If you’re feeling confused on what to eat for PCOS, trust me, you’re not alone! There’s lots of conflicting information out there about this condition and what to eat to help balance your hormone levels. I’m going to help you take the guesswork out of it with a free 7-day PCOS diet plan PDF – download below!
Hi, I’m Alyssa, a registered dietitian who specializes in PCOS. I also have PCOS, too…so seriously, trust me when I say, I get it!
This article will discuss how diet impacts PCOS, the best diet for PCOS, best foods to eat and which foods to avoid. And of course, I’ll get you that free downloadable PCOS meal plan!
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects up to 20% of women of reproductive age worldwide (1). This hormonal imbalance is often considered to be strictly a reproductive health concern, however, it’s actually an endocrine disorder that may cause reproductive issues in some people.
Insulin resistance, chronic inflammation, and high levels of androgens (male hormones) like testosterone are associated with the condition.
Some common symptoms of PCOS include:
PCOS is also associated with fatigue, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and a higher risk for other medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fatty liver, and heart disease (2, 3).
Although the exact cause of PCOS remains unknown, researchers believe that several driving factors are at the core of PCOS. These driving factors are insulin resistance, inflammation, and adrenal dysfunction. Someone with PCOS may have one or more of these factors causing their symptoms.
The good news is that the foods you eat can have a direct influence on your hormone health. Diet and lifestyle changes play a crucial role when it comes to managing your PCOS and reducing your chances of developing other health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Including high quality, nutrient-dense foods can improve insulin sensitivity, reduce inflammation, and ultimately improve your quality of life. On the other hand, unhealthy foods could potentially lead to high blood sugar levels, inflammation, more health issues, and essentially worsen your PCOS symptoms.
This post isn’t focusing on lifestyle changes but I couldn’t let this go unsaid. Don’t underestimate the power of lifestyle factors – it really does take a whole body approach to manage PCOS symptoms. Regular exercise, quality sleep, and stress management are all important pieces of the puzzle when it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle and balancing your hormones.
Several different types of physical activity can be beneficial including:
Let’s dive into what we know about PCOS diets.
There’s a lot of debate as to whether a plant-based diet, low glycemic diet, ketogenic diet, anti-inflammatory diet, low-carb diet, calorie deficit, vegan diet, or even intermittent fasting is the best option for PCOS.
The truth: researchers have not determined a single best diet for PCOS.
Since weight management can be difficult with PCOS, many people are often searching for the best way to lose weight…which usually leads to a discussion on two popular diets: intermittent fasting and the keto diet.
Research has shown that both of these diets can lower body weight and body fat, lower testosterone levels, and regulate menstrual cycles. While the results for these diets have been mostly favorable, these research studies don’t necessarily show better results than traditional healthy eating approaches.
It’s really important to note that the research on intermittent fasting and ketogenic diets is pretty limited. The few research studies we have used extremely small sample sizes, were conducted over short time periods, and had high dropout rates (likely because these diets weren’t sustainable for those who dropped out) (4, 5, 6).
Since weight loss can be difficult with PCOS, we frequently see yo-yo dieting, and subsequently weight cycling. Weight cycling, or repeatedly losing weight and re-gaining it, leads to worsened insulin resistance and cardiovascular health (4).
This is a key point to consider when deciding to try a new diet. If you want lasting results, you need a realistic and sustainable approach. Ultimately, the best diet for PCOS is the one that you can do for the long-term.
My take on all of this? I recommend a balanced PCOS diet approach that includes mostly whole foods and focuses on blood sugar management and reducing inflammation. We know that this can provide the most benefits for overall good health. You could say that my approach is most similar to the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet.
A PCOS-friendly diet includes a variety of whole foods from different food groups. This is an easy way to ensure that you’re hitting on a wide range of nutrients that are beneficial for PCOS.
Get a full PCOS grocery list here!
Here are some of the best foods to incorporate as part of your PCOS-friendly diet:
There aren’t any foods that everyone who has PCOS needs to avoid entirely. Balance is the key to an overall healthy diet that is sustainable. That said, it’s helpful to prioritize certain foods more frequently, such as those listed in the section above.
The foods listed below, when eaten in large quantities or very frequently, may worsen insulin resistance or inflammation.
Limit the following foods:
This 7-day meal plan includes recipes for 3 meals and 1 snack per day along with a grocery shopping list.
All meals are designed to stabilize blood sugar levels, which will help to reduce cravings and lower insulin resistance. These meals also include foods that will help to lower high testosterone levels, which is usually the culprit of many PCOS symptoms such as unwanted facial hair or irregular periods.
This diet plan is designed to be realistic, so it does include leftovers on some days. Where applicable, it offers suggestions for ingredient substitutions if needed (example: substitute tofu for chicken breast).
This 7 day meal plan is a sneak peek of what’s offered in The PCOS Meal Plan – for the full 3 week PCOS Meal Plan with grocery lists, recipes, meal planning tips, and some of my favorite product brands, learn more here.
PCOS is a medical condition that often entails high insulin levels and chronic inflammation.
Dietary changes and regular physical activity can help you to achieve a healthy weight, manage your PCOS symptoms, and improve your overall health.
Researchers have not established one particular best diet to manage or treat PCOS.
A well-balanced diet is often the most sustainable type of approach and allows most PCOS patients to reach their health goals. Meal planning may be helpful to achieve your goals.
Nutritious foods to eat with PCOS: lean protein, fatty fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.
Foods to limit or avoid with PCOS: processed foods and meats, sugary drinks, refined grains, foods with high amounts of added sugars. Alcohol consumption should be limited or avoided entirely.
Disclaimer: This is for informational purposes only and not to be construed as medical advice. Ask your healthcare provider to meet with a registered dietitian. Registered dietitians are one of the best ways to ensure you’re on the right path in your PCOS nutrition journey!
Learn the most common nutrition mistakes I see women with PCOS making and what to do instead!