Nutrition Tips for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

smiling woman peeling an orange If you have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), eating well can help manage some of the long term complications of this condition. Read on to learn about the best nutrition choices you can make if you have PCOS.

What is PCOS?

PCOS is a condition that affects women. It is caused by an imbalance of a woman’s sex hormones which may lead to:

  • Menstrual cycle changes
  • Skin problems such as acne
  • Increased hair growth on the face and body
  • Cysts in the ovaries and
  • Trouble getting pregnant

PCOS affects up to 10 percent of women. The cause is not yet known. It may be genetic since women with PCOS are likely to have a mother or sister with PCOS. Women are usually diagnosed in their 20s or 30s, or sometimes when they are teenagers.

PCOS and weight gain

If you have PCOS, your body makes too much androgen.  Androgen is often called the "male hormone," but small amounts are made in women’s bodies too. If your body makes too much androgen, it can lead to weight gain, especially around the belly area. This type of weight gain can increase the risk of:

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • High triglycerides
  • Heart disease and
  • Diabetes

Tips for maintaining a healthy weight with PCOS

There is no specific diet that can prevent or treat PCOS. However, eating well and being active can help manage some of long term complications of PCOS. The good news is that losing anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can help with weight-related health problems.

The best eating plan if you have PCOS is one that helps you manage your weight and also lower the long term risks of diabetes and heart disease. This plan should be low in saturated fat and high in fibre. Start by making healthy food choices following Canada's Food Guide.

Choose better fats:

Too much saturated and trans fat in the diet can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Limit foods that contain saturated and trans fats. Instead of these bad fats, choose smaller amounts of healthy unsaturated fats, which are found in vegetable oils like canola and olive oil, avocado and nuts. Aim for a total of 30 to 45mL (2 to 3 Tbsp) of healthy fats each day. You can learn more about choosing healthy fats here.

Increase fibre:

Eating more fibre can help maintain blood sugar levels and lower your cholesterol. Plus, fibre helps make you feel full, so you tend to eat less. This can help with weight control. Aim for 21 to 25 grams per day. Here are some high fibre foods to try:

  • Fruit – especially berries, pears, oranges, figs, kiwi
  • Vegetables – especially peas, spinach, squash and broccoli
  • Whole grains – such as oats, brown rice, whole wheat, quinoa, barley and buckwheat
  • Legumes – such as lentils, chickpeas, soybeans and kidney beans
  • Cereals made with wheat bran, psyllium or whole grain oats
  • Nuts and seeds – such as almonds, flax, sunflower seeds

Enjoy protein:

Similar to fibre, protein also helps you feel full for longer, so you will eat less. This is a great way to help control your weight. Make sure that you have some protein at every meal and snack like chicken, turkey, beef or fish. Or, try vegetarian options such as legumes, soy or a quarter cup of nuts or seeds. Milk and low fat yogurt are also good sources of protein.

Foods to limit:

Some foods cause weight gain if you eat them often. Choose fewer foods that are high in sugar, salt, refined flour and fat such as:

  • White rice, pasta or bread
  • Baked goods
  • Regular soda
  • Candy and chocolate and
  • Salty snacks

Be active:

Try to get at least 2 ½ hours of exercise each week. Start with 10 minutes of activity and work up to longer times as your body adjusts. Review the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for activity ideas. Even if you don’t lose weight, exercise can help control your blood sugar and cholesterol levels and lower your risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Bottom line:

There is no specific diet that can prevent or treat PCOS. However, eating well and being active can help manage some of the long term complications of PCOS. An eating plan that is high in fibre and low in saturated and trans fat can help lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes. 

For more information:

Last Update – November 19, 2018

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