Best diet and supplements for PCOS treatment. Learn the list of foods to eat and to avoid, get the meal plan and recipes for PCOS.
Of the hundreds of women with PCOS -Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome – ((mis/un)diagnosed) that I see, very few physicians have spoken with them about dietary choices. And if they have; more often than not, the discussions have a shame or guilt perspective: “Just lose weight.” If you have PCOS, you know how difficult it is to “just lose weight.” You have undoubtedly tried extremely restrictive diets that have not yielded a weight goal. And that simply cascades into an emotional roller coaster of willpower and self-depreciation, which leads to poor choices and despair. First off, diet comes from the word, dieta. Dieta is latin for lifestlye. This does not include foods, it includes your spiritual health, emotional health, environmental health, and physical health. Food is a huge part of our culture and daily life. How we share food, enjoy food, and prepare food is beautiful. So, as you ready through here, take an assessment of the WHOLE you.
PCOS treatment is not a one-size fits all. Not all women (or those born females) with PCOS have metabolic complications. I have seen many underweight or women with a normal BMI that still have food cravings/binge eating, hair loss, unwanted hair growth, irregular periods, PMS, acne, and anxiety/depression that go undiagnosed for years.
To break it down for you, the result of forgetting to use food as medicine as a core treatment for PCOS can lead to overwhelm, depression, lower self-worth/value, anxiety, and a totally messy relationship with food. PCOS is complex and has multiple root causes. Diet, or dieta, is by far one of the major players that can truly reverse your symptoms and diagnosis.
Again, Diet is Dieta – A Latin word for Lifestyle –and in this article the lifestyle piece will focus on foods to eat, recipes, and foods to avoid. Also, keep in your backpocket the concept that the lifestyle piece also includes what you consume with your mind, your eyes, your ears, and how you spend your time. Food matters, as a healthy gut and digestion produce 70-90% of Serotonin and Dopamine and can seriously have you glowing day to day from the inside out.
Why Food Matters
Okay, now that we have deconstructed the definition of diet, let’s move on to why food matters. Remove the idea of restriction from your mind for now. If you begin to Google PCOS Diet and Meal Plan, you will find a wide variety of meals and recipes from Keto to Paleo, to the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean Diet (lifestyle) is by far the most researched for women’s health issues. As all of these fad diets come and go, I look for the common thread: here, again, it is Whole Foods, Plant-Based.
When it comes to the “PCOS Diet,” it is very important to know that we are not just working with sex hormones, we are working a complex system of all hormones including:
- “ Parent Hormones” : Insulin, Cortisol
- Metabolic Hormones including Growth Hormone
- “Hunger” + satiety hormones: Leptin and Ghrelin
- Sex Hormones: Eating Cyclically to biohack your cycle
Metabolic Syndrome and Insulin Resistance are the most concerning PCOS sequela for quality of life, so let’s bring our focus to Insulin.
Insulin and Stress and Food: The Role of the “Parent Hormones” in PCOS
As we dive into foods and meal plans, remember there is a difference between soul food and food for your health. Keep this close to your heart. Let’s talk Insulin and Cortisol. Cortisol, a stress hormone released by the adrenals, helps us wake up during the day and go to sleep at night. Cortisol is on a 24-hour cycle and changes pretty dramatically according to our menstrual cycle. When cortisol is dysregulated, it has a direct effect on Insulin.
Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas. Insulin helps drive glucose into your cells so that your blood sugar remains balanced and your cells stay energized. When insulin is released, your body is generally in a rest-and-digest mode in order to process and organize the food you just consumed. The pancreas helps digest fats, proteins, and carbohydrates by releasing enzymes and Insulin so that the energy from your last meal can be broken down and delivered to muscles, liver, and other cells in need.
So if your Cortisol is high and irregular, your blood sugar goes wacky, causing you to crave carbs, sweets, and salty foods because your cells are screaming for energy, yet unable to absorb energy (glucose) from your blood. This is because Cortisol causes Insulin to raise or lower and vice versa. Insulin resistance is a condition when your cells blunt their response to Insulin. Resulting in blood sugar dysregulation.. Insulin’s job is to transport energy (glucose) into our cells. Many conventional Docs order labs that do not capture Insulin Resistance. You can read more about that here.
Insulin resistance is a hallmark of PCOS – nearly 70% of female-bodied folk with PCOS have insulin resistance. Insulin also has a relationship with our sex hormones. Insulin Resistance can further androgen dominance in the ovaries, resulting in the worsening of classic PCOS symptoms such as acne, hair loss, and hair growth in unwanted places. Insulin Resistance also plays a role in perpetuating inflammation, which can lead to depression, anxiety, and chronic disease.
Insulin + Leptin + Cravings
Insulin resistance not only directly dysregulates cortisol but also has an effect on Leptin, which is a relatively new marker in Insulin panels. Leptin signals to your brain when you are satiated. Like Insulin, Leptin can shoot out at high levels and then die down, and become dysregulated. Studies have shown that women with PCOS have dysregulated Leptin, perpetuating binge eating habits and the need for high calories and carbs.
Between Leptin, Insulin, and Cortisol dysregulation, you can see where appetite and hunger signals go extremely awry. This leads to cravings, carb binges, and a toxic relationship with food, and anxiety about enjoying your food. With the pressures on body image that we have today, we all need to reclaim our joy of food.
To the Food: The PCOS Diet
“The PCOS Diet” is actually a lifestyle shift aimed to lower Inflammation, control insulin, and therefore control your mood.
Studies have even found that simply shifting food and including exercise is an alternative to Metformin, which is commonly prescribed to control Blood Sugar for PCOS! Any well-balanced diet that focuses on stress, targets insulin resistance. This includes quality protein, vegetables, carbs, and fat will work. Even if the diet, or dieta, does not lead to weight loss, it reduces inflammation, cravings, menstrual irregularities, and those pesky androgen-dominant symptoms.
Every Meal should look like this:
- A palm-sized of Protein,
- A palm-sized of complex carb veggie (sweet potato, squash, seeded gluten-free bread, millet, corn with bean, etc)
- ½ your plate in veggies,
- and a healthy fat, as healthy fat makes healthy hormones (½ avocado, 1 tbsp ghee, 1 tsp-1 tbl Olive/ Coconut/Avocado Oil)
Each Day’s Focus:
- Regular Meals, as to reduce blood sugar dysregulation.
- ½ your body weight in oz of water
- Blood Sugar Healthy Snacks (a handful of nuts, turkey wraps, lower glycemic fruit smoothies, greek yogurt with fruit, broth, protein smoothies)
Protein-Rich Ideas + Recipe
- Greek Yogurt / Keir
- Bison Burgers + Tacos
- Adding Codeage Collagen to your daily routine
- Adding a Plant Based Protein into your routine
- Combining Plant-based proteins such as the classic bean and grain into your meals
- Adding seeds + nuts into your salads and onto your meals.
- Make Tahini dressings with added Collagen
- Apply 3-4 scoops of Collagen into all of your baking and take away some of the flour
- Use Almond Flour, Coconut Flour, and other protein rich flours into your baking instead of Rice/Wheat/ other grains.
Protein Rich snacks + recipe
- Mango Lassi
- A handful of nuts
- A Collagen-based smoothie
Healthy Fat Examples
- Ghee: I personally love ghee, go for the fermented organic grass-fed ghee, or try making some yourself! This can be super satisfying, more cost-effective, and easy. And once you become your own ghee enthusiast, you can begin adding herbs that are fat soluble into the mix or make a yummy cardamom cinnamon-infused ghee for your
- Tahini Cookies: adapted from Kale Junkie
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil/Coconut Oil
Complex/Slow Carb Example
While reducing carbohydrate loads are an essential feature for fertility and PCOS diets, I do not recommend a low carbohydrate diet, we women need carbohydrates for hormone health. The key is moderation: 1-2 complex carb veggies a day such as carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, and beets or about ½ cup of more complex grains 1-2 meals per day is plenty.
Complex Carb Veggies:
Sweet Potatoes, Pumpkin, Japanese sweet potato (my fave!), parsnips, carrots, purple potatoes, squash (delicata is my fave!),
Examples of grains:
Millet, quinoa, black rice, wild rice, Steel Cut Oats, other coloured rices, and buckwheat.
Fiber + Seeds
Add 2 tbl of seeds a day into your meals in order to meet the fiber requirement for your daily health. I personally love black sesame seeds as a “kidney tonic” or as a snack option to feed kidney qi, an essential energy that preserves vitality, longevity, and fertility.
Why Avoid Fasting / Keto
Overly restricting carbohydrates can cause worsening blood sugar regulation in women in as little as 2-3 weeks. The same goes for fasting. As for fasting, a simple twelve to fourteen-hour fast (dinner – breakfast) can reduce insulin resistance in two weeks. Ensure your meals are regular and well-balanced in order to avoid cortisol and insulin issues that will cascade into thyroid and ovarian hormone dysregulation.
Do I need Supplements?
- Conventional Meats – These are laden with estrogen and hormones that will further disrupt hormone regulation.
- Refined Sugar
- Refined Carbs
- Simple Carbs
- Dairy – can potentiate insulin resistance.
- Go Gluten-Light/ Gluten Free
Do I need Supplements?
Nutritional Deficiencies are commonly found in women with PCOS. Especially Vitamin D3, minerals that are essential for glucose/blood sugar regulation (chromium, magnesium, etc), and B-vitamins. At times, if you are experiencing heavy bleeding and multiple cysts, you may need to have your iron and iodine levels checked, also. Most of these nutritional panels can be assessed with blood work or functional medicine nutrition panels. To learn more about using supplements to help with PCOS symptoms, read here.
What is “Eating for Your Cycle”?
There are so many resources on learning to eat cyclically. The basics are to eat for cortisol and insulin according to how they shift throughout your menstrual cycle.
The follicular phase is from menses to bleed, the first half of your cycle when Estrogen is building up into a plump juicy egg (ovulation). During this time, cortisol is a bit lower, and therefore you have a more regulated stress response. Eating higher protein meals, and challenging your caloric intake is more in coherence with your body during this time (the first half of your cycle).
The luteal phase is from ovulation to bleed. During this time, after ovulation, cortisol, your stress hormone is generally higher, and man do we feel it when we have PMS?! Eat more regularly during this time, and focus on balanced meals and healthy carbohydrates. Ensure you are resting more during this time, and allowing space for nourishing yourself, journaling, and eating more frequent meals. You can read more about this in my Cyclical Living Articles: Egg Wisdom, Biphasics: Introduction to Cyclical Living, and Infradian Rhythm.
Because PCOS can be a life-long condition, the importance of a healthy, PCOS-specific diet as a central part of a complete lifestyle shift cannot be overstated. This dieta is paramount for managing and reversing PCOS symptoms. This is because insulin resistance, a hallmark of PCOS, increases ovarian androgen dominance which worsens classic PCOS symptoms. Therefore, a diet designed to control insulin and lower inflammation can dramatically improve PCOS symptoms. Such a diet includes rich proteins (both animal and plant-based), complex carbohydrates, a variety of vegetables, and healthy fats. Foods to avoid include conventional meats, refined sugars and carbohydrates, dairy, and gluten. This type of diet is maximised by learning to “eat for your cycle”. This means eating specific foods according to when cortisol is lower (follicular phase) and when cortisol is higher (luteal phase). A PCOS diet is not meant to be restrictive, but empowering as the patient actively engages in the healing process. To learn more about PCOS symptom management, read here.
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