The Ultimate Guide to Managing Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome through Diet

Daniel Murphy // Dietitian // March 2024

Are you struggling with the symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and feeling overwhelmed? You are not alone. PCOS is a common hormonal disorder that affects millions of women worldwide. The good news is that managing PCOS through diet can make a significant difference in alleviating symptoms and improving overall well-being. 

In this ultimate guide, we will dive into the science behind PCOS and explore how dietary choices can influence its progression. From understanding the role of insulin and inflammation to embracing a balanced approach to nutrition, we will provide you with actionable tips and strategies to incorporate into your everyday life. 

Whether you have been newly diagnosed or an individual living with it for years, this guide is designed to empower you to take control of your health. We will debunk common myths surrounding PCOS diets and reveal evidence-based recommendations that can restore hormonal balance and improve your quality of life. This article will guide you through the Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Diet so that it all makes sense. 

Polycystic ovarian syndrome diet

Table of Contents

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Diet

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS, is a hormonal disorder characterised by an imbalance in reproductive hormones. It is estimated that up to 10% of women of childbearing age are affected by PCOS and the condition is typically marked by irregular menstrual cycles, ovarian cysts, and high levels of androgens, also known as male hormones.

While the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, there is evidence to suggest that genetics, insulin resistance, and inflammation play a role in its development. Due to this, PCOS can lead to a range of symptoms, including weight gain, acne, hair loss, and fertility issues.

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Understanding the Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Diet

Diet plays a crucial role in managing PCOS symptoms as it can directly impact hormonal balance, insulin sensitivity, and inflammation levels. Due to this, making the right food choices can help regulate blood sugar levels, reduce insulin resistance, and minimise the production of androgens.

If you’re looking to focus on your nutrition, the key is a balanced and nutrient-rich diet in managing PCOS. This means focusing on whole foods that are low in processed sugars and refined carbohydrates, and high in fibre, healthy fats, and lean proteins. By adopting a PCOS-friendly diet, you can support your body’s natural hormonal balance and minimise the impact of the condition on your overall health.

The importance of a balanced and nutrient-rich diet for PCOS

A balanced and nutrient-rich diet is essential for managing PCOS symptoms and improving overall well-being. Here’s why:

  • Regulating blood sugar levels: PCOS is often associated with insulin resistance, which can lead to elevated blood sugar levels. By choosing foods that have a low glycemic index, such as whole grainslegumes, and non-starchy vegetables, you can help regulate your blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity.
  • Supporting hormonal balance: Certain nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, have been shown to help regulate hormonal balance in women with PCOS. Including foods like fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and colorful fruits and vegetables in your diet can provide these essential nutrients and support your body’s natural hormone production.
  • Managing inflammation: Inflammation is believed to play a role in the development and progression of PCOS. By consuming anti-inflammatory foods, which includes foods like turmeric, ginger, leafy greens, and fatty fish, you can help reduce inflammation in your body and alleviate PCOS symptoms.

By adopting a balanced and nutrient-rich diet, you can lay the foundation for managing PCOS and promoting optimal health and well-being. Diet & lifestyle take time so implement these changes slowly over a few months.

Foods to include in a PCOS-friendly diet

When it comes to managing PCOS through diet, some foods are more beneficial than others. There are certain myths out there that Dairy & Gluten need to be removed from the diet. This is NOT true. Dairy is essential for calcium and bone health which can be detrimental for long term female health. Also Keto is NOT the answer. Many advocate this diet but it’s not sustainable so I advise against it in most cases. Read below for some key components of a PCOS-friendly diet. Adding some of these to the diet makes it easier to follow overall:

  • High-fibre foods: Fibre is essential for regulating blood sugar levels and promoting healthy digestion. Include foods like whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables in your diet to increase your fibre intake.
  • Lean proteins: Opt for lean protein sources such as chicken, turkey, fish, tofu, and legumes. Protein helps stabilise blood sugar levels and can keep you feeling full for longer.
  • Healthy fats: Include sources of healthy fats, such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, in your diet. These fats are important for hormone production and can help reduce inflammation.
  • Colourful fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals should be a staple in your PCOS-friendly diet. Aim for a variety of colours to ensure you are getting a wide range of nutrients.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Incorporate fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines into your diet to boost your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats have been shown to reduce inflammation and improve insulin sensitivity.

By including these foods in your PCOS-friendly diet, you can provide your body with the necessary nutrients to support hormonal balance and manage symptoms effectively.

Nutritionist making salad as part of a healthy diet.

Foods to limit for PCOS management

While certain foods are beneficial, there are others that can benefit PCOS if they are portioned or limited in the diet. Here are some foods to be mindful of:

  • Sugary foods and beverages: High-sugar foods and beverages can be included but its beneficial to portion size. These can be higher in calories, not as filling and cause energy lows. A great alternative is higher fibre foods like whole fruits. 
  • Processed and fried foods: Processed and fried foods are often high in unhealthy fats, sodium, and additives. These foods can contribute to weight gain and inflammation, so it’s best to limit your consumption of them.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol can have negative effects on hormone balance and can contribute to inflammation. While moderate consumption may be acceptable for some individuals, it’s best to limit your intake or opt for healthier alternatives.

By being mindful of these foods and making healthier choices, you can support your PCOS management efforts and improve your overall well-being.

Meal planning and portion control for PCOS

Meal planning and portion control are essential tools for managing PCOS through diet. Here are some tips to help you stay on track:

  • Plan your meals: Take the time to plan your meals on your days off. Missing meals during busy times of the week can again lead to energy lows during the day. Being prepared can help you make healthier choices and prevent impulsive food decisions.
  • Practice portion control: Pay attention to portion sizes and aim to eat balanced meals that include a source of lean protein, healthy fats, and fiber-rich carbohydrates. Use smaller plates and bowls to help control portion sizes.
  • Eat regular meals and snacks: Aim to eat regularly throughout the day to keep your blood sugar levels stable. Include healthy snacks like nuts, seeds, or Greek yogurt to prevent hunger and maintain energy levels.
  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated and support your overall health. Water can also help with digestion and promote a feeling of fullness.
  • Listen to your body: Pay attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re comfortably full. A mindful or intuitive eating approach is a great long term strategy.

By implementing these meal planning and portion control strategies, you can maintain a balanced and nutritious diet that supports your PCOS management goals.

The role of Exercise in managing PCOS symptoms

In addition to diet, regular exercise plays a crucial role in managing PCOS symptoms. Exercise can help improve insulin sensitivity, aid in weight management, reduce inflammation, and boost mood and energy levels.

When it comes to exercise for PCOS, finding activities that you enjoy and can sustain long-term is key. Aim for a combination of cardiovascular exercise, such as brisk walking, jogging, or cycling, and strength training exercises to build lean muscle mass. Both cardio and resistance training are both great for PCOS. Even having a mix of both is very beneficial for insulin resistance. 

Try to incorporate exercise into your daily routine, aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. If you’re new to exercise, start gradually and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts.

Remember to listen to your body and make adjustments as needed. If you have any underlying health conditions or concerns, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional before starting a new exercise program.

Stress management techniques for PCOS

Stress can have a significant impact on PCOS symptoms, as it can disrupt hormonal balance and exacerbate inflammation. Finding effective stress management techniques is crucial for managing PCOS and promoting overall well-being. Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can help reduce stress and promote a sense of calm. Incorporate these practices into your daily routine to manage stress effectively.
  • Prioritise self-care: Make time for activities that bring you joy and help you relax. This could be anything from taking a bath, reading a book, or spending time in nature. Self-care is essential for managing stress and improving your overall well-being.
  • Get enough sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Sleep deprivation can increase stress levels and worsen PCOS symptoms. Establish a bedtime routine and create a sleep-friendly environment to support a restful night’s sleep.
  • Seek support: Reach out to friends, family, or a support group to share your experiences and seek support. Connecting with others who understand what you’re going through can be incredibly beneficial.

By implementing stress management techniques into your daily life, you can reduce the impact of stress on your PCOS symptoms and improve your overall quality of life.

Supplements for managing PCOS

In addition to a healthy diet and lifestyle, certain supplements may offer additional support for managing PCOS symptoms. It’s important to remember that supplements should not replace a balanced diet, but rather complement it. Here are some supplements and natural remedies that may be beneficial for PCOS:

  • Inositol: Inositol is a naturally occurring compound that has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and regulate menstrual cycles in women with PCOS. It is available in supplement form and can be taken daily.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish, flaxseeds, and chia seeds, have anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce PCOS symptoms. Consider adding a fish oil supplement or incorporating more omega-3-rich foods into your diet.
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D is a crucial nutrient that plays a pivotal role in various bodily functions, including hormonal regulation. In the context of PCOS, low levels of vitamin D have been linked to insulin resistance, inflammation, and other metabolic imbalances commonly seen in individuals with PCOS. 

Before starting any supplements or natural remedies, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional to ensure they are safe and appropriate for your individual needs.

Nutritionist working out calories on calorie calculator

Success Stories from Apex Nutrition & PCOS

Meet Sarah. Sarah was an Apex Member with PCOS. She red loads of different articles online around weight loss, insulin resistance, metformin and PCOS, and just felt lost. We advised Sarah around PCOS and helped her reach her goals through a balanced and nutritious diet. 

Sarah’s Journey with PCOS

“My journey to overcome PCOS and weight issues had been a challenging one, and I often felt discouraged and isolated. Sarah’s discovery of the Apex Nutrition Program was a turning point for us. The personalised nutrition plans were a breath of fresh air because they were tailored to address the specific needs of individuals with PCOS.

It was as if someone finally understood what I was going through. The knowledge we gained about nutrient timing, portion control, and the role of macronutrients empowered me to make informed choices. I’ve had poor experience with previous nutrition coaches, but Apex Nutrition is honestly the best nutritionist in Ireland.

I could ask questions, they even fine-tuned our meal plans, and gave the support I needed on this journey. But what made all the difference was the supportive community. Sharing our ups and downs with others who faced similar challenges was incredibly motivating. Alongside our nutrition plans, I embraced regular exercise, which not only helped me lose weight but also improved my overall health. The Apex Nutrition Program gave me the tools and the support I needed to conquer our PCOS and weight issues.

Now, we’re healthier, happier, and living life to the fullest

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Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, women with PCOS can lose weight. While PCOS may make weight loss more challenging due to hormonal imbalances and insulin resistance, adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet and regular exercise can lead to successful weight loss.

The best diet for PCOS-related weight loss is one that focuses on whole, nutrient-dense foods and is low in processed carbohydrates and sugars. A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats, with moderate portions of carbohydrates, can help manage weight and improve PCOS symptoms. It’s important not to remove things like carbs and dairy, as these are great for our health.

Some women with PCOS may find that certain foods, such as those high in refined sugars and carbohydrates, exacerbate symptoms and make weight loss more challenging. Limiting intake of these foods, fast foods and alcohol, all will have a massive impact on results.

Yes, exercise is great for weight loss in PCOS. Regular physical activity can improve insulin sensitivity and aid in weight management. Aim for a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training for optimal results.

Hormonal imbalances, such as elevated levels of insulin and androgens (male hormones), can contribute to weight gain in PCOS. Insulin resistance, in particular, can lead to increased fat storage and difficulty losing weight. However, it’s not impossible. At Apex we’ve helped many women with PCOS achieve their weight loss targets.

Yes, weight loss can help improve PCOS symptoms, including irregular periods, infertility, acne, and excess hair growth. Even modest weight loss can lead to significant improvements in hormone levels and overall health.

The timeframe for seeing weight loss results with PCOS can vary depending on factors such as diet, exercise habits, metabolism, and hormonal balance. With consistent effort and adherence to a healthy lifestyle, many women with PCOS can begin to see improvements in weight and symptoms within a few weeks to months

Some supplements, such as inositol and omega-3 fatty acids have shown promise in improving insulin sensitivity and supporting weight loss in women with PCOS. However, diet and exercise will be the main deciding factors. 

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