By Amy Medling, founder of PCOS Diva
PCOS Divas know that food is medicine. Women with PCOS can use their grocery stores and farmer’s markets like pharmacies in order to nourish our bodies and ease our symptoms. The best medicine for PCOS is also the best diet for PCOS.
In order for women with PCOS to thrive, we must “Eat the Rainbow” every day. Eating a colorful assortment of vegetables and fruits every day provides a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial plant components that we need to nourish our cells, balance our insulin, hormones and other body systems, and boost our energy.
Avoid endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals, by choosing organic and/or locally grown produce whenever possible. If fresh, local, organic choices are limited or unavailable, fresh-frozen organic vegetables and fruits are a good choice. Just make sure you read the ingredient label to avoid any unwanted additives, namely sugar and preservatives.
While most of the foods on this list are fruits and vegetables, I encourage you to include clean protein (fish, poultry, lean meat, and legumes) and whole grains. A well-rounded diet will keep you nourished, energized, and satisfied.
Load up your PCOS diet with:
Dark Leafy Greens
Glorious greens such as romaine lettuce, red leaf lettuce, kale, chard, spinach, collards, beet greens, dandelions, endive, basil, parsley, and arugula are the very BEST low-calorie, high fiber, low glycemic index food sources of essential vitamins and minerals out there.
*Greens improve digestion and absorption of nutrients in the gut, improve glucose regulation and overall endocrine function, and reduce the risk of metabolic, cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases, and cancer.
*Leafy greens provide vitamin A and its precursors, the carotenoids, vitamin K, vitamin C and various flavonoids and also rich sources of iron calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and numerous other trace minerals. These nutrients are essential cofactors in hundreds of physiological processes, such as regulating blood pressure, maintaining a strong and steady heartbeat, and producing the bio-energy adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the mitochondria to name a few.
*Leafy greens are also a good source of many B vitamins, especially folate, the plant form of folic acid. Adequate intake of all the B vitamins are necessary for neurological and cardiovascular health, prevention of anemia, and to reduce risk of certain cancers.1,2
Tip: To improve the bioavailability of the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) and other fat-soluble plant components, it is best to eat greens with a little oil (EVOO or avocado oil are my favorites) or other healthy fat, including butter from grass fed cows. Additionally, for best bioavailability of the minerals, a bit of acid is required. Vinaigrette to the rescue!
2. Colorful Vegetables
Eat these nutritional powerhouses raw, steamed, boiled, broiled, roasted, grilled, or sautéed. Dip them in yogurt or hummus, drizzle them sparingly with a little vinaigrette or other salad dressing, or toss them with herbs and melted butter or a squeeze of lemon. Vegetables are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and unique bioactive phytocomponents that maintain glucose regulation, reduce meta-inflammation and the dangerous effects oxidative stress, and therefore, lower the risk of getting, and dying from, cardiovascular or any other chronic disease.
*The crucifers—broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts are a great source for dietary sulfur, essential for production of glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant
*String beans, wax beans, and pole beans are actually legumes, but we tend to think of them as veggies, provide protein, fiber and folate. As an excellent source of silica, a mineral essential for connective tissue and bone support, eating them regularly may reduce the risk of osteoporosis in menopausal women.3
*Asparagus is an outstanding source of the potent flavonoid Quercetin and also contains phytochemicals known as steroidal saponins that help reduce the inflammation cascade and fights cancer cells!4
*Artichokes – Containing 41% fiber, they are also a good source of Niacin, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium and Copper, and a very good source of vitamin C, vitamin K, Folate and Manganese.5
*Carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, and other root vegetables provide potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer protections, and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions.
*Tomatoes, Potatoes, Bell Peppers, and Eggplant are all packed with antioxidant phytonutrients and an assortment of vitamins and minerals. Caution: Go easy with these members of the nightshade Eat occasionally in rotation. For people with arthritis, food sensitivities, chronic headaches or other conditions, eating nightshades may cause a flare in symptoms.
Berries such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, currants, and cranberries are packed with immune boosting, cancer-preventing, heart-protecting, obesity-preventing antioxidant components, including specific polyphenols, flavonoids, and other phytocomponents that fight inflammation and disease. Researchers are learning that phytonutrients in raspberries may prevent obesity and fatty liver by regulating certain enzymes. They are also studying varieties of squash and melons that offer protection against type 2 diabetes by down regulating insulin.6,7,8
4. Avocados and avocado oil
Also technically a type of fruit known as a drupe, avocados are often misunderstood and overlooked as a nutritional superfood due to their high concentration of saturated fat. Fear not, PCOS Divas! Avocados are packed with vitamins, minerals, and heart healthy fatty acids that help quell systemic inflammation, promote healthy endocrine and immune system function, and make your skin glow! Adding an avocado per day to an already well-balanced diet has been shown to lower risk of heart disease, lower LDL cholesterol, and reduce oxidative stress.9
Tip: Use avocado oil for sautéing vegetables and lean protein. It has a high smoke point, so it won’t be damaged by the heat, tastes great, and has a superior fatty acid profile, high antioxidant content, and contains cholesterol-blocking phytosterols.
5. Nuts & Seeds
Brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, macadamia nuts, flax, chia, and hemp seeds are protein-packed powerhouses that provide an array of minerals including magnesium, calcium, and selenium. When eaten in combination with fruit or other high glycemic foods, nuts and seeds help lower the glycemic index and improve glucose-insulin Pumpkin seeds, in particular, contain essential fatty acids (EFAs) that our bodies need. These EFAs help regulate hormone function, improve hair, skin and nails, lower insulin levels, stabilize blood sugars, and help regulate periods. These little powerhouses may also help with hirsutism, or male pattern hair growth.
6. Wild-Caught Fish
Fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines provide an excellent source of the essential, anti-inflammatory and heart healthy Omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA and other fat-soluble nutrients, including vitamins A & D. Buy only wild-caught fish to reduce potential for parasites and pesticides, and limit consumption of these fish to 3-4 times a week to limit mercury and other heavy metal exposure.
7. Stone fruits
Fruits with pits such as apricots, peaches, plums, nectarines also contain powerful phytonutrients that have anti-obesity, anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic properties.10 These fruits also have the ability to modulate gene expression, reduce LDL cholesterol oxidation, and may help prevent metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. Have insomnia? Eat a few cherries before bed to relax. The melatonin content of cherries has been shown to increase quality and duration of sleep.11
8. Dark Chocolate
This is great news for chocolate lovers! Research shows that dark chocolate containing 70% cacao or more reduces hypertension, increases circulation, aids in preventing atherosclerosis, improves glucose regulation by preventing blood sugar spikes, and may actually promote weight loss by controlling hunger and promoting satiety!12 As every chocolate lover knows, chocolate may greatly improve the mood and soothe the nerves. Research also shows that chocolate prevents memory decline and improves overall cognitive function.13
9. Green Tea
Unsweetened, brewed green tea is a zero-calorie beverage, and is considered one of the world’s healthiest drinks due to its high concentration of powerful antioxidants that improve blood flow, lower cholesterol, improve hypertension and may prevent other the heart-related issues, including congestive heart failure and stroke. Because of its circulatory benefits, green tea also nourishes and stimulates the brain by boosting brain activity and memory and helps block the formation of amyloid plaques linked to Alzheimer’s disease.14 The antioxidant polyphenols in green tea may also prevent cancers of the breast, bladder, ovaries, esophagus, skin, lung, stomach, and bowels, although research is inconclusive.15 If green tea isn’t your cup of tea, most varieties contain health benefits. Try them all!
Remember—the more naturally colorful (no food dyes!) a food is, the healthier it is likely to be. The antioxidant components of plants provide the pigments that give vegetables and fruits their gorgeous colors. So, eat the rainbow daily, and thrive with PCOS!
Finally, women with PCOS should avoid foods which promote the meta-inflammation that leads to endocrine disruption, weight gain, and increased cardiovascular risks, among other undesirable effects. For a list of foods to avoid with PCOS, read, “The 7 Worst Foods for PCOS.”
As a certified health coach, Amy Medling often hears from women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) who are frustrated and have lost all hope when the only solution their doctors offer is to lose weight, take a pill and live with their symptoms. In response, she founded PCOS Diva and developed a proven protocol of supplements, diet and lifestyle programs that offer women tools to help gain control of their PCOS and regain their fertility, femininity, health and happiness.
- Brouwer IA, van Dusseldorf M, West CE, Meyboom S, Thomas CMG, et al. Dietary Folate from Vegetables and Citrus Fruit Decreases Plasma Homocysteine Concentrations in Humans in a Dietary Controlled Trial. Nutr. June 1, 1999; 129(6) : 1135-1139. Available at http://jn.nutrition.org/content/129/6/1135.long
- Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Folate. Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health website. Available at https://ods.od.nih.gov/pdf/factsheets/folate-healthprofessional.pdf
- The George Mateljan Foundation. Green beans. World’s Healthiest Foods website http://whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=134
- The George Mateljan Foundation. Asparagus. World’s Healthiest Foods website http://whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=12
- Self Nutrition Data website.
- The George Mateljan Foundation. Squash. World’s Healthiest Foods website http://whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=62
- Joseph B, Jini D. Antidiabetic effects of Momordica charantia (bitter melon) and its medicinal potency. Asian Pac J Trop Dis. 2013 Apr; 3(2): 93–102. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4027280/
- Fact Sheet. Berry Health Benefit Network. Ohio State University. http://berryhealth.fst.oregonstate.edu/health_healing/fact_sheets/
- The George Mateljan Foundation. Avocados. World’s Healthiest Foods website http://whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=5
- Texas A&M AgriLife Communications. “Peaches, plums, nectarines give obesity, diabetes slim chance.” ScienceDaily. 18 June 2012. ScienceDaily https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120618132921.htm
- Adams C. Cherries: Nature’s Anti-inflammatory Sleep Aid. 2014 February 6. GreenMedInfo website. http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/cherries-natures-anti-inflammatory-sleep-aid
- Katz DL, Doughty K, Ali A. Cocoa and Chocolate in Human Health and Disease. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2011 Nov 15; 15(10): 2779–2811. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4696435/
- Nordqvist J. Chocolate: Health Benefits, Fact, Research. Medical News Today Reviewed by Butler N. Updated 2016 June 1. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/270272.php
- Scott PS. Health Benefits of Green Tea. WebMD.com website. http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/health-benefits-of-green-tea#1
- Ware M. Green tea: Health benefits, side effects and research. Reviewed by Wilson DR. Updated 2017 March 28. Available at http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/269538.php
- Morimoto, C, et al. “Anti-Obese Action of Raspberry Ketone.” Life Sciences., Life Sciences., 27 May 2005, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15862604.