsp
- Steel-cut oats: 8 grams per ¾ cup
- Whole grain bread: 7 grams per 2 slices
- Nuts: 7 grams per ¼ cup
- Eggs: 6g per egg
Check out my blog for protein-rich PCOS recipes!
Please note that the amount of protein may vary from product to product. Please review the nutrition facts label on the products you purchase to see the protein content. If you are looking for help with label reading reach out to a dietitian near you!
4. Choose healthy fats
Women with PCOS are at a greater risk for cardiovascular disease. Mono and polyunsaturated fats from nuts, nut butters, avocados, seeds, extra-virgin olive oil, and avocados should be a foundational part of your PCOS diet.
I often suggest to my clients that they add two tablespoons of seeds like hemp, chia, or flax to their meals every day for an extra boost of healthy fat.
Foods to Avoid with PCOS
In PCOS it’s important to keep blood sugars steady, eat regularly, and choose whole foods.
Foods to avoid with PCOS include simple carbs (like white breads and refined grains), sugary foods, and highly processed foods. These all spike blood sugar levels and contribute to chronic inflammation.
To be honest, I highly suggest you avoid fad diets, like keto, intermittent fasting, and others. These diets put you at an increased risk for eating disorders and frankly, there is no robust evidence that they work in PCOS.
PCOS Meal Plan
You can absolutely optimize your nutritional intake to be healthy and achieve hormone balance in PCOS.
If you have additional questions about PCOS nutrition check out my other articles for PCOS recipes and consider meeting with a registered dietitian who can help you create a customized PCOS meal plan.