There’s an adage that you are what you eat, and with PCOS, this couldn’t be more true. PCOS is caused by a hormonal imbalance that increases the levels of androgens in your body and lowers the levels of estrogen and progesterone. Choosing foods that help restore hormonal balance can reduce some symptoms, while eating foods with little nutritional value can worsen the way that PCOS makes you feel.
There is a link between PCOS and metabolic syndrome, a combination of conditions that can be linked to insulin resistance, obesity, or being overweight. Insulin resistance means that it’s harder for your body to regulate the sugar from the food you eat. The cells in your body have a harder time getting the nutrients they need without sufficient insulin. Prolonged insulin resistance can lead to wildly fluctuating blood sugar levels, pre-diabetes, and eventually, type 2 diabetes.
You may have heard that you can’t have fruit as part of a healthy PCOS diet. However, fruits with edible skins, such as apples and pears, strawberries, and blueberries, tend to have a lower glycemic index and enough fiber that the natural fruit sugars digest more slowly, thus avoiding spikes in your blood sugar. You can pair these fruits with a healthy source of protein, such as natural peanut butter or Greek yogurt, to help stabilize the digestion of the fruit and keep your blood sugar on an even keel.
Fish and organic lean protein are both excellent additions to a healthy PCOS diet. Organic meat has no added growth hormones, while some conventionally farmed meats do. You’ll receive all the health benefits from the protein without adding extra chemicals and hormones to your body. Fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can naturally improve your mood and increase fertility. These essential fatty acids help your brain function more efficiently, including the pituitary gland, which regulates all of the hormones in your body and signals them to cue ovulation and menstruation, among other things.
Fatty acids help your brain function more efficiently, including the pituitary gland, which regulates all of the hormones in your body and signals them to cue ovulation and menstruation, among other things.
Some nuts are especially good to help mitigate the symptoms of PCOS. Pecans are one of them — opt for the plain kind, though, versus those that have a sugar or spice coating. They are naturally cholesterol-free while containing plenty of healthy fat. Pecans have antioxidants and vitamin E, which reduce inflammation. Macadamia nuts are another tasty snack that you can include in your diet. These nuts also contain healthy dietary fat, as well as inositol, a chemical proven to help mitigate many of the symptoms of PCOS, including female pattern baldness and hirsutism.
While some fruits, especially paired with healthy protein and dietary fat, are good for a PCOS diet, other fruits can spike your blood sugar without the benefits of fiber. Watermelon, banana, and citrus fruits all have plenty of natural sugar and vitamins and minerals, but if you’re trying to balance your PCOS with low glycemic index foods, then you should avoid these fruits or eat small portions of them.
Avoid processed proteins, especially over-processed meat, such as sausage. Processed foods may contain added growth hormones, and ingesting artificially supplied hormones may worsen a hormone imbalance.
Many women eat low-fat or fat-free yogurt, cheese, and milk. Nutrition studies show that eating low-fat dairy can actually boost the levels of androgen hormones in your body. However, even full-fat dairy can have a negative effect on your health if you consume too much. Limit your dairy servings to two or less per day and get your calcium from supplements or other sources instead.
Avoid processed proteins, especially over-processed meat, such as sausage. Processed foods may contain added growth hormones, and ingesting artificially supplied hormones may worsen a hormone imbalance. Eating refined sugar is also not recommended for people with PCOS. Refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (and all its many forms) can sharply raise your blood sugar, which is followed by a crash, which can lead to increased appetite and cravings. Since losing weight is the most frequently recommended treatment for PCOS, it’s better to avoid foods that can trigger overeating.
Refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (and all its many forms) can sharply raise your blood sugar, which is followed by a crash, which can lead to increased appetite and cravings.
Finally, what you choose to drink is just as important as what you choose to eat. You probably have figured out that sugary sodas are out if you’re following a healthy diet to manage your PCOS. Opt for diet versions or sparkling water instead. Fruit juices also contain high amounts of sugar — some have as many grams per serving of sugar as a regular soda. While natural sugars from fruits may be healthy in moderation, fruit juice doesn't have any of the fiber that whole fruits contain to help slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream. If you want something sweet, eat whole fruits instead of having a juice or smoothie.
Eating foods with minimal nutritional value can make you feel worse, while nourishing your body with whole foods full of vitamins and minerals can help you naturally heal and lose weight. Keeping your PCOS symptoms in check can be managed by a proper diet.
One lesser-known effect of PCOS is an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, including high blood pressure. Choose a low-sodium diet or the DASH meal plan to reduce your risk of hypertension or stroke.
While changing your diet to lose weight is the most frequently recommended course of action for PCOS, other lifestyle changes can help ease symptoms of PCOS too. For example, quitting smoking will help relax the blood vessels in your body and improve the blood flow to your reproductive system.
Exercise can also boost your mood and help ease some of the cramping and mood swings associated with PCOS. The natural endorphins from exercise may improve your mood and make it easier to resist cravings for unhealthy foods. Exercise also increases blood flow to your ovaries, which helps them receive more nutrients from your food and boosts their health.
For many, managing PCOS symptoms can happen naturally, with the correct diet and some healthy lifestyle changes. As a bonus, changing your diet might help with weight loss if it was advised by your doctor to help reverse or cure your PCOS and boost your fertility.