Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: Foods To Eat & Avoid with PCOS
PCOS is a hormonal imbalance that causes menstrual and fertility issues in women. It affects 1 in 10 women worldwide. It is a complex hormonal condition where the ovaries produce an abnormal amount of androgens (male hormones), particularly testosterone.
These hormones are usually present in women in small amounts, but with PCOS, their levels increase dramatically.
A PCOS diet helps manage the side effects of the disease, which range from weight gain and irregular periods to sudden growth in facial hair and trouble conceiving.
Women who suffer from PCOS are also at a greater risk of developing other lifestyle disorders such as diabetes, anxiety, depression, heart disease and even cancer of the uterine lining - if not treated at the right time.
The Polycystic Ovary Syndrome diet is not a complicated one. It’s just a guideline of what foods to eat and what to avoid, as opposed to a strict regimen.
(The word polycystic translates into “many cysts,” and refers to the many partially formed follicles around the ovaries, which obstruct the eggs produced by ovaries from maturing. As a result, the menstrual cycle becomes irregular.)
The ideal PCOS diet will help reduce inflammation (the body’s defence mechanism which flares up when it detects all is not well). Inflammation can be both good and bad.
On one hand, it helps your body defend itself from infection and injury - but a constant or chronic state of inflammation leads to weight gain and disease.
1. Have A Low-GI Diet
Low GI foods are also known as “low and slow.” The body digests foods with a low glycemic index more slowly, meaning they do not cause insulin level spikes like other foods, such as some refined carbohydrates.
Foods in a low GI diet include whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, starchy vegetables, and other unprocessed, low-carbohydrate foods. Add more fibre to your diet as it helps to maintain blood glucose levels by slowing down the glucose absorption.
2. Have Turmeric
When it comes to anti-inflammatory foods, nothing quite compares to turmeric. Studies have shown that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, helps combat inflammation.
To get the most out of turmeric and extract the maximum benefits, it needs to be combined with black pepper and fat like cow’s milk or coconut milk, or even ghee (while cooking). To make turmeric milk, whisk together 1 cup milk, 1 one-inch piece of turmeric and 3 whole peppercorns with 50 ml water in a saucepan.
Bring it to a low boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 mins, then strain and serve! You can add a little honey, coconut sugar or jaggery powder for a hint of sweetness.
3. Have B-Vitamin Rich Foods
The liver helps process hormones and toxins and metabolise them, and Vitamin B aids in this function. Women with PCOS have high oestrogen levels and B Vitamins can help your liver lower them.
B Vitamins are also needed to metabolise carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Get B-Vitamins from dark leafy greens, eggs and whole grains.
4. Have Zinc-Rich Foods
Zinc is a must to regulate the menstrual cycle and fertility. It helps in correcting PCOS symptoms such as irregular ovulation, weight gain and acne. It also reduces the effects of high testosterone, including hirsutism and hair loss.
If your zinc levels are low then you can supplement it with zinc acetate, zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, zinc citrate, or zinc monomethionine. (Avoid zinc oxide or zinc picolinate as these are not absorbed well by the body).
The best natural sources of zinc include bajra, amaranth or rajgira, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews almonds, and whole grains.
5. Have Omega-3s
Omega-3 Fatty Acids are a superfood and particularly helpful for women who suffer from PCOS. Omega-3s improve fertility, regulate hormones, balance insulin sensitivity and can slow down and help get rid of hirsutism or facial hair growth.
Plant-based sources of Omega-3s include walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds and avocados. If you are a non-vegetarian, you can opt for fatty fish like mackerel, sardines and salmon, or take supplements.
1. Avoid Dairy
You may have noticed that a lot of PCOS diets advise vegan or dairy-free diets. Dairy has a tendency to increase insulin and androgen levels, especially low-fat or skimmed milk.
If you have higher testosterone and endogen levels, stay away from dairy altogether. If you cannot live without milk, or if your system can still tolerate it to an extent, choose desi A2 cow milk over homogenised milk.
2. Avoid Refined Flours And Carbs
Refined carbohydrates cause inflammation, increase insulin resistance, and should be avoided or limited significantly. Since refined flours and carbs and nutritionally depleted of all the good stuff, there’s not much fibre, vitamins or minerals, causing sudden insulin spikes as soon as they are consumed.
3. Avoid Refined Sugar
Yup, the verdict is out and yes, white sugar is pretty much poison. Empty calories, no fibre, no minerals. Sugar is one of the worst foods for PCOS, as it increases inflammation in the body and spikes blood glucose and insulin levels.
If you are insulin resistant, your body may try to pump out high levels of insulin in an effort to keep your blood sugar levels normal. Very high insulin levels can cause your ovaries to produce more androgens, throwing your system further out of order.
4. Avoid Unhealthy Fats
Healthy fats like ghee, cold-pressed oils and Omega-3s are good. But foods that have saturated or hydrogenated fats (like cream, cheese, marbled red meats, fried food, processed food and processed meat) can increase estrogen production, which can make your PCOS symptoms worse.
The end result? Acne, weight gain and a further worsening of your PCOS symptoms. If you are looking for the best diet for PCOS weight loss, this is one thing you must cut out.
5. Avoid Caffeine
Many of us simply can’t do without a morning cup of coffee or tea to get our day started. And we often turn to these beverages when we’re feeling tired, anxious or low. But overindulging in caffeine when you’re feeling low or stressed can make your PCOS symptoms worse.
Caffeine addiction is a downward spiral as it leads to adrenal fatigue and hormonal imbalance. Switch to green tea if you really need a pick-me-up drink, to help stabilise your sleep patterns and deal with anxiety.
Do not exceed two cups a day. If you are following a PCOS diet plan to lose weight, this is one ingredient you must consume.
Here’s a sample PCOS diet plan you can follow for a week to see a difference:
- 9 am: 1 litre water + 1 tsp moringa powder + 8 soaked almonds + 4 soaked walnuts
- Breakfast: Moong dal chila + mint chutney
- Mid-morning: 1 bowl pomegranate + sabja seeds (holy basil seeds)
- Lunch: 2 bowls seasonal sabzi + 1 amaranth roti
- 4 pm: 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds + 1 apple
- 6 pm: Beetroot, tomato and cucumber salad
- Dinner: Vegetable khichdi
- Bedtime: 1/2 tsp ashwagandha + 1/2 tsp coconut oil + warm water
There may be many specific goals you are trying to achieve with your PCOS treatment diet: weight loss, clearing up acne, easing menstrual cramps and more. You can read more about addressing these specific concerns, you can read our blog.
We also have recipes that cater to the PCOS weight loss diet in our recipe section.
If you are looking to get to the root of the problem and manage your PCOS symptoms with a long-term solution, you learn more with our PCOS nutrition plans.
Our PCOS and PCOD management program helps you reverse the disorder with lifestyle and diet management, by understanding your major PCOS problems and triggering foods and finding suitable substitutes.
What should you not eat when you have PCOS?
With PCOS, you should avoid high GI foods, greasy foods, unhealthy fats refined sugars, refined carbs, dairy and red meat.
What foods make PCOS worse?
Foods like dairy, refined carbohydrates and flours, refined sugar, processed foods, caffeine and greasy foods can make PCOS worse.
Which exercise is best for PCOS?
Yoga is a great exercise for PCOS, along with cardio, weight training a few times a week and full-body exercises like swimming.
Which juice is good for PCOS?
Green juices made with dark leafy greens and citrus are a good way to start your day. You can also try aloe vera juice and make it your PCOS morning drink or PCOS drink for weight loss. Aloe vera is both hydrating and lubricating, making it a great way to remove toxins and chemicals from the system. It also improves digestion, aiding bowel movement and cleansing the digestive tract. Aloe vera juice is best consumed first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.
What are the 4 types of PCOS?
The 4 types of PCOS are insulin-resistant PCOS, post-pill PCOS, inflammatory PCOS and adrenal PCOS.