Designing Your Diet to Fight Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

For women who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), many aspects of life are constant, daily struggles. Dealing with dark facial hair growth, thinning hair, infertility, unexplained weight gain and physical pain can be overwhelming—and it doesn't stop there. Those with PCOS can also experience mood swings, depression, stress, embarrassment, guilt, and anxiety. This is a condition that doesn’t just affect the ovaries; it impacts every area of a woman’s body and life.
Polycystic ovary syndrome is a complex disorder involving the endocrine system. In the United States, about five million women suffer with this condition, and it affects one in every 10 women worldwide. Women often suspect having PCOS because they are experiencing various symptoms, such as an elevated body mass index, irregular or infrequent menstrual cycle, excess hair growth, thinning hair on the head, adult acne, skin tags, darkening skin pigment in different parts of the body or infertility issues.
In addition, women with PCOS often have elevated insulin levels, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes. They are also at a higher risk for having hypothyroidism, hypertension and altered lipid levels. Women also notice they have intense food cravings for high-sugar foods or refined, carbohydrate-rich foods. Low blood sugar episodes are common, as well. With so many food and nutrition concerns associated with this common condition, finding a healthy balance in your diet is key in managing the symptoms while also taking care of your overall health and well-being.

The Guidelines

When considering a healthy diet plan, it's important to remember that PCOS can make weight loss more difficult so setting realistic expectations is key. While your program might recommend a calorie range of 1,200 to 1,550 to achieve healthy weight loss, this range will likely result in a slower weight loss of about a quarter to a half pound weekly. With PCOS, it is also necessary to adjust your macronutrient ranges to improve the condition, control appetite and meet your specific nutritional needs. Current recommendations suggest the following breakdown of nutrients:
  • 40 to 50 percent of calories from carbohydrates
  • 20 to 25 percent of calories from protein, and
  • 25 to 35 percent of calories from fat
In addition to monitoring your nutrition intake, be sure to eat every three to five hours to reduce the incidence of a low blood sugar reaction, tame food cravings and keep from getting overly hungry.
While basic recommended nutrition behaviors for healthy living also apply to the general population, nutrition becomes even more important after a PCOS diagnosis. Due to an altered endocrine system, the body systems of a woman with this specific condition have less capability to respond to unhealthy eating habits.
With that in mind, considering how you're fueling your body is an important conversation to have with yourself after understanding PCOS and its complexities. A slight lowering of your carbohydrate intake can help with blood sugar control, especially when selecting foods with good carbs such as vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains and low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese. Aim for 20 to 40 grams of fiber per day, and limit foods containing refined carbohydrates. Each meal should have no more than 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates, with each snack containing no more than 15 to 30 grams. To meet your protein needs, select lean, protein-packed foods, such as lean beef and pork, seafood and lentils.
Your PCOS-fighting diet should also contain foods rich in polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat, while limiting the amount of saturated fat and trans fat to less than seven percent of total calories. Include foods high in omega-3 fatty acids from sources such as fish, nuts, seeds, egg yolks, avocado, olive oil, canola oil and flax seed oil. These can benefit heart health and reduce the inflammation brought on by PCOS. Round out your meal planning with at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day to help ease hormonal imbalances that come along with the condition. Because of the lowered calorie intake, consider taking a multivitamin-mineral supplement daily to make up for the additional nutrients.
Keep in mind that women with PCOS can experience either just a few signs or a variety of complex symptoms. After diagnosis, consider speaking with a registered dietitian nutritionist for an individualized menu plan. The dietitian will assess your specific symptoms, laboratory results and lifestyle needs to design an eating plan for optimal outcomes.

A Day in Meals with PCOS

To get started, review the dietary guidelines for PCOS and get an idea of how to find a healthy balance with three meals and two snacks in a sample menu. Start with this guide, then branch off with other equally healthy options to avoid boredom in your diet. The example below uses 1,486 calories, but your plan may vary based on your target calorie range. Smart planning and awareness will come in handy as you eat to combat the various symptoms of PCOS while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
The Basics:
  • 1,486 calories
  • 160 grams of Carbohydrate (43%)
  • 108 grams of Protein (29%)
  • 46 grams of Fat (28%)
  • 29 grams of Fiber
  • 985 milligrams of Calcium (99%)
Eating Time Nutritional Analysis
2 whole eggs with:
  •  ½ cup non-starchy veggies
  • 1 tablespoon shredded cheese
1 slice of whole-wheat toast
1 cup cantaloupe
  • 305 calories
  • 27 grams of carbohydrate
  • 20 grams of protein
  • 13 grams of fat
  • 3.9 grams of fiber
  • 167 milligrams of calcium
Turkey sandwich:
  • 3 ounces deli turkey
  • 1 ounce low-fat Swiss cheese
  • 2 tomato slices
  • 2 lettuce leaves
  • 1 teaspoon reduced fat mayo
  • 100-calorie sandwich thin
1 cup baby carrots
1 cup red grapes
  • 409 calories
  • 59 grams of carbohydrate
  • 32 grams of protein
  • 5 grams of fat
  • 10 grams of fiber
  • 381 milligrams of calcium
Afternoon Snack:
17 almonds
  • 122 calories
  • 4 grams of carbohydrate
  • 4 grams of protein
  • 10 grams of fat
  • 2.6 grams of fiber
  • 55 milligrams of calcium
4 ounces grilled salmon
½ cup cooked brown rice
Salad containing:
  • 2 cups leafy greens
  • 2 tablespoons fat-free salad dressing
  • ¼ cup diced avocado
½ cup strawberries
½ cup skim milk
  • 489 calories
  • 45 grams of carbohydrate
  • 39 grams of protein
  • 17 grams of fat
  • 9.5 grams of fiber
  • 230 milligrams of calcium
Evening Snack:
5.3 ounces fat-free Greek yogurt
½ cup blueberries
  • 161 calories
  • 25 grams of carbohydrate
  • 13 grams of protein
  • 1 gram of fat
  • 2.6 grams of fiber
  • 152 milligrams of Calcium