The condition known as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects women of reproductive age and can influence hormone health, including insulin function, which plays a role in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. The good news is that you can improve hormone function by eating a variety of delicious foods suitable for PCOS. Learn more about foods for polycystic ovary syndrome.
Living with PCOS
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that has both silent and physical symptoms. Contrary to the name, the condition doesn’t always cause cysts to grow on the ovaries, and most women experience other symptoms, such as acne, hair thinning or baldness, excess body hair or hair on the face, unexplained weight changes, and changes to their cycle.
Working with a healthcare professional specializing in PCOS can help you apply solutions to manage your condition. Making dietary changes is a significant first step when living with PCOS because the foods you eat directly impact your hormonal health.
How foods affect PCOS
Currently, there’s no designated diet for PCOS, but there are evidence-based best practices. These include eating whole foods over refined products (cakes, cookies, fries, etc.) and managing weight. Regularly incorporating whole foods into your diet is beneficial because they contain higher fiber levels than refined products. Dietary fiber is linked to better blood sugar control, insulin function, gut health, satiety, and weight management.
Prioritizing blood sugar responses is a vital element of PCOS care because people living with this condition are at a higher risk of developing insulin resistance or diabetes. Proactively choosing blood-sugar-friendly foods can help you maintain healthy glucose levels and support healthy hormone function.
Below are foods from all food groups that can fit into a PCOS-friendly diet. Each item is rich in essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals you need to stay healthy. To manage portion sizes, consider following the USDA plate model (an evidence-based tool to help you build balanced meals) or meeting with a dietitian to develop an individualized meal plan.
Fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants are found in every vegetable, and they all work together to reduce inflammation in the body and protect against disease. Eat as many colorful vegetables as possible daily to maximize your nutrient intake:
- Bell peppers
- Leafy greens
- Collard greens
- Green beans
Like vegetables, fruits contain fiber and antioxidants, which you need to stay healthy. Fruits naturally contain sugar molecules, which your body needs for energy. Your body should metabolize these fruits slower (thanks to the fiber content) to stabilize your blood sugar levels.
Grains are a significant source of fiber, and swapping out a refined carbohydrate for a whole grain makes a noticeable impact on your nutrient intake.
- Whole grain bread or pasta
Protein is the building block for all tissues in the body, including hormones. Most adults need approximately 1.5g of protein per kg daily, and research suggests adding plant-based sources is more beneficial for your health.
- Chicken and poultry
- Extra-lean beef
- Lean pork
- Beans and pulses (lentils, kidney beans, edamame, etc.)
Unsaturated fats tend to be easier to metabolize and are linked with lower levels of inflammation. Most unsaturated fats come from plant sources and can be found in oils or foods. Saturated fats keep their shape at room temperature (butter), and you should consume them in moderation.
- Nuts (including nut butter)
- Olive oil
- Canola oil
- Sunflower oil
- Avocado oil
Supplements may help
Some supplements may help with PCOS management by improving insulin function. A better insulin response is linked to better fertility rates and a healthy weight, which may appeal to someone with PCOS. Berberine supplements are prevalent and sold over the counter, but this supplement has several contraindications. If you take any prescription medications, you should talk to your doctor to decide if it’s a good choice.
Inositol (sometimes called myo-inositol) functions similarly to berberine by improving insulin sensitivity. Some studies suggest berberine is more effective, and researchers are trying to understand the mechanisms behind the supplement.
Most people will benefit from taking a vitamin D supplement, especially during the dark winter months. If you have dietary restrictions, you may need additional vitamins, but you should complete a blood test to assess your levels first because you may be getting enough nutrients through food.
Focus on foods you can eat
After being diagnosed with PCOS, it can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing to focus solely on foods you should avoid. Instead, concentrate on all of the nutritious foods you can incorporate into your diet to support your hormone health. Making this mental shift can help you feel good about your choices and empower you to make better food choices. Most importantly, these positive, feel-good habits are likely to last for a long time.
Long term planning
PCOS is a chronic health condition, and you’ll need to manage your symptoms for the rest of your life. This becomes easier when you build a lifestyle you love that naturally includes exercise, stress management strategies, and healthy foods. If you need help, contact your care team or ask to work with a dietitian specializing in PCOS. There are endless resources (apps, books, podcasts, etc.) available to help set you up for success.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects women of reproductive age.
New research demonstrates that cysts aren’t always present in women diagnosed with PCOS, and the raised bumps on the ovaries are enlarged follicles that should naturally diminish over time.
A PCOS-friendly diet can support healthy hormone levels and includes nutrient-dense foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources.
- Nutrients. Nutrition Strategy and Lifestyle in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
- Journal of Preventative Medicine and Hygiene. Dietary Supplements for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
- International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. The Beneficial Effects of Antioxidants in Health and Diseases.