Superfoods have been hot topics for years with many people wondering if there’s really anything to the idea that certain foods might contain more powerful healing properties.
Maybe you remember the kale craze? Or when everyone was using spirulina or doing celery juice cleanses.
When I speak about superfoods, those aren’t exactly what I mean.
No, when I talk about superfoods, I’m talking about something in functional nutrition we call a “functional” food and it means a food that has special beneficial health properties and uses, beyond simply being a healthy food. It has specific uses in the body that can be applied, similar to the way we use supplements.
For PCOS there are several foods that I recommend including as a regular part of the diet because they have unique health properties that can actually target different PCOS symptoms. Let’s take a look at them and why I recommend these particular superfoods for PCOS.
Spearmint is an easy and effective treatment for the extra androgens that cause so many issues in PCOS.
If you remember, PCOS has three main root issues (that I cover in great depth in my course Functional PCOS): insulin resistance, chronic inflammation, and adrenal dysfunction. Each one of these root issues can cause the body to make more androgens (traditionally male hormones). These androgens turn eventually to testosterone, which then can be converted into something called dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
DHT is a more potent form of testosterone and the one responsible for triggering facial hair growth and hair loss in PCOS.
Spearmint helps to lower the levels of these androgens in the system, giving your body less ability to convert to DHT. Over time, this can help reduce these symptoms (or slow their progression) in PCOS.
You want to drink about 2 cups of spearmint tea a day (I recommend an organic version like this one) to get the full benefits. And remember that consistency is really key with something like this!
I recommend making a batch of spearmint tea every couple of days and drinking it iced or even adding it in with smoothies or other drinks.
Cinnamon has long been studied for it’s uses with blood sugar issues like diabetes, but it also has benefits and uses for PCOS.
It helps to lower glucose levels and also to sensitize the body to insulin. Since insulin resistance is such a big component of PCOS for so many, regular doses of cinnamon can help us to process sugars and starches in our diet better.
The coolest part of this, I think, is how well cinnamon goes with so many traditionally starchy foods, like oatmeal and baked goods. This makes it easy to add in.
There are two kinds of cinnamon that have been studied: cassia and ceylon and overall the studies seem to show effectiveness for both. Some people do tolerate one over the other, especially if taking it regularly. If you find that one form gives you a bit of digestive issues, try switching and see.
With any spices, it’s always best to get as high quality as you can afford to ensure they aren’t cut or diluted. Organic is also best. I recommend this brand of cassia and this brand of ceylon cinnamons.
1.5 teaspoons a day is the optimal amount to get the benefits.
If you’ve followed me for any length of time you know I love matcha with a passion matched by few other things in life. I start every morning with a matcha latte without fail and have seen so many benefits in my PCOS and health.
Matcha has many health benefits for PCOS and of all these superfoods, I’d say it has the most in one package.
For PCOS, matcha can reduce facial hair, testosterone, improve insulin resistance, improve egg quality and antioxidant status, reduce acne, improve skin health, and more. It’s such a fantastic thing that I wrote a whole blog about it here: Matcha For PCOS- The Surprising Benefits (and recipe!)
My favorite brand (Aprika Life) is the only one I’ve been drinking at home for the last year and is by far my favorite. I actually approached them to see if we could partner because I love their product so much. They have a discount for my readers, use code AMBERFISCHER for 10% off with Aprika Matcha here.
Let’s not sleep on the benefits of specific types of vegetables to the PCOS diet.
Cruciferous vegetables are one thing I recommend all my clients include daily in their PCOS diets.
There are a lot of reasons, but the biggest one is that cruciferous vegetables contain components like sulforaphane and diindolylmethane that help the liver with it’s metabolism of hormones.
Basically, they help your body get rid of old hormones that are no longer needed and reduce their impact on your body.
Those with PCOS have higher levels of exogenous estrogens in their system too. These are things like BPA and other endocrine disrupting chemicals that mimic estrogen in the body. These can wreak havoc on hormone balance and contribute to the very common PCOS problem of symptoms of estrogen dominance- heavy periods, clotting, fibroids, hyperplasia, etc. Eating more cruciferous vegetables can help your body detoxify from this burden.
I recommend at least 1 cup a day of broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, bok choy, kale or other cruciferous veggies.
My favorite way to make them is to coat them in some avocado oil and salt and roast under the broiler in the oven. Brussels sprouts, in particular are great like this!
One nutrient commonly low in PCOS is folate and folate plays a big role in the health and functioning of the body, hormones, and even egg quality.
Folate in particular can help lower homocysteine levels in PCOS, a marker associated with chronic inflammation (and B-vitamin deficiency). Folate is a B vitamin and those with PCOS may be at higher risk of something called MTHFR gene mutations that can make it more difficult to process B vitamins.
Sometimes supplementation is necessary here (I usually like to recommend a high quality prenatal with methylated B vitamins like this one or a B complex like this one) but adding more leafy greens like spinach to your day will also help keep your levels optimal.
I recommend at least 1 cup a day and usually include this in a daily smoothie or salad.
Seeds are one of the best sources of fiber and fiber is a true superfood for PCOS.
Fiber helps to increase something called sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). Remember when I mentioned how spearmint can reduce DHT by making less androgens available. Sex hormone binding globulin helps here too because it binds up free floating androgens and makes them unavailable. This means that they can’t get converted into DHT and therefore they won’t be able to trigger hair growth.
The ideal amount of fiber is at least 35 grams a day but if you’ve ever tried to do that, you know it’s not easy!
Adding even a couple of teaspoons of seeds (like chia, flax, sunflower, pumpkin etc) each day- sprinkled on a salad, in a chia pudding, in oatmeal, or wherever, can really help boost not just SHBG but our gut health overall because these foods act as prebiotics- food for good bacteria.
You’ve probably heard me say it by now but it’s worth repeating- a healthy gut is fundamental to health and to managing PCOS.
Inflammation is a major contributor to PCOS and one of the most powerful anti-inflammatories naturally available to us is the power of the omega 3 fatty acid.
In PCOS, we tend to be low here for a variety of reasons, but those living in the US tend to be low on Omega 3s simply by nature of our diets as well. I’ve written about this before ()
Fish, especially fatty fish like salmon, are fantastic sources of omega 3s and can really help reduce the inflammation that contributes to so many PCOS symptoms like androgens, ovulation issues, and weight maintenance issues.
I recommend at least 4 oz three times a week, but even more is better. Preferably eat fish like cod and salmon, and limit consumption of predator fish like tuna.
If you don’t eat fish, you can also get some of these benefits from a high quality fish oil (I recommend this one) but honestly, if you aren’t allergic, I recommend really trying to eat fish. We simply don’t understand enough about how to body works to substitute these powerful nutrients in supplement form. A supplement is better than nothing, but nothing will beat real fish for reducing inflammation.
Pumpkin seeds act as not just a delicious, protein rich snack that’s full of fiber, but also as a 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor.
5-alpha-reductase is an enzyme that converts testosterone into DHT. Some foods (like sugar) increase levels of this enzyme. But others, like pumpkin seeds, help reduce 5-alpha-reductase activity.
Pumpkin seeds really kill two birds with one stone because they are not only great for reducing DHT (and therefore the many different PCOS symptoms like acne and facial hair that go with it) but also are great sources of fiber to feed the gut. They are also a great source of zinc, something that those with PCOS are typically deficient in.
Try adding pumpkin seeds with fruit for a healthy snack. I really like this brand of pumpkin seed snacks- they remove the shell, sprout and salt them, simple but so good! Great added to salads too!
Dark chocolate isn’t just a delicious, low sugar snack that satisfies the sweet tooth we all seem to have, it also has powerful benefits for PCOS.
Those with PCOS tend to be deficient or low in minerals magnesium and zinc, which are both associated with increased insulin resistance, inflammation, and PCOS symptoms. Getting more of these nutrients can help you improve those symptoms, your cholesterol numbers, and even your bone health.
Magnesium is important for hundreds of cellular processes in the body and when we are low, so many things can go haywire. If you get charlie horse-type cramps in your feet or calves a lot, I always recommend trying some extra magnesium.
You can get more magnesium in a lot of ways- I like natural calm and a good magnesium glycinate supplement when I need a little more. But one of my favorite ways to get it is by eating 80% dark chocolate.
Dark chocolate is also a great source of flavanols and antioxidants, both important components for gut health and very anti-inflammatory.
I love having a couple of squares of dark chocolate after dinner or adding some dark chocolate chips to my oatmeal in the morning. There are a lot of great brands out there but I’m partial to Hu brand.
If you’re wondering how you’d possibly fit all of these foods into a typical day, it’s not as hard as you think! Let me show you how I’d do it.
Matcha latte with collagen
Oatmeal with 1 tsp chia seeds and 1.5 tsp cinnamon
Morning break- iced or warm spearmint tea
Spinach salad with grilled chicken and chickpeas
Apple cider vinegar and olive oil dressing (two honorary superfoods for PCOS that didn’t quite make the cut)
Pumpkin seeds and blueberries
6 oz salmon
2 cups mixed grilled broccoli and sweet potato with avocado oil
Dessert- 2-3 squares dark chocolate
There you have it! I hope you try this day out and see how it works for you.
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