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The PCOS Diet – A PCOS Diet Plan For Success

The PCOS Diet – A PCOS Diet Plan For Success

Ready for a PCOS diet plan that covers everything from A to Z and will actually lead to long-term success? Well then, read on!

First though, picture this scenario…

You’ve recently noticed dark hair growing on your hands and legs in ways it never did before. You’ve been following your regular training and nutrition plan, only to see the scale steadily rise with no explanation as to why! Your period has started getting whacky where you menstruate every other week or maybe go 3 months without a period. How about increased feelings of fatigue, battling acne, oh and you’re pulling chunks of hair from your head in the shower.

You suspect these symptoms are abnormal so you go to your doctor and have your hormones tested and receive a diagnosis for polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

Next, your doctor comes back with one or all of these responses:

  • “You may have some problems getting pregnant”
  • “There’s not much you can do about your symptoms besides try and lose some weight”
  • “Try these birth control medications to make your period normal”
  • “Come back when you’re ready to get pregnant, and we can do fertility treatments”

Talk about a punch to the gut! These are the responses many women receive from their doctor after receiving a diagnosis for PCOS and it can feel defeating.

But what if there was something you could do?  What if your diet and lifestyle had the ability to put your miserable PCOS symptoms at bay. Maybe to the point where you completely forget you have PCOS in the first place?

Well, get excited, because today we are talking about a PCOS diet that may change your life for the best. You are not sentenced to a life of discomfort and self-consciousness because diet can be used as medicine to manage your PCOS. In fact, researchers have determined lifestyle and diet to be the first line of defense in managing the condition of PCOS.[1] 

So with that, let’s dive in!

What Is PCOS?

PCOS is a disorder caused by a female hormone imbalance that disturbs communication in the ovaries. This results in the development of cysts (small fluid-filled sacs) in the ovaries.

Let’s back up for one minute…

In a healthy reproductive cycle, the ovaries develop the egg that is released each month as part of a healthy menstrual cycle. With PCOS, the egg may not develop as it should or it may not be released during ovulation as it should.

This results in missed or irregular menstrual periods that can lead to infertility and the onset of unfavorable physical symptoms. 

How Does Diet Affect PCOS

Researchers have found an undeniable link between diet and PCOS. It makes sense if you think about it…

Food impacts our hormone balance, and PCOS is a genetic condition that predisposes a woman to hormonal imbalance.

And, if you’ve read previous articles and blogs about a PCOS diet plan stating that carbs must be 100% cut out, this is NOT what we are here to tell you. 

The Insulin & PCOS Connection

The insulin and PCOS connection is one of the top reasons why one’s diet plays such a large role. Researchers have determined that there is a strong connection between insulin, our hormone that helps bring glucose from the food we eat into the cell for energy, and the condition of PCOS.

For whatever reason, many individuals with PCOS tend to have a less than optimal insulin response. What can happen is the body fails to properly respond to insulin in the bloodstream after you eat carbohydrates, and this is known as insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance affects 65-70% of all PCOS cases and can occur independently of obesity.[2] 

When insulin resistance is present, it can be the root of PCOS-related symptoms including:

  1. Abnormal hair growth
  2. Unintended weight gain
  3. Cysts on the ovaries
  4. Cystic acne
  5. Oily skin
  6. Hair loss
  7. Skin tags
  8. Sugar cravings
  9. Infertility
  10. Irregular or missed periods 
  11. Stalled performance in the gym

When insulin becomes dysregulated, luteinizing hormone (LH) which signals for the release of an egg at ovulation becomes too elevated that ovulation is disrupted. Elevated insulin levels also lead to hyperandrogenism or increased blood levels of the androgen hormones cortisol, DHEA, and testosterone.[3]

But DHEA, testosterone, and cortisol reduction can be achieved through specific diet and lifestyle changes!

Top Supplements to Reduce Stress…

So how does one manage insulin levels with a PCOS diet?

Choosing carbohydrate sources that are less refined and do not contain added sugars is the key! Notice I didn’t say completely remove carbohydrates. We just want to choose sources that are rich in fiber, nutrients, less processed, and come from the earth!

Examples of carbohydrate sources to include in your PCOS diet chart include:

  • Fruit – apples, oranges, bananas, strawberries, blue, raspberries, cantaloupe, grapes, pineapple, watermelon, plantains
  • Non-starchy veggies – broccoli, brussels sprouts, spinach, spring mix, arugula, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, bell peppers, cucumber, asparagus
  • Starchy veggies – yams, potatoes (sweet, white, purple, yellow), squash (acorn, butternut, spaghetti), peas, parsnips
  • Beans (kidney, navy, pinto, black, cannellini)
  • Seeds (chia, flax, hemp, sunflower)
  • Nuts (almonds, peanuts, pistachios, cashews, walnuts, pecans, macadamia, hazelnuts, brazil)
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Taro
  • Cassava 
  • Brown rice
  • Whole oats
  • Quinoa
  • Amaranth
  • Millet

These sources of carbohydrates listed above like beans, whole grains, oats, and quinoa will support hormonal balance for women on a PCOS diet because of the positive impact they have on blood sugar when consumed with other healthy fats and protein food!

On the other hand, refined carbohydrates cause an insulin spike and should therefore be avoided or consumed in small amounts. Sugar and refined carbs are top of the list for foods that cause hormonal imbalance and in the form of insulin resistance and elevated androgen levels, can be more difficult to control.  

Examples of carbohydrate sources to limit in your PCOS diet plan include:

  • White bread
  • Regular pasta
  • White rice
  • Crackers
  • Chips 
  • High sugar granola/cereal 
  • Granola bars 
  • Sweetened yogurt
  • Candy
  • Sweetened beverages (soda, fruit juice, bottled smoothies)
  • Pastries
  • Ice cream 

The Androgen & PCOS Connection

Androgen hormones, which are male-dominant hormones, become elevated in women with PCOS. 

So is insulin or androgen hormones the issue? Well both…

It turns out that testosterone is closely linked to insulin in that more insulin = more testosterone, and less insulin = less testosterone.

So the better insulin control you have, the better your PCOS symptoms will be managed. 

5 Key Elements To The Perfect PCOS Diet & Our PCOS Diet Chart

1. Pack On The Protein

Consuming protein foods with every meal and snack is one of the most effective ways to manage blood sugar and stress levels.

As mentioned, insulin resistance and dysregulated blood sugar (even in those who are not overweight) is often the root PCOS-related symptoms, and one way to blunt the insulin response is eating protein with your carbohydrate sources. Examples of high protein foods/snacks include:

  • Animal meat
  • Eggs 
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • High-quality protein powder
  • Greek yogurt (if you tolerate dairy)
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Organic tofu/tempeh
  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds)

2. Having Healthy Fats

Healthy fats that are rich in omega 3 fatty acids are another important component of every PCOS-friendly meal. PCOS is an inflammatory condition, so eating foods that are anti-inflammatory in nature can be influential in managing symptoms.[4] 

Other benefits to eating healthy fats with PCOS include:

  1. Healthy hormone production – which are necessary for healthy reproductive health
  2. Vitamin absorption – the nutrients from our food need fat present in order to be fully absorbed for energy and other biological functions 
  3. Healthy fluid in the cell membrane – which help cells properly function

Food rich in omega 3 fatty acids include:

  • Coldwater fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, herring)
  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds)
  • Olive oil
  • Avocado 

3. High Fiber/unrefined Carbohydrates Sources

Research shows that an intake high in refined carbohydrates that are low in nutrients and fiber are associated with PCOS.[5] Whereas intakes of 28-36 g fiber/day, consisting of both soluble and insoluble fiber, improve insulin sensitivity and reduce circulating insulin, which has been correlated with a decrease in PCOS-related symptoms.[6] 

Some high fiber foods include:

  • Fruit with skin
  • Veggies with skin
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa 
  • Oats
  • Nuts and seeds

4. Fantastic Food Timing

How you pair your food can make all the difference in blood sugar control and management of PCOS. Waking up to a sugar-laden caramel latte and granola bar is going to have a much different effect on the body than some protein-rich scrambled eggs with sauteed peppers and onions. 

Similarly, having snacks throughout the day that contain a balance of protein, healthy fat, and fiber vs straight sugar is an important part of a PCOS diet.

5. Stress-free Eating Environment

Remember that PCOS is a condition fueled by stress, so making the eating environment one that’s calm and enjoyable vs rushed and distracted is important. When eating on the fly or being constantly distracted during mealtimes, the body senses that stress which leads to adrenal dysfunction! This adds to the overall stress burden that is often the root of PCOS-related symptoms. 

Eating in a way that supports stress reduction goes far beyond eating kale and smoothies, it means actually taking time to enjoy meals in a relaxed, enjoyable way that’s stress-free! 

PCOS diet chart of foods that are encouraged to be eaten when on a PCOS diet.

 A Sample Day of Eating On A PCOS Diet 

Breakfast

  • Scrambled eggs 
  • Roasted red skin potatoes
  • Sauteed spinach, peppers, and onion

Snack

  • Mixed nuts 
  • Berries

Lunch

  • Grilled chicken breast or grass-fed beef patty
  • Salad blend (chopped cabbage, shaved brussel sprouts, kale, arugula, romaine)
  • Cooked quinoa
  • Chopped bell pepper, cucumber, carrot
  • Chopped walnuts
  • Pickled red onion
  • Greek vinagrette dressing 

Snack 

Protein smoothie 

  • 1 scoop of protein powder
  • Frozen blueberries and banana
  • Almond butter or other nut butter of choice
  • Chia seeds
  • Spinach
  • Coconut or almond milk
  • Ice

Dinner

Grass-fed beef tacos with a side of roasted Brussels sprouts 

  • Mini corn tortillas
  • Grass-fed beef
  • Salsa
  • Black beans
  • Chopped onion
  • Guacamole
  • Cilantro
  • Roasted Brussels sprouts 

Hopefully, you learned a lot about creating a PCOS diet plan and take advantage of our PCOS Diet Chart that can help manage this condition! We’ve had women completely reverse their symptoms and restore regularity with their menstrual cycles by adopting a PCOS diet plan, and you could be no exception.

Maybe you’ve never received a PCOS diagnosis but suspect you may be dealing with it, a hormonal imbalance test could be the first step!

If you’re feeling frustrated about your PCOS symptoms and would benefit from some more one-on-one attention, consider working with a dietitian to get to the root of your hormone imbalance.

The Cleanest Protein Bars on the Planet are…

About The Author

Abby Vichill

Abby is a functionally trained Registered Dietitian. She received her Bachelor of Science from the University of Dayton and completed her Master of Science in Nutrition from Case Western Reserve University, where she is an adjunct instructor. Abby has been an athlete her entire life, but never truly discovered her potential until she dialed in her nutrition from a whole-foods approach. As a high school athlete and into her college career often experienced fatigue, discomfort, and nagging injuries that held her back from excelling despite trying to eat properly. Throughout her functional nutrition education and competitive involvement in the sport of Crossfit, Abby began a more holistic lifestyle, which has significantly improved her performance and overall well-being. Abby enjoys sharing her knowledge of functional sports nutrition to help improve the lives of active individuals.

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