Remember our friend Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (aka PCOS)? Okay, so it’s not so much a friend as it is an unsolicited guest that overstays its welcome, bringing along hormonal imbalances, irregular periods, and sometimes, pesky cysts on the ovaries…but you get the point.

You might be wondering why your food has anything to do with PCOS and why what you eat can impact this tricky condition. Well, the truth is, the foods we put on our plates matter. The food we eat can have the power to influence our hormonal balance, manage weight, and impact our overall health – making it a powerful ally in the PCOS management game.

Whether you’re new to PCOS and are just discovering the ins and outs of this condition, or a seasoned expert who’s looking for some fresh insights, we’re here to help. Read on to find out how a tailored diet can not only help to manage PCOS but also enable you to regain control of your wellbeing. 

What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

Picture this: your ovaries are like a bustling marketplace and sometimes things can get a bit chaotic in there. That’s PCOS in a nutshell. Polycystic ovary syndrome is the most common endocrine disorder in women and people assigned female at birth.

Given the condition’s name, you may assume that it strictly impacts the ovaries and their functionality. However, PCOS involves much more than just the ovaries; this complex hormonal disorder has the power to affect the whole body – from your skin to your appetite. 

Confused? Trust us when we say that’s normal for this condition. But fear not, the first step to managing PCOS is understanding it…and that’s exactly what we’re here to help with. 

What Are the Symptoms of PCOS? 

A PCOS diagnosis can bring an array of symptoms with it, including:

  • Excessive hair growth 
  • Hair loss 
  • Infertility
  • Acne
  • Polycystic ovaries (no surprises there)
  • Weight gain or difficulty losing weight  

But wait, there’s more. PCOS is deeper than the surface-level symptoms – it can have a ripple effect on your overall health and can result in irregular menstrual cycles, elevated androgen levels, anovulation (where the ovaries don’t release an egg), and more. 

Mood swings? Check

Insulin resistance? Check

Increased risk of type 2 diabetes? Check

Just when you thought this condition couldn’t get any more complex, it impacts everyone differently. Yep – one person may display all of these symptoms, while others may only experience a few, and in some cases, none at all. 

Thankfully, you don’t have to accept these symptoms as something you just have to put up with. Armed with the right knowledge and tools, you can learn to effectively manage these challenges. 

The Role of Diet in PCOS Management

Everyone who still feels personally victimised by early 2000’s diet culture, raise your hand. Before we delve into this properly, we’re going to need you to forget everything you think you know about diet.

Whenever we mention a diet, know that nothing we’re speaking about involves starving your body of the nutrients it needs, restricting yourself excessively, or eating a particular way to achieve a certain body type or shape. A balanced diet is all about providing your body with the nutrients it needs.

(Oh, and while we’re at it, there’s no such thing as “good” or “bad” foods here. It’s all about balance.) 

A balanced diet isn’t just about jumping on the latest bandwagon — It's about providing your body with the nutrients it needs. 

But how does it work? 

Reducing your overall carb intake has been shown to improve hormonal imbalances and assist in the treatment of infertility and maintaining weight, while following a low GI diet can help stabilise insulin levels and regulate periods. 

The magic doesn’t stop there either. Consuming a diet that is rich in vegetables, fruit, poultry, and low in refined sugars can also help to reduce insulin resistance and high blood pressure

In short, fueling your body with a balanced diet is more effective than any crash diet or fad-food trend ever will be. 

Key Nutrients for PCOS

Whether we’re talking vitamins or minerals, all of these nutrients play a role in our health and well-being. If you’re keen to curb your symptoms, here are some of the key nutrients we recommend incorporating into your diet: 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids for PCOS

Omega-3 Fatty Acids are the unsung heroes of the dietary world. These fatty acids pack a mighty punch and are rich in anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce and soothe inflammation often associated with PCOS. 

What Foods Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids Found In? 

Not a fan of seafood? Fear not – Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods other than just fatty fish (like salmon, mackerel and herring). You can get your Omega-3 fix in foods like:

  • Chia seeds 
  • Walnuts 
  • Flaxseed 
  • Canola oil 
  • Eggs
  • Tofu

Antioxidants for PCOS

Think of antioxidants as a natural defence squad against oxidative stress (aka free radicals) – the unstable atoms we can thank for damaging our cells and causing illness.

Antioxidants help to restore the balance lost as a result of oxidative stress and can also combat inflammation and improve ovarian function

What Foods Are Antioxidants Found In? 

Ready to reap the benefits of these molecules but aren’t sure where to start? You can find antioxidants in the following foods (and plenty of others too): 

  • Berries 
  • Leafy greens 
  • Grapes
  • Eggplant 
  • Leeks 
  • Onions
  • Dark chocolate
  • Green tea 

Vitamin D and Calcium for PCOS

Did somebody say sunshine? Vitamin D and calcium aren’t just about promoting strong, healthy bones. This powerhouse duo works best together and can play a crucial role in managing symptoms of PCOS such as irregular menstrual cycles, infertility, and follicular maturation

What Foods Are Vitamin D and Calcium Found In? 

Don't limit yourself to just supplements and sunlight for vitamin D — it’s also readily available in the foods we eat. Some foods with high vitamin D include: 

  • Fatty fish
  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified Foods (milk, soy, and cheese)
  • Fortified cereals 
  • Fortified orange juices 

Foods to Include in a PCOS Diet

Consider this to be your unofficially official PCOS diet cheat sheet. Get that pen and paper ready, because you’ll want to take notes. In no specific order, here are some of the most highly recommended foods to include in a PCOS-friendly diet. 

Lean Proteins 

There’s a reason everyone harps on about the importance of protein, and don’t worry, we aren’t ones to gatekeep. 

Lean proteins (think: turkey, fish, and chicken) provide amino acids that are crucial for maintaining muscle health. These lean proteins help to stabilise blood sugar levels and prevent insulin spikes that may contribute to PCOS symptoms. 

Vegan friends need not worry – there are options out there for you too. Plant-based foods including lentils, tofu, and beans not only come packed with protein, but they also contain fibre which aids digestion and helps you feel fuller for longer. In the long run, this can also be beneficial for weight management, a common difficulty many individuals with PCOS face.  

Complex Carbohydrates and Whole Grains 

The bread-hating era was wrong about a lot of things, but promoting the importance of whole grains and complex carbohydrates was one of the things it got right. 

Whole grains such as brown rice, oats, and quinoa are fibre-rich and naturally have a low glycemic index, meaning they gradually release glucose into the bloodstream. The slow release of glucose helps to regulate blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of insulin resistance – one of the key players in the PCOS game. 

When you choose complex carbohydrates instead of foods high in trans-fats, you’re not only satisfying your taste buds, but you’re also providing your body with a long, sustained source of energy without the sugar highs and crashes. 

Colourful Fruits and Veg 

It’s time to eat the rainbow and fill your plate with as many colourful fruits and vegetables as you can. These colours signify a variety of antioxidants and essential vitamins that help to combat stress and inflammation

Think berries, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, citrus fruits and colourful fruit and veg. In these goodies, you’ll find no shortage of micronutrients, including Vitamin C, which helps to support immune function.

From red berries to leafy greens, eating a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables provides essential building blocks for your health, including Vitamin C for immune support and fibre, a crucial factor in promoting gut health.

Healthy Fats 

Repeat after us: healthy fats are friends – especially when it comes to managing PCOS. Healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, olive oil, and seeds provide the body with a good dose of monounsaturated fats. 

Fats actually play an important role in the production and balance of hormones and support insulin regulation. By incorporating these fats into your diet, you’re not only serving up more flavourful meals, but you’re also actively contributing to the hormonal harmony your body craves. 

Foods to Avoid in a PCOS Diet

Remember what we said about the importance of consuming a balanced diet? In order to maintain that ‘balanced’ , there are certain foods we want to be consuming more of, and some we’d like to see less of (or avoid as much as possible). 

Refined Sugars and Highly Processed Foods 

Brace yourself for the (not-so-sweet) truth…

While fats and proteins are the heroes we didn’t know we needed for PCOS management, refined sugars, and processed foods can be PCOS’ arch-nemesis.

Sugary sweet treats can result in rapid spikes in blood sugar levels which can trigger insulin surges. In the long term, this can contribute to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, weight gain, and heighten other symptoms of PCOS.

High Glycaemic Index Foods 

Meet the glycaemic index (GI), a handy tool you’ll want to keep in your back pocket when it comes to the world of PCOS management. 

Why? Foods that have a low glycaemic index, such as beans, fruits, lentils, grainy bread, and milk, have been shown to regulate periods and decrease the risk of insulin resistance.

On the other hand, foods that have a high glycaemic index, such as white bread, potatoes, fried foods, and processed foods, are broken down quickly by our bodies. High GI foods can elevate insulin and blood glucose levels as well as cause and worsen inflammation. 

Dietary Support for PCOS at Hazel 

No PCOS journey is the same, so no two treatments should be either. A diet and lifestyle that works for one individual with PCOS may not work for you. We encourage you to seek the support and guidance of a dietitian, like one of our Hazel practitioners

As Australia’s first interdisciplinary online clinic dedicated to female pain, Hazel enables women and folks assigned female at birth living with PCOS to access the care they deserve. No more one-size-fits-all approaches to PCOS, and no more harmful diet-culture agendas. 

With the help of our accredited practising dietitian and medical experts, you’ll build a personalised nutrition plan to work with your lifestyle – not against it. Our team will work with you to identify what foods trigger your PCOS symptoms, and what foods you can use as medicine to reduce pain and inflammation and balance your hormones.  

The Wrap Up 

Living with PCOS can often feel unpredictable and confusing, with the condition seemingly wreaking havoc on multiple different areas of the body. 

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way. Consuming a PCOS-friendly diet can help to reduce some of the most common symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome, including insulin resistance and inflammation. 

Remember, drastic diets and restrictive eating aren’t the answer to your problems here. Consuming a balanced diet rich in nutrient-dense foods and colourful fruit and veg is key. 

If you’re ready to learn how you can begin your journey to healing from within, book a consultation with our PCOS experts today to receive personalised meal plans and stigma-free advice and learn how to start managing PCOS symptoms with food. 

Happy eating! 

PCOS diet: FAQ

Is a Keto Diet Good For PCOS? 

Trying a keto diet can be a nudge in the right direction when it comes to managing PCOS for many reasons. A keto diet can help aid with:

  • Weight loss 
  • Regulating insulin levels 
  • Balancing hormones 

As always, it’s important to remember that every body is different and has different nutritional needs. We recommend engaging the help of a dietitian before c making any significant dietary changes to ensure your journey to better health is as safe and sustainable as possible. 

Can You Consume Alcohol with PCOS? 

Everything can be enjoyed in moderation, and yes, that includes the drinks we put into our bodies too, even alcohol. 

However, because alcohol has been shown to increase symptoms of PCOS such as irregular cycles, high blood sugar, inflammation, and weight gain, we encourage all individuals living with PCOS to enjoy a glass or two here and there responsibly.