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PCOS-friendly Nutrition Program

Learn how you can lose weight, gain energy, and improve your quality of life through dietary improvements. Small changes can make a big difference in living with PCOS.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), is a condition that adversely affects a woman’s reproductive hormones.

Each case of PCOS is different and its causes are not fully understood.

Signs and Symptoms of PCOS

  • Irregular or missed periods
  • Fertility struggles
  • Unwanted hair growth on face and body
  • Hair loss
  • Oily, Acne-prone Skin
  • Changes in skin pigment
  • Frequent mood changes
  • Pelvic pain
  • Weight gain, specifically around the midsection

Your doctor will administer tests to determine if you have PCOS.  If you are diagnosed with the condition, work with your doctor and a nutritionist for PCOS to make lifestyle changes to continue to live a normal life.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome creates a hormonal imbalance that affects your glands, including pituitary, thyroid, adrenal and pancreas. The syndrome may or may not cause cysts on your ovaries.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome a common endocrine disorder that affects more than 1 in 10 women worldwide. However, fewer than half of women with PCOS are diagnosed

Symptoms of PCOS can include:

  • Hair loss 
  • Unwanted hair growth in unexpected places
  • Oily skin 
  • Irregular menstrual cycles, including missed periods
  • Infertility (PCOS is among the leading causes of infertility)
  • Weight gain and difficulty losing weight
  • Depression

Polycystic ovary syndrome can also increase your chances of developing high blood pressure and adult onset — also called type 2 — diabetes.

There is no single test to diagnose PCOS. Your doctor will review a combination of your medical history, symptoms and blood tests, as well as perform and a physical exam to determine whether you have this condition.

 

How does diet affect PCOS?

healthful food in a bowl
A diet that includes high-fiber foods may benefit people with PCOS.

Two of the primary ways that diet affects PCOS are weight management and insulin production and resistance.

However, insulin plays a significant role in PCOS, so managing insulin levels with a PCOS diet is one of the best steps people can take to manage the condition.

Many people with PCOS have insulin resistance. In fact, those with PCOS develop diabetes or pre-diabetes before the age of 40. Diabetes is directly related to how the body processes insulin.

Following a diet that meets a person’s nutritional needs, maintains a healthy weight, and promotes good insulin levels can help people with PCOS feel better.

Research has found that what people eat has a significant effect on PCOS. That said, there is currently no standard diet for PCOS.

However, there is widespread agreement about which foods are beneficial and seem to help people manage their condition, and which foods to avoid.

Three diets that may help people with PCOS manage their symptoms are:

  • A low glycemic index (GI) diet: The body digests foods with a low GI more slowly, meaning they do not cause insulin levels to rise as much or as quickly as other foods, such as some carbs. Foods in a low GI diet include whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, starchy vegetables, and other unprocessed, low-carbohydrate foods.
  • An anti-inflammatory diet: Anti-inflammatory foods, such as berries, fatty fish, leafy greens, and extra virgin olive oil, may reduce inflammation-related symptoms, such as fatigue.
  • The DASH diet: Doctors often recommend the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet to reduce the risk or impact of heart disease. It may also help manage PCOS symptoms. A DASH diet is rich in fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables whole grain, and low-fat dairy produce. The diet discourages foods that are high in saturated fat and sugar.

A 2015 study found that obese women who followed a specially-designed DASH diet for 8 weeks saw a reduction in insulin resistance and belly fat compared to those that did not follow the same diet.

A healthful PCOS diet can also include the following foods:

  • natural, unprocessed foods
  • high-fiber foods
  • fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel
  • kale, pinach, and other dark, leafy greens
  • dark red fruits, such as red grapes, blueberries, blackberries, and cherries
  • broccoli and cauliflower
  • dried beans, lentils, and other legumes
  • healthful fats, such as olive oil, as well as avocados and coconuts
  • nuts, including pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, and pistachios
  • dark chocolate in moderation
  • spices, such as turmeric and cinnamon

 


In general, people on a PCOS diet should avoid foods already widely seen as unhealthful. These include:

  • Refined carbohydrates, such as mass-produced pastries and white bread.
  • Fried foods, such as fast food.
  • Sugary beverages, such as sodas and energy drinks.
  • Processed meats, such as hot dogs, sausages, and luncheon meats.
  • Solid fats, including margarine, shortening, and lard.
  • Excess red meat, such as steaks, hamburgers, and pork.

What is a PCOS Diet?

Working with a dietitian to promote healthy eating habits can alleviate your PCOS symptoms.

woman at farmers market

Research suggests lifestyle change to be the FIRST line of treatment for women dealing with PCOS. Women who achieve weight loss of as little as 5-10% of their body weight experience a significant improvement in ovulation rates. Before speaking with our PCOS dietitians to build a PCOS Diet, discuss your specific diagnosis and treatment plan with your doctor in detail. Bring all of this information to our PCOS dietitians so that we can build a PCOS Diet tailored specifically to you. Our recommendations will vary depending on the presence and severity of your specific symptoms.

The Basics of a PCOS Diet

  • Choose High Quality, High Fiber Carbohydrates
    Women with PCOS are more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes than women who do not have PCOS. Similar to a diabetic diet, it is important for women with PCOS to consume high quality, high fiber carbohydrates. This will aid in stabilizing your blood sugar levels.
  • Eat a Balanced Diet
    Consuming a well balanced PCOS Diet will help to keep your body in a neutral, homeostatic state. A balanced PCOS Diet allows insulin to function properly by bringing glucose to your cells for energy. This process results in less insulin in your bloodstream, ultimately decreasing androgen production and alleviating your PCOS symptoms.

  • Follow a Consistent Routine and Regular Meal Times
    Do not skip meals. Skipping meals can crash your blood sugar levels, leading to food cravings and overindulgence. Keeping a routine will allow your blood sugar levels to stabilize. Stable blood sugar aids in the proper androgen production in your body. Proper androgen production = less severe PCOS symptoms. Some doctors recommend eating smaller, more frequent meals to better regulate blood sugar and establish better habits.

  • Choose Nutrient Rich Food, High in Vitamins and Minerals
    Studies show consuming foods high in Vitamin D, Vitamin B, Iodine, Selenium, and Magnesium will greatly aid in improving insulin resistance, and decrease the severity of symptoms associated with PCOS.

Other lifestyle changes

Lifestyle changes can also help people with PCOS manage the condition. Research has shown that combining a PCOS diet with physical activity can lead to the following benefits:

  • weight loss
  • improved insulin metabolism
  • more regular periods
  • reduced levels of male hormones and male-pattern hair growth
  • lower cholesterol levels

Behavioral strategies can help women achieve the weight management goals that, in turn, help manage PCOS symptoms. These practices include:

  • goal-setting
  • social support networks
  • self-monitoring techniques
  • caring for psychological well-being

Reducing stress through self-care practices, such as getting enough sleep, avoiding over-commitment, and making time to relax, can also help a person manage PCOS.

Nuthera's PCOS-friendly Nutrition Program can help you manage your PCOS symptoms and related health conditions. Our doctors understand that no two cases of PCOS are exactly alike, and will work closely with you to develop a treatment plan tailored to meet your individual needs.