The Best PCOS Diet Plan With Food List And Grocery Shopping Tips

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PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) is one of the leading causes of infertility and often results in stubborn weight gain that feels nearly impossible to lose. It’s also common for symptoms of PCOS to go undiagnosed because they masquerade as other issues and overlap with other conditions, such as insulin resistance, also common to prediabetes without PCOS.

You’re not alone! I talk to women in this situation through my functional medicine clinic on an almost daily basis, and there is hope for natural, whole healing from this hormonal condition.

While lifestyle changes, supplements, and exercise all help, inflammatory hormone conditions like PCOS must all be treated with diet above all else for the best results in the long term.

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Is There A Specific Diet That Helps PCOS?

Every person’s body is different, even those with the same health conditions. I often discuss this bioindividuality with patients. In general, though, the best PCOS diets always address elevated insulin and blood sugar levels.

Here are a few diets that have been studied to support symptom and weight management for people with PCOS:

  • Lower-carb Mediterranean diet: This eating pattern emphasizes whole foods, healthy fats, and whole grains while limiting red meat and processed foods. Several studies of women with PCOS have found that the Mediterranean diet may help patients lose weight, restore a normal menstrual cycle, and balance hormone levels. (1) The noted benefits are often more pronounced on a lower-carb version of the diet and significantly better than a comparable low-fat diet. (2)
  • Ketogenic diet: Going keto involves dramatically reducing carbohydrate intake to fewer than ~25 net carbs per day while significantly increasing fat intake. This diet leads to weight loss and hormone balance in patients with PCOS. (3) I generally recommend that patients on this diet follow a primarily plant-based version rather than loading up on red meat and dairy.
  • The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension): Designed to reduce blood pressure, DASH is rich in plant foods, whole grains, and low-fat dairy while reducing most saturated fat, refined grains, and sweets intake. One randomized controlled trial found that the DASH diet was better than the control at helping patients with PCOS improve insulin resistance markers, reduce inflammation, and lose abdominal fat. (4)
  • Low-glycemic index diet: Also called a low-GI diet, this diet revolves around eating mostly foods with little-to-no impact on blood sugar. Study analyses suggest that diets with a lower glycemic index (LGI) significantly improve insulin resistance, cholesterol levels, abdominal fat, and testosterone levels compared to higher GI diets. (5)
  • Low-starch, dairy-free diet: Cutting sugary, starchy foods and dairy from your diet may reduce insulin levels and improve body composition, meaning the balance of fat to muscle in your body. (6)

It’s not clear what happens first — does diet contribute to the development of polycystic ovarian syndrome, or is it the other way around? Women with PCOS have notably poorer diets and struggle to stick to healthy diets, which implies that those with predispositions to the condition may trigger it by how they eat. (7)

In any case, a healthier diet is one of the best ways to treat PCOS and lose weight. One meta-analysis covering over a thousand patients found that low-carb diets did the most to restore fertility, whereas lower-calorie diets did a somewhat better job at reducing male hormone levels. (8)

LISTEN: Hot Or Not: Ozone Therapy, Favorite Non-Toxic Swaps, PCOS Hair Loss Tips + Greens Powders Ranked (Ask Me Anything Episode!) 

Foods To Eat

Assuming you avoid your personal food sensitivities, these are the foods you should focus on eating if you have PCOS:

Healthy Fats

Avocados, anti-inflammatory oils like avocado oil and olive oil, wild-caught seafood, nuts, and seeds are some of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids you can find. Healthy fat sources are more sustainable fuel sources for you than carbohydrates, and they help you feel full without spiking blood sugar.

Fruits And Vegetables

Fiber-rich leafy greens like kale and spinach contain a plethora of nutrients, especially B vitamins. Women with PCOS, especially those taking metformin, often have decreased vitamin B12 and folic acid (B9) levels, making B vitamin-rich foods important. (9) Aim to get plenty of non-starchy vegetables rich in vitamins and minerals.

Because this hormone condition is also associated with higher oxidative stress levels, getting antioxidant-rich foods is another great eating habit to pick up. (10) Prioritize berries, dark leafy greens, and carrots for more antioxidants.

High-Quality Meats

Organic, grass-fed meats without added growth hormones are a fantastic source of important nutrients that play a role in PCOS, such as vitamin D, B vitamins, and magnesium. Organ meats are often highest in these nutrients, so while they aren’t always the most appetizing, give them a try!

Lean proteins are great, but don’t be afraid of fat in your meat. Beef, in particular, is a great addition to a PCOS diet — just make sure to get grass-fed, organic varieties.

Fiber-Rich Foods

Overall, women with PCOS tend to eat far less fiber than women without this condition. (11) Fiber is vital for preventing type 2 diabetes, healthy weight management, and promoting heart health. (12, 13, 14) Fiber-rich foods are important for healing PCOS, in part, because this condition predisposes you to diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.

Aim to eat plenty of fiber-rich foods like avocados, leafy greens, whole-grain brown rice, seeds, nuts, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), and berries.

Green Tea

Green tea is loaded with antioxidants, which is one reason it’s a great addition to your diet for everything from oral health to weight management. In patients with PCOS, green tea may promote weight loss, lower fasting insulin levels, and decreased free testosterone. (15)

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Foods To Avoid

An ideal PCOS food list should be unique to your specific health case. But there are some foods you can pretty much always avoid to heal:

Refined Carbohydrates

Refined carbs are highly processed and include pasta, white bread, white rice, potato chips, fried foods, and boxed cereals, to name a few. The way they’re made strips most nutritional value from these items, leaving just sugar and carbohydrate content that spike blood sugar and perpetuate PCOS symptoms.

Read Next: How To Naturally Dissolve And Shrink Ovarian Cysts 

Processed Sugars

Some amount of natural sugar from fruits and natural sweeteners, such as honey, is part of a healthy diet. However, processed sugars found in foods like packaged candy, cake, desserts, coffee additives, soft drinks, mixed drinks, and many condiments contribute to poor glucose control and increased body mass.

Alcohol

While the research is a bit mixed, alcohol, in general, is one of those things that offers no nutritional value. (16) My recommendation to patients is to cut alcohol while in the process of healing PCOS. Once you’re at a healthy weight and symptoms like irregular periods have improved, consider adding healthy alcohol to your routine.

Conventional Dairy

Conventional dairy products like pasteurized milk and cheese often come from cows treated with growth hormones. Because these can lead to inflammation and disrupt the endocrine system, I suggest steering clear.

Replace these with dairy alternatives, such as substituting almond milk for cow’s milk, and consider getting organic dairy products from cows not treated with growth hormones.

Processed Meats

Similar to conventional dairy, processed meats (think: packaged lunch meat, hot dogs, or meats loaded with preservatives) frequently come from animals treated with growth hormones. Avoid these, focusing your protein consumption on organic meats.

Artificial Sweeteners

While it’s common to opt for “diet” drinks and sugar-free foods when reducing sugar intake, many of the alternative sweeteners may actually make matters worse.

Aspartame, used to sweeten most diet sodas, is associated with infertility. (17) Other artificial sweeteners like sucralose and saccharin may disrupt the gut microbiome, which may worsen the symptoms of PCOS. (18)

Allulose, sugar alcohols like erythritol, and stevia are generally the best alternative sweeteners. Still, I suggest consuming these in strict moderation.

Aim For These Ideal Eating Habits

Here are a few principles to eat by when addressing PCOS:

  1. Stick to regular meal times. Skipping meals or frequent snacking can disrupt your blood sugar levels throughout the day. Try to keep your meal times consistent, which will help you avoid quick junk food cravings.
  2. Plan for snacks. It’s normal to get hungry between meals sometimes. Instead of having packaged snacks loaded with sugar, make sure to include healthy, nutrient-dense snacks on your grocery list to have when you get a craving.
  3. Eat a variety of foods. Different foods contain different nutrients — that’s why it’s a great idea to eat the rainbow! Ensure your body has what it needs to thrive by keeping your food list diverse.
  4. Practice mindful eating. I don’t recommend highly restrictive diets because they often fail to address the poor relationship with food that many of my PCOS patients struggle with. Instead, focus on mindful eating — sit down for meals as often as you can (not in front of the TV), and take time to fully chew your food. (19)
  5. Consider intermittent fasting. Gentle IF might help you manage PCOS symptoms. A 2021 trial found that intermittent fasting on a 16:8 schedule for 6 weeks helped patients reduce body fat, regulate menstruation, reduce circulating androgens (male hormones), improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce inflammation. (20) I wouldn’t recommend some of the more restrictive fasting methods (like 5/2 or 20:4), though, as these may lead to more ‘crash diet’ habits.

Grocery Shopping And Meal Planning Tips

Before your next grocery shopping trip, do a deep-dive into your pantry and fridge. Eliminate foods that you know you shouldn’t be reaching for, and note what items you have and what you need to buy.

Make a list before you leave, either on paper or using a notes app on your phone. Plan for about a week at a time, getting items that are easy to meal prep in advance and balancing the foods that need significant cooking with some foods that are easier to grab and go (like fruits).

I like to shop the “edges” of the grocery store, avoiding the inside aisles unless I need specific items there. This is one of the best ways to ensure I get fresh, whole foods and avoid more of the processed stuff that isn’t good to eat.

Make reading labels a habit. Look for hidden sugars and sweeteners, and pay attention to which items have a ton of preservatives (in the form of sodium content) to avoid them. Many “health foods” turn out to have a ton of added sugar and ingredients you need to avoid, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the branding.

Try not to go overboard with excessive “substitutions.” One of the most common pitfalls I see with patients is the desire to buy alternative bread, tortillas, and desserts that seem healthy because they’re low-carb. Instead, set a goal to truly change your dietary habits, eating more whole foods and not just trying to replace problematic food items with slightly “healthier” versions.

It’s also typical to overestimate your ability to create complex meals on a daily basis, buying tons of foods and ingredients that ultimately go to waste. Take it slow! If you’re not used to spending hours in the kitchen each day, don’t attempt to change your entire lifestyle overnight. Add a few recipes in the first week, slowly making sustainable changes.

Looking For Personalized Support?

If you struggle with PCOS, you are not limited to a lifetime of debilitating symptoms and medication. Instead, you can take the steps to heal naturally through diet and lifestyle changes.

In my telehealth functional medicine clinic, I focus on helping you uncover the root cause of your health problems through labwork and a comprehensive health history. Then, we can determine the best course of action that addresses all areas of your health.

Ready to take the next step in healing your PCOS? Schedule a telehealth functional medicine consultation today.

FAQs

Depending on the study, caffeine from coffee and other caffeinated drinks may or may not negatively affect PCOS. There’s no consensus, although green tea does seem to help PCOS overall. When I speak with patients about this, I recommend keeping caffeine consumption low and paying attention to how it impacts their unique bodies to make more nuanced adjustments.

There aren’t many studies that have looked at a fully plant-based diet for treating PCOS. Here’s what we do know:

With this information, I recommend most patients stick to a diet that includes tons of healthy fruits and non-starchy veggies but still includes some animal products.

There is no evidence that gluten is directly linked to PCOS (positively or negatively). Many women are sensitive to gluten, which may increase inflammatory markers, so going gluten-free probably won’t hurt. But for most people with PCOS, going gluten-free probably won’t result in significant changes unless they have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Phytoestrogens like soy are often cited as a problem for PCOS, as they have estrogen-mimicking compounds that may influence hormone balance. However, most research suggests that they may actually have a positive influence on women’s health, including PCOS. (23) In some cases, soy isoflavones are used to successfully treat PCOS symptoms. (24)

Many soy products sold in the US have problems beyond their phytoestrogen content, so I would still recommend avoiding them in most cases.

Technically, people rarely “need” dietary supplements, although they are a fantastic add-on to many diets. Several supplements may help manage symptoms of PCOS, like berberine (which I like to think of as “nature’s Ozempic.”) In particular, supplements like my Hormone Health Stack for cycling women may help contribute to a healthier nutrient balance and optimal health.

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  24. Manzar, N., Khan, S. A., Fatima, N., Nisa, M. U., Ahmad, M. H., Afzal, M. I., ... & Arshad, M. S. (2021). Exploring the prophylactic role of soy isoflavones against polycystic ovarian syndrome. Food science & nutrition, 9(9), 4738-4744.

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BY DR. WILL COLE

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Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.

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Healing The Shame-Fueled Relationship
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