PCOS, also known as polycystic ovary syndrome, is a condition that affects many women in their child-bearing years. PCOS can make getting pregnant difficult because it disrupts regular healthy menstrual cycles. The cause is unclear but health experts associate irregular periods, excess male hormones, and polycystic ovaries or ovarian dysfunction with PCOS.
A diet for PCOS is one of the most natural and effective approaches to reducing symptoms and increasing your chances of having a healthy pregnancy. A magnesium-rich diet with plenty of anti-inflammatory foods and healthy fats is essential to enhancing fertility if you have PCOS.
A PCOS food list includes leafy greens and other non-starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish, and organic, grass-fed meats, legumes, and more. Discover some easy and delicious PCOS recipes to reduce symptoms, get your period back on track, and grow that beautiful baby bump.
Creating a Diet Plan the Works for You
Creating a PCOS diet is simple. Whether you want to improve your PCOS symptoms, or you want a targeted PCOS diet plan for fertility and pregnancy, a bit of basic information goes a long way.
Of course, when it comes to your health as a woman, it’s not enough to know what to change or how to change it. It’s easy enough to grab a handful of suggestions from the web, like adding chocolate to your diet (really!) or cutting back on the carbs (ouch).
Any change, especially dietary, requires understanding why certain foods are better for you than others. In the case of PCOS, we need to know how the condition functions and how food interacts and influences symptoms.
You’re about to discover some critical insight into your body vital to your health, especially if you have PCOS and you’re trying to get pregnant.
Oh, and don’t fret over reducing carbs. We have a basket of PCOS recipes so you can still have your bread and eat it too.
If you’re not ready to take all this in at once, skip ahead and grab the information you need right now. Then, come back and finish it when you have 15 minutes. But don’t forget to check out our favorite PCOS diet recipes!
What is PCOS?
How does PCOS Affect Fertility & Pregnancy?
What Causes PCOS?
How Does Diet Affect PCOS?
Best Diet for PCOS
A Healthy Pregnancy Starts Here
For now, let’s take a look at PCOS signs and natural remedies for fertility and pregnancy.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome, also known as PCOS, is a group of symptoms that affects women in their childbearing years. It is most commonly associated with a lack of ovulation and an overproduction of male hormones, such as testosterone .
If you have a PCOS diagnosis from your doctor, you may be surprised to learn that it’s not tightly-defined in the medical community. Rather, there is a wide variety of criteria for determining the presence of PCOS, which makes any diagnosis subjective.
However, we do know that PCOS is the most common hormonal disorder in women worldwide and one of the most common reasons a woman cannot conceive. [2, 3]. There is variation in the research on its prevalence, but between 2 and 27 percent of women of child-bearing age have PCOS [4, 5].
If you have PCOS, you will have the following symptoms:
- Irregular periods
- Excess male hormones
- Polycystic ovaries and/or ovarian dysfunction
According to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists’ (AACE) criteria for PCOS, you must have all three symptoms to qualify for PCOS . Some experts suggest that an excess of male hormones is a more significant sign of PCOS than the presence of ovarian cysts .
Many women don’t know they have PCOS, but they experience irregular periods or amenorrhea (no period at all), which are signs of ovarian dysfunction.
In normal ovulation, there are up to 12 developing follicles. One matures and becomes dominant; the rest burst and are reabsorbed by the body. In PCOS, ovulation doesn’t occur regularly, so all the immature follicles remain cysts. Polycystic literally means multiple cysts. The presence of these cysts isn’t specific to PCOS, but it’s an indication that ovulation didn’t occur.
In addition to cysts, women with PCOS will also suffer from –– and it is indeed a kind of suffering –– too high a level of male hormones, also called androgens. We naturally produce some androgens, but too much may show up as excessive facial hair, acne, hair loss, weight gain, and infertility.
How Does PCOS Affect Fertility & Pregnancy?
You might have already realized the uncomfortable truth: PCOS can make it hard for you to get pregnant.
High levels of androgens interfere with ovulation so to increase fertility, you must regulate your menstrual cycle. Sounds easy enough, right? Except it’s not. Many factors affect a healthy period, including nutrition, sleep, and exercise.
If you’re able to get pregnant, you’re at a higher risk of pregnancy and birth complications if you have PCOS. As well, the symptoms and severity of PCOS can fluctuate during pregnancy because of the change in hormones .
Let’s get something clear––that doesn’t mean you can’t conceive; only that you may need to devote greater attention to fine tuning your diet and lifestyle.
There are natural remedies for PCOS, which we’ll get into in later sections.
What Causes PCOS?
Scientists know that environmental factors and genes contribute to PCOS, but they don’t know what causes it exactly .
Environmental factors include exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals, such as BPA, pesticides, and phthalates. Many common household products and cosmetics contain phthalates, while pesticides are a reality of most non-organic foods. These harmful chemicals may contribute to PCOS because they affect insulin resistance .
Allopathic doctors may prescribe a variety of treatments for PCOS, including hormonal birth control, androgen blockers, or Metformin, a diabetes drug that corrects insulin resistance . Such options may subdue PCOS symptoms but come with high health risks.
Natural remedies for PCOS, such as following a PCOS meal plan, are arguably more sustainable for overcoming PCOS symptoms than merely pacifying them. However, they require a little more effort and a desire to improve overall health. Once we know what drives PCOS, natural, dietary approach to treatment becomes a preferable and more accessible option.
According to Lara Briden, author of The Period Repair Manual, drivers of PCOS include insulin, inflammation, and androgens produced by the adrenal glands .
That means we have to improve insulin sensitivity, lower inflammation, and reduce adrenal hormone production to treat PCOS naturally.
You’ve probably guessed by now that a PCOS diet checks each of those boxes. That’s why we created a nutritional guide with recipes to get you started. But first, before we accept a new way to eat, let’s be like curious toddlers and ask why!
How Does Diet Affect PCOS?
You may be relieved or horrified to know that diet plays a significant role in PCOS. The food you consume can either aggravate it or improve it. A PCOS diet to get pregnant is more natural than any fertility drug and one of the easiest lifestyle changes to make. It’s sustainable and better for the environment too.
A diet high in refined carbohydrates can cause insulin resistance, which is a driver of PCOS . Insulin regulates blood sugar levels, converts food energy into fat, and helps break down fats and proteins. Insulin resistance occurs when the pancreas produces too much insulin because of high levels of glucose in the cells––usually the result of consuming more calories than necessary. Excessive insulin lowers our sensitivity to glucose (not a good thing!) and may cause weight gain and diabetes, among other health risks.
How does insulin resistance affect fertility?
Too much insulin impairs ovulation and prompts the ovaries to manufacture testosterone instead of estrogen . It also stimulates the pituitary gland to make more luteinizing hormone, which produces more androgens (ugh––there are those male hormones again!)
Let’s get something straight before we continue: A PCOS diet is not about dieting. Instead, it involves reducing or eliminating sugar, gluten, and dairy, bumping up your healthy fats, and consuming moderate amounts of protein. Eat plenty of meat, fish, eggs, and non-starchy vegetables.
The aim of a PCOS diet is not to lose weight. It is to address the underlying cause of symptoms by removing the drivers of PCOS. Simply put, you want to improve insulin sensitivity, reduce inflammation, and lower the production of adrenal androgens. Then, restoring normal ovulation and regulating your period improves, along with fertility.
Note: Sugar is a primary culprit in insulin resistance, but it’s not the only evil. Smoking, stress, BCP, sleep deprivation, alcohol, trans fat, unhealthy gut bacteria, magnesium deficiency, and environmental toxins can contribute . Also, you have a higher risk if you’re obese or have a family member with PCOS .
Best Diet For PCOS
So you know refined sugar isn’t the best thing for you if you have PCOS; too much is bad news for anyone. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy sweet treats. Remember we said you could have your bread and eat it too?
Get sugar-free PCOS recipes here. But keep reading to find out how the following foods help battle PCOS symptoms.
Ideal Foods for PCOS
Low GI Foods
Low sugar foods can reduce high levels of insulin, one of the drivers of PCOS. You might remember too that overproduction of insulin prompts the ovaries to make testosterone. Initially, you may experience some withdrawal pangs getting off sugar. It is a drug after all, and arguably one of the most addictive, yet normalized drugs in the world.
Ideally, you want foods with a glycemic index of 55 or less. Eating more natural starches, such as sweet potatoes and brown rice, can reduce cravings because they’re highly satiating without causing a spike in blood sugar. Other low GI foods include stone-ground whole wheat, legumes, lentils, peas, steel-cut oats, non-starchy vegetables, carrots, and most fruits.
Inflammation is a driver behind PCOS. Like stress, some inflammation is adaptive and helpful. Too much, however, can weaken our immune system.
The food we eat can either trigger an inflammatory response or fight against inflammation. Anti-inflammatory foods have high levels of antioxidants, which fight free radicals that cause cellular damage and put the body at risk of disease.
Anti-inflammatory foods are primarily plant-based. Now that doesn’t mean meat is a deal-breaker. It simply means adding more plants to every meal. If you eat meat and other animal foods, choose wild, organic, or grass-fed versions to avoid the health risks of heavy metal toxicity and exposure to chemical pesticides.
Examples of anti-inflammatory foods are: leafy green vegetables, almonds & walnuts (soaked), fatty fish like salmon and tuna, mackerel, berries, turmeric, broccoli, avocado, green tea, bell peppers, mushrooms, grapes, extra virgin olive oil, dark chocolate and cacao, bone broth, and sauerkraut – and that’s just a start!
Magnesium is one of the most essential minerals for the female body and probably the one we don’t get enough of. Since magnesium deficiency may contribute to insulin resistance, choosing high-mag foods can help relieve PCOS.
Include these magnesium-rich foods to your daily diet: leafy greens, nuts and seeds (soaked), cacao or raw chocolate, legumes, seafood, broccoli, green beans, asparagus, avocado, and figs.
Many nutritionists recommend taking a magnesium glycinate supplement of 300-500 mg per day, divided into two or three doses.
What’s the deal behind soaking nuts and seeds?
Many nuts and seeds store their amino acid content within a safe-keeping mechanism called phytates. We lack the digestive enzymes necessary for breaking down phytates and, as a result, we can’t absorb the nutrients. Soaking nuts and seeds for a least 8 hours decreases phytates, thereby releasing essential nutrients, making them more bioavailable.
Should You Take Supplements for PCOS?
In addition to consuming more potassium, zinc, and magnesium to treat symptoms of PCOS, myo-inositol can help regulate insulin.
Myo-inositol is a naturally occurring nutrient that plays a role in many bodily functions. It has several health benefits and can help treat anxiety and fertility issues by improving ovarian function and promoting healthy ovulation. Research suggests that it may improve insulin sensitivity  and help reduce excess androgen production.
For example, in a meta-analysis of randomized control trials of the effects of myo-inositol on women with PCOS, researchers concluded that it can improve the metabolic profile of women with PCOS concomitantly reducing excess androgens .
Myo-inositol may also be as effective as the drug Metformin for lowering insulin resistance . A dose of 2000-4000 mg per day is safe for long term use . Myo-Inositol Plus™ with D-Chiro-Inositol (Caronositol®) from Omnibiotics is a 100% pure vegan source free of GMOs and gluten. Click here for more information.
PCOS Foods to Avoid
If you’ve had PCOS a while, you’ve probably already started making some intuitive eating choices. If you just received a diagnosis, then knowing what not to eat is crucial.
An anti-inflammatory diet helps battle PCOS; inflammatory foods can worsen it. The same goes for high-sugar versus low-sugar foods.
Symptoms won’t improve on their own. If you want to improve your health and feel better, you have to choose foods that won’t aggravate PCOS.
Inflammatory foods will intensify symptoms. They’re processed foods that contain trans fats, hydrogenated vegetable oils, “pseudo” foods like cheese doodles, wheat, cow’s dairy, sugar, or alcohol. Wheat and cow’s dairy are extra-special culprits because they cause food cravings.
We’re with you––we know that giving up your crusty French bread and cafe lattes may feel like losing a part of yourself. But there are ways to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms associated with reducing or eliminating refined carbohydrates. They’re on the “best foods” list too so don’t miss it! Take a magnesium supplement and add a moderate amount of starchy carbs to your meals to soften the blow.
Food creativity and mindful food choices and eating can help lessen the impact. What does this mean for you?
You have to give up the excuses. Don’t worry, most of us make them. You know what food is good and not-so-good.
Eating nutritiously takes time and effort. It usually costs more too. The reality is, you have to concede to it if you want to feel better, treat PCOS naturally, and avoid taking synthetic medication.
Approach it as an opportunity to experiment! Try new recipes for PCOS. Eat veggies you’ve never tasted before. Check out your local organic grocer for ideas.
Intermittent Fasting and PCOS
Fasting for 12-16 hours routinely can help lower insulin levels and reduce inflammation, two drivers of PCOS [12, 13].
PCOS Recipe Options
Power Up Bowl
Almond Flour Tortillas
Avocado Cacao Brownies
Almond Butter Banana Buddies
Herb Salad with Lemon-Tahini Dressing
A Healthy Pregnancy Starts Here
Establishing a PCOS diet to get pregnant involves balancing your insulin and consuming the right combination of nutrients. Create a diet lower in carbs, higher in fat, and moderate in protein.
Having PCOS doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant or have a healthy baby. It means your body requires extra TLC, good nutrition, and a diet for PCOS. But a great diet isn’t solely about intuitive eating or choosing conventionally healthy foods. It means understanding how different foods affect your blood sugar and either stabilize or jack up your insulin levels. That’s why it’s essential to understand the science behind a PCOS diet plan.
Managing PCOS symptoms is about integration. That means making a PCOS diet part of an overall healthy lifestyle. Stress-reduction is critical too, and while eating the right foods can alleviate or help prevent stress, exercise and relaxation are vital to keeping hormones balanced.
Don’t miss this last tip:
Getting pregnant takes two (enjoy the fun part!). If you’re trying to conceive within a heterosexual relationship, have your partner supplement with maca powder, a cruciferous superfood from Peru, also known as Peruvian ginseng. Studies have shown that it may increase libido and fertility in men by improving their semen quality .
There’s so much more where this came from. If you’re feeling inspired, motivated, and hopeful, that’s great!
Even if you don’t have PCOS or you’re not sure if you have it, you’ll want to read this book. It’s packed with information every woman should have to know her body better. Understanding your hormones is a health imperative, especially if you have PCOS or are trying to get pregnant.
Know this––PCOS is common, but that doesn’t mean it’s normal. You don’t have to suffer through symptoms assuming it’s a “female thing” only treatable with the birth control pill or other synthetic hormonal drugs.
Find your way through PCOS to a healthy pregnancy and be a well-satiated mama!