Should You Eat a Plant-Based Diet for PCOS?

Considering a plant-based diet for PCOS? Learn more about how this eating style may help and tips for following a plant-based plan.

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If you’ve been diagnosed with the hormonal condition polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), eating a plant-based diet may help improve your metabolic and reproductive health.

Here’s how to know if a plant-based diet for PCOS is right for you.

If you have PCOS, you’ve no doubt been doing your homework. And perhaps you’ve seen all the blog posts from people who say that this-or-that diet cured their PCOS.

But how should you eat in order to improve your health and even support your body’s ability to get pregnant? (That is, if you see babies in your future.) One popular approach is a plant-based diet for PCOS.

PCOS affects one in 10 women of childbearing age, according to the Office on Women’s Health.

PCOS is a hormonal imbalance where there are high levels of “male” hormones called androgens, as well as insulin. This leads to irregular periods, hair growth on the face or chin, acne, hair loss, and weight gain.

As a result, people with PCOS are at risk for infertility, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Treatment is focused on medication, such as hormonal birth control and those that improve blood sugar control.

Many women also opt to balance their hormone levels with lifestyle changes—specifically adopting a plant-based diet for PCOS.

Indeed, adopting a plant-based diet may help reproductive health and PCOS in women, found a review in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 

Now, let’s take a look at everything you need to know about PCOS and plant-based diets.

What is a plant-based diet?

When you eat a plant-based diet, you’re filling your plate with mostly plants. Plant foods include fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts, and seeds.

And while you’ll focus on these foods, you don’t need to commit to following a vegetarian or vegan diet.

There’s room to occasionally incorporate dairy or eggs or a small serving of meat or fish here and there.

Think of a plant-based diet as being more inclusive and flexible in its approach.

It provides all the health benefits of eating more plants, without the restriction of rules about what you can’t eat. Some popular plant-based diets include Mediterranean, MIND, DASH, volumetrics, and flexitarian diets.

Benefits of a plant-based diet for PCOS

Cheers to plant power. Research shows eating less animal protein and more plant-based foods is good for ovulation, metabolic function, and weight loss. And when it comes to PCOS and plant-based diets, this is especially important.

Helps with weight loss

First, it’s clear natural ways to treat PCOS exist—and that starts with cleaning up your diet and focusing on exercise. These changes have been found to help with weight loss in patients who have PCOS, compared to control groups.

In fact, one meta analysis in Life in 2022 that looked at women with body weights classified as obese concluded that losing 5 percent of your body weight through diet and exercise improved fasting insulin levels, thus bettering metabolic health.

In addition, a healthier lifestyle may help regulate menstrual periods. And this may help you get pregnant if that’s your goal.

The study didn’t hone in on plant-based diets in particular. But research suggests that diet and exercise habits matter when it comes to PCOS.

May improve ovulation

If you have PCOS, you may not ovulate every month—or at all. And if you’re not releasing an egg, that egg can’t become fertilized, which means you can’t become pregnant.

Relying less on red meat and chicken and more on bean- and veggie-based meals (ahem, plant-based diet!) may help ovulation get going again.

Past research, including a study in American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, found that women who ate the most animal protein were nearly 40 percent more likely to have cycles sans ovulation versus those who ate the least.

Plant-protein eaters, on the other hand, were 22 percent less likely to have these anovulatory cycles. The study authors concluded that swapping 5 percent of animal for vegetable protein intake halved the risk of this type of infertility.

Plus, there was a study on over 5,000 women that examined the role of diet in fertility.

In the study, the ladies who ate less fruit and more fast food (which is often meat- and cheese-heavy) were more likely to experience a longer time to conceive.

This was compared to the women who ate a fruit-filled and fast-food-limited diet, finds a 2018 study in Human Reproduction.

The women who never ate fast food had a 41 percent lower infertility risk, versus the ladies who ate it four times per week.

Betters metabolic function

Plant-based diets help you lose weight, since the foods in this type of diet are generally are lower in calories.

The diet is is also packed with fiber, plant compounds, and unsaturated fats that have been shown to lower blood sugar and improve glucose control, notes 2022 research in Diabetes Therapy.

Overall, this can help manage type 2 diabetes, whether you lose weight or not.

Other research, including a study in Nutrients in 2018, found that women with PCOS who ate a diet based in pulses fared better in measures of metabolic health such as cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and insulin.

A diet based in pulses is one that’s low in the glycemic index and rich in lentils, beans, chickpeas, and dried peas.

This was compared to a TLC Diet (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes). Participants in both diets lost five percent of their body weight, too.

A plate of tomatoes and avocados in a pita

Common misconceptions

Sometimes, a plant-based diet can be misunderstood. Here’s what you need to know about common worries around eating a plant-based diet for PCOS.

Plant-based diets have too many carbs

It’s true that fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds all have carbs. The carbohydrate content varies greatly among these foods.

If you’re concerned about carbohydrates, you can prioritize food sources lower in carbs, such as non-starchy vegetables.

You can also limit highly processed foods and added sugars.

You won’t get enough protein

Sure, you’re not chowing down on steak or chicken breast at dinner. But there are so many delicious, protein-packed plant-based foods.

If you’re adding in nuts and seeds (try pistachios); beans and lentils; soy like tofu, edamame, and tempeh; peas; and quinoa during the day, you can easily get the protein your body needs.

What’s more, because this is a plant-based diet and not a vegan or vegetarian diet, you can supplement your plant-based protein with animal protein.

Plant-based diets have too much soy

While whole food sources of soy, such as tofu, edamame, and tempeh, can be part of a healthy plant-based diet, you can choose not to eat soy foods. These are not required on a plant-based diet at all. If you don’t like soy, then skip it.

However, if you’re skipping it because of worries that soy causes cancer, know that the American Cancer Society considers soy foods healthy and safe.

It’s too hard to eat a plant-based diet

Not at all! A plant-based diet has no specific rules, and there is one simple guideline: Eat more plants.

You can start by adding one serving of vegetables to your dinner tonight, whipping up a warming bowl of oatmeal topped with dried fruit and nuts instead of a breakfast sausage, or grabbing a handful of trail mix for a snack.

By making these small, daily changes, you’ll naturally shift to a more plant-based diet.

A woman standing in front of a window

Tips for following a plant-based diet for PCOS

If you’re not sure where to start, follow these tips for making a move to plant-based possible:

Focus on what you can add. 

Identify the foods that you’ll start eating more of, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

Find times when you can get more of those in, such as fruit with a snack or tomato slices alongside eggs for breakfast.

Make meat a supporting player. 

Plant-based doesn’t only mean vegan and vegetarian diets. You can still eat some animal products if you choose, but the goal is to decrease these in your diet.

For example, maybe that’s topping your salad with half the chicken you would normally have and replacing the other half with chickpeas.

Or it could be making a homemade pizza with lots of veggies and a smaller amount of very flavorful cheese.

The goal is to give meat or dairy a smaller role on your plate and make plant-based foods the star.

Find what you love. 

Feeling lost on how to start a plant-based diet? It may be because you’re struggling to identify the plant-based foods you enjoy. Now’s the time to start to include a variety of fruits, vegetables, pulses, and whole grains.

Don’t like broccoli? No point in making it for dinner. Go for green beans, zucchini, or a big salad instead. Or if you usually have steamed broccoli, try roasting or grilling it to find a new flavor profile you love.

Experiment. 

There are so many new items at the grocery store that make plant-based eating doable and delicious.

Try coconut or almond-based yogurt, taste test plant-based milks to find your favorite, or pick up a bean-and grain-based burger in the frozen section for your next BBQ.

Start cooking.

 Finding recipes that center plant foods and minimize meat and dairy will be essential in your success.

They can be a great introduction to how to put flavors together, start cooking with more beans and lentils, or boost the flavor of vegetables.

Recipes below, like vegetable fried rice and roasted asparagus, are easy, accessible, and delicious ways to kick off this new way of eating.

Veggie fried rice in a bowl with fork

PCOS-friendly plant-based recipes

Need some inspo? Here are some great, delicious ideas to get you going:

Balsamic Grilled PeachesThe two-ingredient dish is all about showcasing the intense natural sweetness of peaches.

Lemon Garlic Roasted AsparagusBathed in a tangy, garlicy sauce, each serving packs just 130 calories and makes a perfect carb-conscious side.

Vegetarian Lentils with Egg ToastPacked with healthy fat, whole grains, and vitamin C (which helps you absorb the iron in the lentils), this new spin on egg toast is your new favorite breakfast—or lunch.

Healthy Veg Fried RiceBrown rice, almonds, and almond butter create a flavorful spin on fried rice, all for 7 grams of protein per serving and just 260 calories. 

Vegetarian Chopped Salad Recipe with Hard-Boiled EggsThis is a great example of plant-based eating at work—you get all the benefits of an assortment of veggies and chickpeas, plus the added protein of a hard-boiled egg.

The best part is the super-simple dressing that will convince you that DIY dressing is totally doable.

The bottom line

If you have PCOS and are looking for lifestyle changes to ease symptoms and help get insulin function under control and possibly support your body during a fertility journey, a plant-based diet may be a good option for you.

Now, you know enough to consider whether a plant based diet for PCOS is right for you.

Sources

Considering a plant-based diet for PCOS? Learn more about how this eating style may help and tips for following a plant-based plan.
Plant-Based Eating |

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