What Is a PCOS Diet?

by | May 15, 2022 | Fertility 101, Infertility, Wellness

Foods that help with PCOS symptoms

For patients with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), diet can be one of the most helpful tools for managing symptoms and improving overall health. If you have PCOS and want to have children, dietary adjustments can help to improve your chances of conceiving, as well. In this article, we’ll explore different dietary strategies for helping with PCOS.

What Is PCOS?

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a condition caused by hormone imbalance, affecting how the ovaries function. People with PCOS have higher levels of the hormone androgen, and often also have difficulties processing insulin. About 5-12% of people with ovaries have PCOS. PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility in people with ovaries. Some of the other signs and symptoms of PCOS include irregular or missed periods, extra hair growth or loss, acne, and unexplained weight gain or difficulty losing weight.

As there is currently no cure for PCOS, treatment focuses on managing symptoms through lifestyle and medical options. Some diets can significantly help with PCOS symptoms.

What Is a Good PCOS Diet?

When we talk about a PCOS “diet”, we mean it in the sense of the overall kinds of food you eat. It doesn’t necessarily mean heavily restricting your food intake, or completely cutting out “unhealthy” foods. Rather, most studies suggest that making fairly simple substitutions in certain types of foods can have a significant benefit on PCOS symptoms.

For now, there is no “official” PCOS diet. More studies are needed to come up with a conclusive recommendation. However, studies do suggest that the following diets can have positive effects for patients with PCOS:

  • Mediterranean Diet
  • Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH)
  • Low Glycemic Index (Low GI)

These diets contain foods that share similar overall dietary benefits.

Reducing Processed Carbohydrates & Sugars

Your body does need carbohydrates as part of its nutritional intake. However, some types of carbohydrates can negatively impact PCOS symptoms, while other types can benefit patients with PCOS.

Foods with processed carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice, and refined sugar, have a high glycemic index (GI). These types of foods can worsen insulin resistance and cause spikes in insulin and blood sugar levels. On the other hand, carbohydrates with a low glycemic index (GI) are processed more slowly by your body, which keeps your insulin levels more stable. You can find lower GI carbs in foods like vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Studies show that reducing high GI carbohydrates in your diet improves ovulation, hormonal balance, and weight regulation in patients with PCOS.

Eating Foods that Reduce Inflammation

Research shows an association between PCOS and chronic inflammation. Certain foods can help reduce inflammation, including berries, fatty fish (like salmon), olive oil, tomatoes, and dark leafy greens (like spinach and kale). At the same time, it can help to limit foods that add to inflammation, such as saturated fats, fried foods, red meat, and processed meats.

Increasing Fiber & Vegetable Protein

Foods high in fiber can help balance hormones in your body and assist with insulin resistance. High fiber foods include: beans, berries, dark leafy greens (like kale & spinach), lentils, nuts, squash, and broccoli.

Studies also suggest that replacing animal protein, especially red meat, with vegetable protein like lentils, beans, and nuts can help with PCOS symptoms. Swapping out red meat for fatty fishes like salmon can also help.

Takeaways for the PCOS Diet:

You may have noticed some patterns in the overall recommendations for what foods to eat and which to limit. These include:

  • Replacing red meat with fish or vegetable proteins
  • Eating berries, dark leafy greens, and beans or lentils
  • Reducing processed foods
  • Increasing whole grains, fruits, and vegetables

You don’t need to completely change your diet all at once. In fact, you may feel some improvement in your PCOS symptoms after making even one or two of these changes. Swapping out whole grain toast for white bread at breakfast or eating salmon twice a week can make a difference. The important things to remember are moderation and consistency. Finding smaller changes that you can stick to is more helpful in the long run than feeling like you can never eat your favorite treats again. In addition to diet, other lifestyle changes like incorporating daily physical movement can help with PCOS symptoms.

Create Your Own PCOS Diet with Our Fertility Experts

PCOS shows up differently for each patient, so your treatment plan should be personalized to you. Our doctors have decades of experience helping patients with PCOS find the combination of lifestyle and medical options that work best for them. Schedule an appointment with our team to talk about PCOS today.

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