PCOS Nutrition Basics: Fats, Protein, and Carbohydrates

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

Having PCOS can increase your chances for certain health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and metabolic syndrome. It is critically important for women with PCOS to manage environmental factors like dietary habits in order to help curb their risk for complications.

Sticking to a healthy diet and managing cholesterol and blood sugar is the most important strategy for women with PCOS. Below is a breakdown of the nutritional basics that you should keep in mind in order to promote a healthy lifestyle:

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The Importance of Balance

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans note that nutritional needs should be met primarily from foods and beverages—specifically, nutrient-dense foods and beverages. Nutrient-dense foods provide vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting components and have no or little added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. A healthy dietary pattern consists of nutrient-dense forms of foods and beverages across all food groups, in recommended amounts, and within calorie limit.

While these recommendations apply to everyone, women with PCOS should take extra care in aligning 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 as follows:

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, proteins that help facilitate many of the chemical reactions within the body, including digestion. A healthy diet should include 2-3 servings of lean protein each day. Try baked or grilled chicken, fish and beans. Some grains are also very high in protein. Mixing quinoa with grilled vegetables makes a very satisfying lunch or side dish. It’s important for women to eat enough calcium in their diet. Low-fat dairy products are also excellent sources of protein. Try reduced-fat yogurts, cottage cheese, and milk.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the main source of energy within the body. Fruits and vegetables are 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 a-t 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, and 3 cups of starchy vegetables each week. There are many easy ways to incorporate more vegetables into your diet. Eat a salad with each meal. Try having an omelet with mixed vegetables. Substituting cut vegetables or a piece of fruit in the afternoon for a snack instead of chips or other processed snack is an easy way to cut calories.

Experts Recommend Minimized Daily Sugar Intake

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that sugar intake should be kept to 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 calories consumed in a day.

Fats

Fats, or lipids, are an important part of our diet, and must not be eliminated completely. In the appropriate quantities and types, fats will provide much of the energy needed to get us through the day. Additionally, they support and cushion our internal organs, protecting them from harm. Fats are found in almost all types of foods, from butter and oils to dairy products, meats, and processed foods.

Current guidelines recommend that hydrogenated and trans fats should 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. It’s an excellent way of cutting back fats. There are so many marinades and spices that you can use to flavor your food, you won’t even miss the fat.

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

Water

Finally, one of the staples of a healthy diet is sufficient water and fluid intake. In addition to regulating body temperature, water is found in every cell within the body and is necessary for maintaining their shape. Water is an essential component for many chemical reactions and aids in digestion and excretion of waste products. While the body does produce water as a byproduct of many chemical reactions, it must be taken in regularly to maintain important body functions.

In addition to fluids like milk, coffee, and tea, water is found in most fruits and vegetables. It is important to maintain adequate hydration through regular consumption of water. While other fluids do contribute some water, they also add calories and sugar. Caffeinated beverages like coffee and soda actually promote fluid loss and should therefore not be considered as a part of your fluid intake. If you drink a lot of soda, try mixing a little 100% fruit juice in with some seltzer water. It’s a great substitute.

A Word From Verywell

A healthy diet doesn’t have to be restrictive or difficult to maintain. In fact, it’s easier to stick with a new routine if you make small changes and commit to them. First, just try adding a salad before or with each meal. As each change becomes more routine and you no longer have to think about them, try implementing another one. Finally, don’t be hard on yourself. Setbacks happen. If and when one does, acknowledge it, and move on. Don’t beat yourself up over one bad decision. Instead, try to remember to make a smarter one next time. Good luck!

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  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, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020

  3. American Heart Association. Federal dietary guidelines emphasize healthy eating habits but fall short on added sugars. Published December 29, 2020.