You may have heard of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in women. PCOS is a reproductive issue caused by a hormone imbalance. It affects about one in 10 women of childbearing age , and it can cause some challenging symptoms: fertility problems, weight gain, hair growth, and more.
I’ve worked with thousands of patients over the past decade, many of whom had PCOS or related hormone imbalances. PCOS can be frustrating, especially if your doctor puts you on conventional treatment like birth control, which masks symptoms without truly addressing the underlying cause. One of my first go-to recommendations for my PCOS patients is to change their diet.
Nutrition has a profound impact on your hormones and switching the foods you eat can help you relieve symptoms of PCOS, lose weight, and rebalance your hormones for fertility and more energy. Even a small amount of weight loss in women can dramatically improve your PCOS symptoms, and experts consider lifestyle interventions like diet and exercise the best way to relieve PCOS .
If you have PCOS, try following these four nutritional principles. You may be surprised by how good they make you feel.
Cut out sugar and refined carbs
About 70% of PCOS women also have insulin resistance, which is when your cells struggle to regulate insulin and blood sugar properly . Insulin resistance drives weight gain and also makes it very hard to lose weight .
Cutting carbs (especially sugars and refined carbs) is one of the best ways to control your insulin levels and lose weight. Women with PCOS who ate a higher-fat, lower-carb diet saw a more than 30% decrease in their insulin levels, compared to those who ate a higher-carb, lower-fat diet .
Reducing sugar and carb intake is my go-to suggestion for relieving PCOS in women, and it makes the biggest impact for my patients. If you’re going to make one dietary change, choose this one.
Eat plenty of protein
Calorie for calorie, protein is the most filling macronutrient –more so than fat or carbs . Protein is also thermogenic, meaning your body burns more energy processing it . High-protein diets are great for weight loss in women without causing hunger [8,9], and that weight loss can make a big difference in your PCOS symptoms [2,9].
When women come to my practice, one of the most common things I find is that they aren’t eating enough protein. Aim for 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight (for example, 120 grams/day for a 150-lb. person). That may be more protein than you’re used to eating, but it can make a big difference in how you look and feel, especially if you have PCOS.
Get more healthy fats
In a 2015 study, women who switched to a low-carb, high-fat diet lost significantly more weight than women eating a higher-carb, low-fat diet . A significant portion of their weight loss was belly fat, and they also maintained muscle mass better than women in the high-carb, low-fat group did. Finally, the low-carb, high-fat group enjoyed more balanced metabolic hormones, which help with both weight loss and PCOS symptoms.
Try replacing carbs — especially refined carbs — with healthy fats. Some of my favorites are:
- Olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Grass-fed butter
- Wild salmon, anchovies, and sardines
- Grass-fed red meat
- Raw nuts
Add more of these healthy fats to your diet and see if you notice a difference in your PCOS symptoms.
Increase fiber from fresh veggies
Fiber seems to be especially good for PCOS women. Women with PCOS who ate more fiber had lower body fat (especially belly fat and thigh fat) and more stable insulin levels than those who ate less fiber .
The same correlation didn’t show up for women without PCOS, which suggests that fiber may be particularly helpful if you have PCOS.
Fresh vegetables and low-sugar fruits are the best sources of fiber. They’re also packed with anti-inflammatory compounds and micronutrients.
Aim for 6-10 servings of vegetables and low-sugar fruits a day. Good options are:
PCOS Women: Eat healthier, feel better
For PCOS relief, the best place to start is diet. Try these four dietary changes and see how you feel. If you’re struggling to stick to a healthier diet, don’t beat yourself up! Change is hard. Start with any one of the four strategies in this article, then add another once you feel comfortable with the first. Slow, steady changes in your day-to-day life can lead to massive improvement over time.
And if you want personalized health and lifestyle advice, why not take my Power Type Quiz? It’s free, and it will give you insight into your unique body, and what you can do to feel amazing every day.