nutrition for pcos

PCOS Biomarkers


When managing PCOS, there are multiple symptoms that may occur, because there are multiple causes for having PCOS. Some symptoms include facial hair, hair loss, acne, mood swings, or weight gain. It is important to take an individual approach. There is no one cause or cure.

You may need a completely different treatment plan than another woman. Consider speaking with a registered dietitian for direction on how to treat your symptoms.

The following chart includes biomarkers for the different types of PCOS along with their functional ranges. These ranges are different than the reference ranges you may find when you get your blood drawn. PCOS can often go misdiagnosed due to the misinterpretation of references ranges. Take a look at the following golden rules for PCOS lab work:

Types of PCOS

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3 Day PCOS Meal Plan (gluten-free, dairy-free)

Trader Joe's is here to make eating gluten-free and dairy-free as simple and easy as possible.

We don't always have time for meal prepping, but that is never an excuse to not put your health first, especially if you have PCOS. With their wide selection of frozen foods and pre-packaged salads, you can grab your lunch and a couple of snacks to take with you on-the-go. 

To make your life a bit easier, here is a 3 day gluten-free and dairy-free meal plan for the girls out there who want to eat right for PCOS!

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Is the Ketogenic Diet right for your PCOS?

First, it is important for me to explain as a Registered Dietitian, that there is not one PCOS, therefore there is not one best diet to treat it.

Since PCOS is a syndrome, we may have several side effects such as high androgens, missing periods, cysts on our ovaries, which all have different underlying root causes. One of the main causes, though, can be insulin resistance...but it can also be stress, so it is important to figure out what is impacting you the most before considering the Ketogenic diet.

50% of women with PCOS have high stress hormones, DHEA-S levels. For these women, a low carb diet would put more stress on their adrenal glands and potentially result in worsening symptoms. But for some women with PCOS – especially those with insulin resistance and obesity – a ketogenic diet can work really well.

A few weeks ago, I saw a patient who booked a consultation to discuss her struggle with weight and fatigue due to PCOS. She explained that she cut back on calories and started Metformin, but still is unable to lose the weight.

“But I’m following all the low GI recommended for PCOS, so how can it not work?”

As we reviewed her blood test results, I showed her the tests that were indicating that she had severe insulin resistance.  I explained that this meant that her hormone insulin, like a key, could not fit into the lock on our cells to open it up and let the glucose in, so her body was effectively not able to use any of the carbohydrates she was eating (even if they were ‘slow release’ low GI carbs). 

So if a low glycemic index diet doesn’t work for someone who’s severely insulin resistant, what does?

A Ketogenic diet.

A keto diet is a very low carbohydrate diet.  The keto diet changes the “fuel” that our body uses for energy. Severely restricting sugars (carbohydrates) from our diet forces your body to run off the fuel provided by our stored body fat. 

My client's body wasn’t able to use the carbohydrates she was eating as her insulin ‘key’ couldn’t open up the ‘lock’ on the cell, so instead she was storing those carbs as fat and getting more tired in the process!

So by turning her body into fat burning mode means that she could now use some of her own fat for energy and as she was eating very little carbohydrate, she wasn’t storing any more fat. 

But this doesn’t mean that a keto diet is right for all women with PCOS, or even all women with PCOS insulin resistance. And I also didn’t recommend that my client should do this long term- only until  she’d reversed her insulin resistance.

If you do try the keto diet then I recommend cycling in and out of it. This might mean that you stay on a keto diet for 3-6 months, then add some starchy carbs back in for 1 month to feed your gut bacteria.

What to do after Being Diagnosed with PCOS

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a common hormonal imbalance that affects 1 in 10 women in the United States. Although the syndrome is widespread, women’s symptoms seem to vary. Side effects can be expressed as anything from mood swings to hair loss, cystic acne, weight gain, irregular periods, and facial hair.

One of the most common triggers of PCOS is insulin resistance, which has detrimental inflammatory effects on the body if it is not addressed early on.

Insulin resistance is when your cells are not able to take up insulin-bound glucose. As a result, the body struggles to burn off glucose, ultimately leading to weight gain and, potentially, type 2 diabetes. When insulin and glucose are left floating around in the bloodstream, they can wreak havoc and cause inflammation. The ovaries become stimulated to produce more of the androgen hormone (sex hormone), leading to adrenal dysfunction. This cascade effect that insulin triggers on your hormones can lead to facial hair and cystic acne. Once adrenal dysfunction is triggered, cortisol levels become too high and end up overriding your body’s sex hormones. This contributes to mood swings, irregular periods and infertility.

After being diagnosed with PCOS, don’t delay on getting started with a treatment plan. The longer you allow symptoms to continue, the longer it may take to reverse and the more new symptoms will appear. Consider speaking with a Registered Dietitian who specializes in Women’s Health to guide you on your journey toward reversing PCOS.

The following are a list of steps you can take to regain control over your body and eventually get your symptoms to become dormant.

1. Intermittent Fasting

When cells have been continually exposed to high levels of glucose, they become insulin resistant. The insulin is left floating around the bloodstream, contributing to low-grade chronic inflammation.

Consider intermittent fasting to reboot your cells and improve their glucose uptake.

Intermittent fasting can be done many different ways, but it is best to start with eating every couple hours, within a 9 hour period of time. This means you are having breakfast at 9:00am and eating your last meal at 6:00pm, being sure to fit in all your calories within that window at a pace that keeps your blood sugar balanced. In order to improve glucose uptake, studies suggest allowing your cells to take a break, or “fast,” from constantly being exposed to glucose.


2. Don’t Go Hungry

It is not unusual for women who have PCOS to feel as though it is impossible to lose weight. Cutting back on calories and going on extreme appetite suppressants are an easy go-to for quick results, however this can exacerbate your symptoms of PCOS and lead to gaining even more weight. Eating for PCOS requires nourishing your cells with highly anti-inflammatory foods every couple hours to regain hormonal balance and heal the chronic inflammation. Consider keeping a food journal and documenting your level of hunger and fullness, before and after

eating meals and snacks. You want to find yourself in the middle of the range, feeling satisfied and not restricted. That way, you can be sure to eat enough and ultimately keep your blood sugar balanced throughout the day. Consider speaking with a Registered Dietitian who specializes in women’s health and can provide personalized meal plans as well as step-by-step instruction on how to incorporate a PCOS friendly diet into your life.


3. Choose Anti-Inflammatory Foods

PCOS is an autoimmune disease, which means that your body is in a chronic state of inflammation and “attacking” itself. Studies suggest that “leaky gut syndrome” is directly correlated to autoimmune diseases and your body’s inflammatory response to food. In short, this means that the tight junctions in the lining of your stomach become weak from constantly being exposed to inflammatory foods, allowing the food to be released into your bloodstream through the semipermeable gut wall. Many studies suggest that glucose and dairy sensitivities contribute to leaky gut syndrome and cause chronic inflammation, disrupting the endocrine system and ultimately leading to hormonal imbalance. Consider taking a Food Sensitivity Test to uncover which grains, fruits, vegetables, chemicals and dyes are disrupting your body’s balance and leading to leaky gut syndrome.


4. Set Up a Self Care Routine

With all of the change you may be experience after becoming diagnosed with PCOS, it can get a little overwhelming. Anxiety and stress are not uncommon components of hormonal imbalance. Unfortunately, they can contribute to insulin sensitivity as well. Stress causes your body to release cortisol, which raises your blood sugar and secretes more insulin. This constantly bombards your cells and leads to insulin resistance, yet again. Consider setting up a self-care routine for yourself and incorporate relaxing activities throughout the day. This can be going on a morning walk, sitting fireside with some tea, going out in the sun for 30 minutes, cooking healthy meals, having dinner with the family, meditation and practicing gratitude.

5. Light Exercise

The best type of exercise for PCOS is something that does not cause stress to your body and increase your cortisol levels. This can be jogging, yoga, pilates, and moderate weight training. These exercises will increase your body’s sensitivity to insulin, which will have a positive cascade effect on inflammation and hormonal balance. Moving for 30 minutes or more a day can also help with weight management, mood swings and improving your menstrual cycle.

6. Eat More Fat

Studies suggest that a high-fat, low-carb diet may be beneficial in reducing insulin sensitivity in women with PCOS. Eating more healthy fats, such as avocado, coconut oil, salmon, chia seeds,

and walnuts will help you stay satisfied and maintain a balanced blood sugar throughout the day. If you choose to cut out carbs, be sure to transition slowly and stay in tune with your body to prevent a sudden drop in blood sugar. If you are considering a ketogenic diet, speak with a Registered Dietitian who can guide you in choosing ingredients that will enhance the quality of your diet and lead you to healthy, long-lasting results with reversing PCOS.

Diet for PCOS

My food philosophy for PCOS is all about reducing inflammation first and keeping an eye on the scale second.

Many of my patients can even see the inflammation in their body go down, by the second week of being gluten-free and dairy-free. Their hands are less swollen, their skin is slowly starting to clear up and they feel an overall sense of "lightness." 

At the core of my approach is a whole food, plant based diet which includes a balanced breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in between. I always encourage clients to stay "satisfied" throughout the day and never each the point of ravenous hunger. At that point, it is hard to control what you put into your body and you might reach for foods that wreak even more havoc on your hormones.

Through my extensive research to understand which foods nourish and heal the body from PCOS, I learned that food truly has the power to change our lives.

I have learned and affirmed from many different nutrition experts that the most important key for women with PCOS and other autoimmune conditions is that gluten and dairy have a major impact on inflammation.

The specific mechanism that links gluten and your hormones are in your adrenal glands. These glands keep stress in check and produces your hormones, progesterone, testosterone and estrogen. When we're constantly inflamed by eating gluten, we put too much stress on them.

The adrenals go into overdrive and produce cortisol, putting the sex hormones in the back seat. Not only does gluten mess with hormone production, but it also messes with our gut. The proteins in gluten are like splinters digging into the lining of your gut, allowing for food to leak into the blood stream and cause inflammation. 

Dairy also wreaks havoc in your body, especially with your hormones. The additional source of estrogen from dairy affects you more than a non-gluten sensitive individual. By simply eliminating gluten and dairy, all of these symptoms are entirely reversible. Within a week you'll feel better again and within a month you may even get a regular period.

The best thing you can do for yourself at this point is throw out gluten and dairy. Substitute gluten grains such as pasta, cereal and bread with brown rice, quinoa, and even buckwheat. Slowly shift from cows milk to coconut or almond milk and put the cheese and ice cream back on the grocer store shelf.

You may find it challenging, trust me I understand, I've been doing it for five years now. It does take some time to adapt and you have to give yourself that leeway before giving up. Be patient and consider nutrition coaching to guide you on your journey.