If you're struggling with the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), following a nutritional eating plan may help improve your condition.
For people with polycystic ovary syndrome, dealing with the condition can be physically and mentally draining. That's partly because PCOS -- which affects the hormones of women and those assigned female at birth -- can cause lifelong complications, including infertility.
While there isn't yet a cure for PCOS, there are ways to manage the condition. For some people, this may include making healthier diet and lifestyle choices. If you have PCOS, your doctor can provide specific recommendations to help with your symptoms -- but you might also find it useful to add the following foods into your diet.
PCOS is a hormone disorder that can begin any time after puberty but is usually diagnosed in women of childbearing age who are having problems trying to conceive. According to the CDC, PCOS affects 6% to 12% of reproductive-age individuals -- or as many as 5 million people in the US.
The condition can lead to a number of health issues, with some of the most prevalent being irregular or missed periods, ovarian cysts, excessive hair growth, acne, chronic inflammation and infertility. Research has also shown that those with PCOS are more likely to be insulin resistant, which can increase the risk of diabetes.
On top of that, individuals with PCOS are:
Finally, being overweight or obese is a common trait among people with PCOS, with studies suggesting that 33% to 83% of those with the disorder have an above-average body weight. These individuals may experience worse PCOS symptoms than people who aren't overweight. Because of this, medical experts often recommend that PCOS patients follow a well-balanced diet and stay physically active in order to control their weight and combat symptoms of the disorder. However, it is important to note that people with PCOS may have more difficulty with weight loss efforts due to insulin resistance.
Simply following a healthy diet won't cure PCOS, but it may help you maintain an optimal weight, improve your symptoms and reduce your risk of other diseases. Here are some polycystic ovary syndrome foods to eat as part of a well-balanced and healthful PCOS diet.
Spinach, kale, arugula, collard greens and other types of dark leafy greens are high in fiber, which can slow the pace of digestion, help control blood sugar and cut the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Plus, these kinds of foods can also fight inflammation -- something that's common in people with PCOS. Eating leafy greens may even help people battling the negative mental health impacts of PCOS by boosting serotonin and dopamine production in the brain.
Like leafy greens, broccoli and cauliflower are nonstarchy vegetables that have several important properties that can benefit PCOS patients. For one, they're packed with fiber and, as a result, they'll help you feel fuller for longer and assist with weight management. In addition, broccoli and cauliflower are good sources of antioxidants, which protect cells against damaging free radicals and help ease inflammation. Finally, consuming cruciferous vegetables has been shown to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, which is a serious concern for many people with PCOS.
Berries, including blueberries and strawberries, are another powerful source of antioxidants, making them a smart addition to an anti-inflammatory and healthy PCOS diet. These types of berries, along with raspberries and blackberries, may also aid with blood sugar management, which can benefit those with insulin resistance. Also, like dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables, berries are high in fiber to keep you feeling satisfied without consuming too many calories.
Eating whole grains -- rather than refined grains -- has several advantages for people with PCOS. For starters, whole grains (like brown rice, 100% whole wheat bread, quinoa and barley) have important nutrients not found in their refined counterparts, including fiber. As we've covered, following a fiber-rich diet can help regulate blood sugar and lessen the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. On top of that, unprocessed whole-grain food items contain antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory properties that may help with PCOS symptoms.
Fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential fats and a key part of a nutritious diet. Omega-3s have a variety of health benefits, from fighting inflammation to reducing the symptoms of depression and anxiety, three things that commonly affect those with PCOS. And since fish is a good source of lean protein, consuming it may also help improve blood sugar levels.
Avocados are loaded with fiber and healthy, unsaturated fats, which can help you feel more satisfied after eating, assist with weight loss, and play a role in blood sugar regulation. By switching out saturated fats (like butter and margarine) for unsaturated fats (like avocado or olive oil), you can also better protect yourself against heart disease and ease inflammation in the body. Additionally, avocados contain several B vitamins, including niacin and folate, that help with everything from regulating your metabolism to boosting your mood.
You can also find unsaturated fats in nuts and seeds, including walnuts, cashews, almonds, pecans, flaxseeds and chia seeds. If you have PCOS, these healthy fats can help improve issues with insulin resistance. Nuts are also high in fiber and protein, so they can keep your stomach satisfied and support better weight management. On top of that, seeds are a plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids -- which is particularly compelling for vegetarian or vegan PCOS patients who can't get these critical nutrients from animal sources.
Sweet potatoes are another fiber-rich food that can be eaten as part of a healthy PCOS diet. As a complex carbohydrate, fiber helps slow digestion and reduce blood sugar levels. Sweet potatoes are often recommended for PCOS patients over white potatoes because they're lower on the glycemic index -- meaning that eating sweet potatoes shouldn't make your blood sugar shoot up as quickly as consuming regular potatoes would. That's important for people with diabetes and anyone at risk of developing diabetes, including women with PCOS.
Packed with an antioxidant called lycopene, tomatoes are another PCOS-friendly food. Lycopene, together with the vitamin C that's also found in tomatoes, reduces inflammation by helping fight off cell-damaging free radicals in the body. Chronic low-grade inflammation, which is common among people with PCOS, can lead to problems like heart disease and high blood pressure, which is why it's wise for people with the condition to seek out antioxidant-rich foods like tomatoes.
People around the world have enjoyed the benefits of tea for thousands of years -- and it seems to have particular benefits for those with PCOS. For one, green tea and other caffeinated teas are rich in antioxidants called polyphenols, which help reduce the detrimental impacts of free radicals to combat inflammation. Clinical research has also shown that green tea can help women with PCOS lose weight, reduce their BMIs, and decrease insulin resistance.