Women with polycystic ovary syndrome
(PCOS) may suffer from irregular periods, acne, unwanted hair growth, weight gain, and more. Unfortunately, conventional medicine does little to support those with PCOS and often relies on birth control prescriptions or general recommendations for weight loss.
Yet, losing weight with PCOS is not an easy task and the underlying causes of PCOS, like insulin resistance and inflammation, make it very difficult. Plus, general weight loss does not necessarily address the various root causes of PCOS and many people still suffer from symptoms like acne and hair loss. Here’s the good news: targeting the root causes of your PCOS with nourishing foods can help eliminate your symptoms without restrictive dieting. With our sustainable methods, some women may also find it is easier to lose weight.
In this article, we will explain how to make a PCOS meal plan and provide examples using our own Root Farmacy® meals. Root Farmacy® is digital meal plans with recipes designed by doctors, dietitians and chefs for clinically tailored meals. We include these meal plans in our functional medicine memberships.
How to Plan a PCOS Meal
Optimizing your overall diet—as in the foods you eat—is foundational in treating the root cause of PCOS. A diet high in refined carbs, inflammatory fats, and added sugar worsens insulin resistance
and inflammation.These types of foods are also much easier to overeat, which can lead to an overabundance of calories, frequent blood sugar imbalances, and weight gain. On the other hand, an anti-inflammatory diet improves your body’s sensitivity to insulin, reduces inflammation, and provides the necessary nutrients to optimize hormone function.
The PFC (Protein, Fat, Carb) Balance Method
Instead of cycling through unsustainable fad diets, we recommend a simple formula of making sure you have lean protein, fat, and fiber-rich carbohydrates (PFC) on each plate for your PCOS meals. This formula is best for balancing your blood sugar levels and offering the nutrients you need for hormone balance.
To breakdown the PFC method further, let’s review which common foods fall into each category:
- Protein: beef, pork, seafood, poultry, eggs, tofu or edamame
- Fat: olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, nuts, seeds
- Carbs: fruit, sweet potatoes, corn, brown rice, quinoa, oats, winter squash, beans, lentils, whole-grain bread
- Non-starchy vegetables: leafy greens, Brussel’s sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, tomato, bell peppers, cucumber, zucchini, etc.
Keep in mind that many foods cross over into two categories. For example, beans contain both fiber-rich carbs and protein. We put beans in the starch (carbohydrate) category instead of the protein category because they are heavy in carbohydrates.
Despite what you may read elsewhere, it’s important to include fiber-rich carbohydrates in your PCOS meal plan. Low-carb or ketogenic diets are popular recently and many people tout the benefits of these eating patterns for women with PCOS. It is true that a low carb diet may benefit PCOS by balancing blood sugar levels and aiding weight loss. However, we find that these diets are difficult to maintain, trigger sugar cravings, and often do not provide enough calories (which can actually worsen your menstrual cycle and ovulation).
Curious about whether you should include gluten and soy in your PCOS meals? We covered these controversial topics in our Soy and PCOS
and Gluten and PCOS
Vitamins & Minerals
By following the PFC formula, you are also providing a wide range of nutrients required for making, metabolizing, and balancing your hormones.
Vitamin B6, folate, and vitamin B12 are particularly important in optimizing hormonal balance in PCOS. These three vitamins help to lower inflammation by breaking down an amino acid, called homocysteine, which is commonly elevated in women with PCOS (1
). Lowering homocysteine may reduce your risk factors for heart disease and other reproductive symptoms.
- Folate: leafy greens, asparagus, avocado
- Vitamin B6: chickpeas, salmon, chicken, potatoes
- Vitamin B12: animal products only; especially beef, fish, and eggs
Two minerals that are also crucial in treating PCOS are zinc and magnesium. Eating enough zinc may help reduce symptoms of PCOS like hair loss, unwanted hair growth, and acne. Similarly, magnesium is involved in over 300 reactions in the body and influences hormone balance and signaling. Unfortunately, over half of Americans fail to meet the daily magnesium requirements with their diet! Eating enough magnesium may improve insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and promote restful sleep.
- Zinc: beef, pork, cashews, and chickpeas
- Magnesium: pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, almonds, and edamame
Phytochemicals are compounds made by plants that provide desirable health benefits to humans. It is the phytochemical compounds that give plant-based foods their unique color! For example, lycopene and beta-carotene are phytochemicals found in red foods, like tomatoes. Anthocyanins are found in blue and purple foods, like berries, and quercetin is found in brown and white foods, like quinoa, onions, and beans.
Women with PCOS have significantly higher levels of inflammation and lower antioxidant levels than women of the same age and BMI without this condition (2
). Phytochemicals are crucial for women with PCOS because they boost antioxidant levels in the body and provide anti-inflammatory benefits.
You don’t have to remember all of the different kinds of phytochemicals to follow a successful PCOS meal plan. Rather, focus on eating colorful and diverse meals with a variety of fruits and vegetables to obtain all of the phytochemical benefits.
Examples of PCOS Meals
Using the PFC Method may not come naturally to you at first. The more you practice these methods when planning your weekly meals, the easier it will become. Let’s review a few examples of the PFC Method in action! We’ll use our Root Farmacy® meals to provide a delicious visual.
Salmon is an excellent protein and omega-3 fat source for PCOS meals to help reduce overall inflammation. Rainbow carrots are a good source of beta-carotene and potassium while purple potatoes are rich in polyphenols to support a healthy gut lining. The roasted broccoli in this dish also provides a powerful antioxidant called glucoraphanin which helps neutralize damaging free radicals in the body.
- Protein: salmon
- Fat: salmon, olive oil
- Carbs: purple potatoes
- Non-starchy vegetables: carrots, broccoli
Lamb is another excellent protein source containing nutrients like B12, selenium, and zinc to support thyroid function in PCOS
and optimal fertility. Quinoa (which is technically a seed, not a grain) is rich in fiber, antioxidants, and contains all nine essential amino acids. The asparagus in this dish provides prebiotic fiber, which is the preferred fuel source of healthy gut bacteria. Gut health is particularly important in PCOS as women with this condition tend to have more imbalanced gut bacteria (dysbiosis) compared to women without PCOS.
- Protein: lamb
- Fat: olive oil
- Carbs: quinoa
- Non-starchy vegetables: red peppers, asparagus
Farmacy Meals for your PCOS Meal Plan
Managing your PCOS and cooking nutritious meals at home can feel impossible when combined with the rest of your daily responsibilities. However, we see everyday how the anti-inflammatory food plans in our functional medicine memberships for PCOS
completely change member health outcomes! We created our digital meal plans, Root Farmacy®, as a way to make this even more doable for our Root community.