PCOS Nutrition Basics: Fats, Protein, and Carbohydrates

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Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder in females that can lead to reproductive, hormonal and metabolic issues. The actual cause of PCOS is unknown, but environmental factors, including dietary habits, play a role in managing the condition.

Having PCOS can increase your chances of developing certain health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and metabolic syndrome. It is important for people with PCOS to use diet as a way to help lower the risk of these complications.

Below is a breakdown of the nutritional basics that you should keep in mind with PCOS.

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The Importance of Balance

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans note that nutritional needs should be met primarily from nutrient-dense foods and beverages that provide vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting components. Choices should have no or little added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.

A healthy dietary pattern consists of foods and beverages across all food groups, in recommended amounts, and within calorie limits.

While these recommendations apply to everyone, people with PCOS should take extra care to align their dietary patterns to these recommendations in order to maintain or improve markers of metabolic health, such as blood sugar levels and cholesterol ratios.

The primary components of a healthy dietary pattern are protein, carbs, fat, and water.

Proteins

Proteins are responsible for the growth and maintenance of all body cells and structures, like bone, muscle, blood cells, skin, and hair. They are also the primary component of enzymes, which help facilitate many of the chemical reactions within the body, including digestion.

A healthy diet should include 2 to 3 servings of lean protein each day. Try baked or grilled chicken, fish, or beans.

Some grains are also very high in protein. For example, mixing quinoa with grilled vegetables makes a very satisfying lunch or side dish that provides an ample supply of protein.

It’s also important for women to get enough calcium in their diet. Low-fat dairy products are excellent sources of both calcium and protein. Try reduced-fat yogurts, cottage cheese, and milk.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body. Fruits and vegetables are carbohydrate-rich foods that are also key in providing many of the vitamins and minerals that are essential for health.

Women between the ages of 19 and 30 should consume 2 cups of fruit and at least 2 1/2 cups of vegetables each day.

Among the different types of vegetables, current dietary guidelines recommend:

  • 3 cups of dark green vegetables
  • 2 cups of orange/red-colored vegetables
  • 3 cups of dry beans and peas
  • 3 cups of starchy vegetables each week

There are many easy ways to incorporate more vegetables into your diet. For example, eat a salad with each meal, toss mixed vegetables into an omelet, or munch on cut veggies or fruit as an afternoon snack.

Minimizing Daily Sugar Intake

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that sugar account for less than 10% of total dietary caloric intake each day, but some experts recommend an even lower daily limit. The American Heart Association, for example, maintains that dietary sugar intake should not exceed 6% of daily calories.

Fats

Fats, or lipids, are an important part of your diet. They are found in butter and oils, dairy products, meats, nuts, avocado, and many processed foods.

In the appropriate quantities and types, fats will provide much of the energy needed to get you through the day. Fats also provide nutrients that are used to support and cushion your internal organs, protecting them from harm.

Current guidelines recommend that hydrogenated and trans fats be avoided. Other fats should be minimized whenever possible. Generally speaking, fat should be restricted to less than 30% of your caloric intake each day, and saturated fats should be less than 10%.

Try grilling vegetables or chicken instead of frying them to cut back on fat.

Opt for simple salad dressings such as olive oil with vinegar, lemon, or stone-ground mustard over store-bought dressings, which often use unhealthy oils and add sugar

There are so many marinades and spices that you can use to flavor your food without adding fat.

Water

In addition to regulating body temperature, water is found in every cell within the body. Water is an essential component for many chemical reactions and aids in the digestion and excretion of waste products.

Given this, it must be taken in regularly to maintain important body functions.

Drinking plain water is your best option. In addition to fluids like milk, coffee, and tea, water is also found in most fruits and vegetables.

While many drinks do contribute some water, they can also add calories and sugar. If you drink a lot of soda, try mixing a little 100% fruit juice in with some seltzer water to help reduce your calorie and sugar intake while staying hydrated.

A Word From Verywell

A healthy diet doesn’t have to be overly restrictive or difficult to maintain. And it’s easier to stick with a new routine if you make small changes and commit to them.

As each change becomes more routine and you no longer have to think about it, try implementing another one.

Finally, don’t be hard on yourself. Setbacks happen. If and when one does, acknowledge it, move on, and try to remember to make better choices next time.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Faghfoori Z, Fazelian S, Shadnoush M, et al. Nutritional management in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: A review study. Diabetes Metab Syndr. 2017 Nov;11 Suppl 1:S429-S432. doi: 10.1016/j.dsx.2017.03.030.

  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 9th Edition.

  3. American Heart Association. Federal dietary guidelines emphasize healthy eating habits but fall short on added sugars.