Are you wondering about which foods are PCOS superfoods? If so, you’re in the right place!
As a registered dietitian, I’m here to give it to you straight. We’ll talk about which foods are PCOS superfoods, how they can help your PCOS symptoms, and how to incorporate them into your diet.
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Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal condition that affects up to 20% of women (1). It’s associated with an increased prevalence of insulin resistance, chronic inflammation, and high androgen levels. Common symptoms of PCOS include irregular periods, weight gain, hair loss, fatigue, and hirsutism (excessive and unwanted facial hair or body hair).
If you do have PCOS, the good news is that a healthy diet and lifestyle changes can really improve insulin sensitivity, reduce inflammation, and decrease your PCOS symptoms naturally.
What Are Superfoods?
We know that fruits and veggies are healthy foods, right? Well, superfoods are individual foods that take it to the next level essentially. They stand out and have higher amounts of certain nutrients than other similar foods.
It’s important to note that there isn’t one individual food that can do it all. We need a variety of foods to truly improve overall health. If a food isn’t on this list, that doesn’t mean it’s not a healthy choice. It just means that if you do like any of the foods on this list, it’s a good idea to strategically include them more frequently in your diet.
For ideas on how to implement a balanced diet for PCOS, don’t miss this post that includes a meal plan: A Dietitian’s 7 day PCOS Diet Plan
Now, let’s dive into which foods are superfoods for PCOS.
The list of foods here will provide valuable nutrients that can play a role in reducing PCOS symptoms and improving your overall health.
This type of fatty fish is packed with vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids, including two particularly important types of omega 3’s: EPA and DHA. These omega 3’s have been shown to reduce insulin levels, total and free testosterone levels, cholesterol levels, fatty liver, and body weight. They can also improve menstrual cycle regularity, sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) levels, and luteinizing hormone (LH). Omega 3 fatty acids can also decrease depression and anxiety rates (2, 3).
Salmon is great to include as a protein source at dinner. It’s easy to bake salmon with a honey glaze for added flavor. Canned salmon or salmon packets are great to add to sandwiches or salads. Smoked salmon is another way to enjoy this fatty fish, particularly at breakfast time.
The American Heart Association recommends 2 servings of fatty fish per week to get adequate amounts of EPA and DHA. Other sources of fatty fish include sardines, trout, and herring. If you don’t eat fatty fish routinely, you may need a supplement. This one is my favorite omega 3 supplement.
Olive oil has been widely studied for years for its anti-inflammatory properties. Including more extra virgin olive oil in your diet can reduce oxidative stress, inflammation, and your risk of cardiovascular disease. There’s also emerging research that olive oil may positively influence the gut microbiome and be instrumental in improving gut health (4).
Olive oil has a high amount of monounsaturated fats (aka the good fats!). Olive oil is great to drizzle onto veggies before grilling or roasting them. It’s also a great base for a vinaigrette dressing.
There’s a lot of bad press and misinformation out there about fruits for PCOS (spoiler: it’s not warranted!). Even the biggest fruit haters will agree though that berries are great for PCOS because they have a low glycemic index. In reality, berries have a ton of health benefits!
It doesn’t matter the type either. Whether it’s strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries or goji berries – they all have great health benefits. They’re a great source of fiber with a high amount of antioxidants that can protect your body’s cells from damage and reduce inflammation.
Fresh or frozen berries are both nutritious options. They’re great in smoothies, yogurt bowls, oatmeal, salads, or just as part of a balanced PCOS snack!
For some PCOS-friendly smoothies, be sure to check this post out: 10 Best PCOS Smoothie Recipes
Apples aren’t often thought of as being a superfood, but they’re actually incredibly nutritious. They contain vitamin C, carotenoids, and polyphenols such as quercetin. These nutrients can regulate the menstrual cycle, improve egg quality, boost fertility, and lower inflammation (5, 6).
Additionally, one apple contains 4 grams of fiber that can improve your digestive health. Be sure to eat your apples with the skin on it to get the maximum benefits. I love dipping apple slices into peanut butter as a snack or as breakfast in these Apple Pie Overnight Oats.
Avocados have been having a moment for the past decade or two – and honestly, for good reason! These green fruits (yes, they’re technically a fruit!), are loaded with healthy fats, fiber, potassium, vitamin E, vitamin K, and vitamin B6.
These vitamins and minerals can regulate blood pressure, increase insulin sensitivity, lower androgen levels, reduce oxidative stress, and lower inflammation.
There’s seemingly endless ways to enjoy avocados: avocado toast, tacos, burrito bowls, in a salad, or in a smoothie! This fertility smoothie uses avocado and is packed with PCOS superfoods (tip: frozen avocado is great for smoothies!)
These tiny powerhouses are full of nutrients that can help address the underlying hormone imbalance with PCOS. They’re a great source of fiber for more balanced blood sugar levels. In fact, two tablespoons of chia seeds provide 10 grams of fiber – about one third of how much you should be aiming for daily!
For a plant-based food, chia seeds are also a rich source of calcium. They also have good amounts of selenium, magnesium, iron, copper, and essential fatty acids called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Your body can’t make ALA, which is a type of omega 3 fatty acid, so you must get them from food sources. These nutrients can reduce insulin resistance, inflammation, the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even some types of cancers (7). Additionally, one animal study found that chia seeds significantly improved fertility in PCOS.
Chia seeds have a mild taste and can easily be sprinkled into oatmeal, overnight oats, smoothies, yogurt, or cottage cheese. Chia pudding is another way to get a healthy serving of chia seeds into your diet.
Have you heard of seed cycling? It’s the practice of eating certain seeds (flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds), at specific times in your menstrual cycle for better hormonal balance. It may actually have some validity too! For more information on seeds and their benefits for PCOS, check this post out: Seed Cycling for PCOS.
Oysters are incredibly nutrient dense. They’re particularly a good source of zinc, a mineral that those with PCOS tend to need higher amounts of. Zinc has been shown to lower inflammation and insulin levels, and reduce acne, facial hair, and hair loss. Zinc is also necessary for fertility – it works by improving ovulation rates, egg quality, and pregnancy outcomes.
Just 2 oysters can provide you with about 200% of your daily zinc requirements. Oysters are considered a low mercury seafood option, so they’re safe for pregnancy too – just make sure you’re eating cooked oysters!
Spinach and other dark leafy greens contain high levels of folate and vitamin K. It’s also a high antioxidant food, with high levels of lutein, beta carotene, and vitamin C. These nutrients work to lower insulin resistance and inflammation – two driving factors of PCOS symptoms.
Spinach can be eaten raw or cooked, depending on your taste preferences. Cooked spinach is easy to add into pasta dishes, while raw spinach is a great salad base or smoothie addition. This detox island green smoothie is a great way to incorporate more greens in a tasty smoothie!
Cruciferous vegetables, such as brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and broccoli, are all considered superfoods for PCOS. They contain a phytonutrient called diindolylmethane (DIM). DIM supports your body’s natural estrogen detoxification pathways and can lower testosterone levels (8). High estrogen levels can contribute to painful periods.
Cruciferous veggies are also a great source of vitamin C, fiber, and another phytochemical called sulforaphane that may reduce your risk of developing certain cancers.
My favorite way to incorporate these vegetables is to roast them or add them to a stir fry dish!
Kefir is a fermented drink. It can be dairy-based or plant-based. Kefir contains high amounts of probiotics, or live bacteria, which is great for gut health. People with PCOS tend to have less diverse gut bacteria, which can worsen insulin resistance and inflammation.
Kefir tastes like a drinkable yogurt, which may sound good to you. But if not, here’s a great way to incorporate it into a smoothie: Mango Kefir Smoothie.
This legume is super beneficial for PCOS! It’s packed with fiber and plant based protein, which can help to improve ovulatory infertility. Not just that, it has B vitamins and a low glycemic index.
They’re a great addition to soup or salads. Surprisingly, chickpeas are also an easy addition to your smoothies!
Oats are a great addition to your PCOS diet. They’re high in fiber, B vitamins, and a prebiotic called beta glucan. Fiber can help balance your blood sugar levels and improve your digestive health. Read more about the benefits of oats for PCOS here.
Matcha or green tea have long been regarded as a healthy beverage option. Green tea contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is a polyphenol and catechin. EGCG plays an important role as an antioxidant and may help to reduce inflammation.
Two recent meta-analyses looked at the research regarding green tea and PCOS specifically. They found that green tea extract led to reductions in body weight, free testosterone levels, fasting blood sugar levels & insulin levels. Despite green tea being known to have anti-inflammatory properties, no change in serum inflammatory markers (hs-CRP, TNF-α, IL-6) were seen. (9, 10)
It’s important to note that these studies have been conducted using green tea extracts, rather than the green tea drink that you sip on. Green tea extract is a concentrated source of green tea, usually in tablet or pill form. That’s not to say that drinking green tea isn’t a good choice, but you likely won’t see the same results as quickly and possibly not to the great extent as the studies using green tea extract did
Read more about different teas and their benefits for PCOS here: 5 Best Herbal Teas For PCOS.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has been making its rounds too in terms of health benefits. The research is actually pretty promising too.
Research has shown that apple cider vinegar can be helpful at lowering glucose levels, inflammation, and cholesterol levels (13).
Don’t worry, you don’t need to be taking shots of apple cider vinegar to get these health benefits. My favorite way to incorporate it is in a salad dressing like the one used for this salad: Fall Kale Salad.
This spice is not just a way to flavor food, but it’s also a prebiotic. Prebiotics are food for your good gut bacteria and can help improve gut health. Remember, those with PCOS are more prone to having less diverse gut bacteria…so prebiotics are always a good idea!
Garlic is also ironically a FODMAP food, so it can potentially cause digestive issues for some people with IBS. If you’re sensitive to garlic, that’s obviously a good reason to avoid it though – there are plenty of other ways to improve your gut health with PCOS.
The Bottom Line
Including healthy, whole foods is always a great way to manage your PCOS symptoms. Superfoods include vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that can reduce insulin resistance, inflammation, and androgen levels.
Always consult with your healthcare provider, especially a registered dietitian, for more individualized nutrition advice.