So you’ve been combing the internet for a PCOS diet that is simple to follow, easy to understand, and not too complicated to make.
You’re in the right place.
In this post, I want to talk about how a nutritionist thinks about the ideal diet for PCOS- how I set up my client’s days, guidelines I use for my own planning, and examples of some meals that would fit the framework.
Before I begin, I want to mention that I do have a course called Functional PCOS that not only follows these guidelines but gives you 12 weeks of curated meal plans, grocery lists, educational modules, downloadable resources, activities and journal prompts to take you from knowing very little about PCOS to truly feeling like you’ve been through a PCOS masterclass. You can find the course here: https://functional-pcos.teachable.com/p/functional-pcos
I also share weekly goals for PCOS for free if you sign up for my newsletter. These goals center around helping you make quick and easy changes for PCOS that make a big difference over time. Find that here.
Okay, let’s begin.
Calorie needs are going to vary from person to person and depend on lots of factors from your current weight to your height, how active you are, and your age, so I won’t go into depth on those here. My course Functional PCOS does help you calculate this for yourself but you can also use a standard TDEE calculator to figure out just how much you need.
Calories are not the most important thing for PCOS but they do matter, especially if weight changes/maintenance are part of your journey.
Besides calories, there are several guidelines for day planning that I like to follow. I created a graphic for instagram that outlines them here:
Here are the guidelines I follow for meal creation:
Protein helps keep you full, keeps blood sugar balanced, and slows the release of insulin, all important for PCOS. Ideally, I aim for 30 -35 grams per meal but sometimes that’s not possible or desired. I never let a meal go below 20g of protein though and I attempt to make snacks at least 15g protein.
This is important because fiber is counted as part of the total carbohydrate count for the day.
With PCOS, we are often told that we should go low-carb to help our symptoms. There’s some truth to this, but it’s really an oversimplification. Since carbs are the category that vegetables, fruit, grains, and fiber fall under, to cut the entire category drastically would limit the amount of nutrients we’d be able to consume.
Instead, I aim to keep carbs low within reason, and fiber is my guide.
Fiber is literally the fuel for our good gut bacteria. In PCOS, we are always dealing with some sort of gut imbalance, whether it be as severe as IBS or more subtle, it’s extremely common in PCOS to have gut-based inflammation, food sensitivities, and dysbiosis (imbalances in the gut bacteria).
Working on this helps to improve overall PCOS symptoms by binding to testosterone and feeding those good gut bacteria. In turn, having lots of good bacteria helps our bodies be less insulin resistant, so it’s a win-win.
If I know my goal for the day is to get at least 35g of fiber, I’m always thinking about what high fiber food I can include in each meal and snack to help me meet my goal. I tend to divide the day up into 3 meals and 1 or 2 snacks, so by breaking this down into about 5-10g per eating moment, I can efficiently meet the goal without having to take a supplement.
I also have a carbohydrate goal for each meal. While fiber is important and so are the nutrients from carbohydrates, too many of them are the fastest way to cause a surge in insulin production.
Insulin is a hormone that’s produced in response to sugar in our diet. What you may not know is that almost all foods, but especially carbs eventually break down into sugar. Carbohydrate foods are made up almost entirely of types of sugars and though they don’t necessarily taste sweet, the insulin response you get from consuming them is the same.
With that said, higher fiber carbohydrates tend to create a smaller insulin spike because fiber slows the release of those sugars into the blood stream. Fiber also doesn’t impact blood sugar so even though it’s counted as part of the total carbohydrate count, it’s actually like you’re consuming less carb.
Net carbs is calculated by subtracting the fiber in the item from the total carbohydrate count. For example, a cup of broccoli might be 6g of total carb but it has 2g of fiber. This means that the impact on blood sugar is really like eating 4g of carb, plus the benefits of the fiber.
I aim for about 30g or under net per meal because I feel this is a good range for most people with PCOS to get to meet their daily fiber needs without having to consume only fiber containing foods. It also gives them the variety to enjoy higher starch foods like potatoes, whole grains, and fruit without causing major blood sugar spikes.
Some folks do not do as well on a diet like this, especially if they are already in the prediabetic or diabetic range and they may find they need to eat a lower carb amount. However, I’d still encourage trying to meet that daily fiber count and thinking about carbs as a chance to include more fiber and whole foods, rather than an excuse to fit in a high-sugar item.
Natural sugars, like those from whole fruit, do impact our insulin less because they are combined naturally with more fiber. Added sugar, even in its more natural forms like honey, coconut sugar, or date syrup, still hit the blood system very fast and cause insulin spikes. Check the labels of foods you buy for added sugar, and remember to count the sugar that you add to things yourself, like if you put honey in your drinks.
For many people, aiming for an even lower sugar count, like less than 10g a day is more ideal, but for many of us, starting here is already a big change. Try swapping your sugar sources for healthier alternatives like stevia and monkfruit. You can find my recommended brands, along with other favorite snacks and drinks for PCOS in my amazon store here.
To add another guideline for myself, I always ensure I’ve included at least 3 cups of vegetables per day in my PCOS diets. I like to spread these out between meals, but it’s important to get them in. Vegetables are the best sources of beneficial nutrients, antioxidants, polyphenols, and more. Eating a wide variety of veggies in different colors also provides unique benefits that help PCOS symptoms.
Many of us were raised not eating many veggies and it can be tough to get in the habit. Our natural temptation would be to use our carbs on fruit and whole grains. Adding that extra goal of 3 cups per day helps us ensure we meet our targets AND get the nutrients we need.
I did a post about these, as well as a sample day combining all of them which you can find here: 9 Superfoods for PCOS
For me, I always include a matcha latte in the morning, it’s my favorite way to start the day. But if you’re just getting started with the idea of adding more plant foods to your diet, try picking one superfood that seems tolerable to you and start aiming to incorporate it daily. From there, add more with time.
Let’s take each of these guidelines and put them together into a few sample meals to help you get the idea.
For the purposes of this exercise, I’ll divide each meal’s fiber count equally as if I’m consuming 2 snacks here. Our goals for each meal and snack will be as follows:
3 meals at: At least 20g protein, 1 cup veggies, 30g or less net carbs, 7g fiber, 0-20g added sugar
Snacks: 10-20g protein, 7g fiber
Blood Sugar Friendly Smoothie:
1 serving vegan protein powder (24g protein, 10g carb)
1 cup spinach (Veggie and 1g fiber)
3/4 cup raspberries (6g fiber and 7g net carb)
1 tsp matcha (superfood)
1 cup milk of choice (0-5g added sugar/carb)
3/4 cup sweet potato (13g carb, veggie, and 3g fiber)
1/2 cup onions (5g carb, veggie, and 1g fiber)
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes( 3g carb, veggie, and 1g fiber)
1/2 cup cauliflower ( 2.5g carb, veggie, and 1g fiber)
Side of 1 cup blueberries: (21g carb, 3g fiber)
3 eggs (protein 24g)
1/2 cup rolled oats, cooked (3g protein, 25g carb, 4g fiber)
1 tablespoon flax seed (2g fiber)
2-3 scoops collagen or 1 serving vanilla protein ( 20 ish g protein, 0-10g added sugar/carb)
1.5 tsp cinnamon (superfood)
1 cup milk of choice (0-5g added sugar, 6g protein)
1 slice whole grain bread, seeded bread (Protein 5g, carb 22g, fiber 5g)
1/2 cup spinach or other green (carb 1g)
1/2 cup cucumber (carb 2g, fiber .5g)
3 oz ham (protein 18g)
1/2 apple (carb 12g, fiber 2g)
1 tablespoon peanut butter (protein 4g, carb 3g, fiber 1g)
3 oz grilled chicken (protein 30g)
Mixed green salad, 2 cups (carb 4g, fiber 2g)
3 tsp olive oil/vinegar dressing
2 tablespoons mashed avocado (carb 3g, fiber 2g)
1/4 cup chickpeas (carb 30g, fiber 9g, protein 10g)
6 oz salmon (protein 34g)
1 cup broccoli (carb 6g, fiber 2g)
1/4 sliced avocado (carb 6g, fiber 4g)
1/2 cup brown rice (carb 22g, fiber 2g)
1 cup butternut squash pasta (carb 16g, fiber 3g)
1 cup ground beef/turkey (protein 20g)
1 cup pasta sauce (no sugar added) (carb 8g, fiber 2g)
1 slice whole wheat garlic bread (protein 5g, carb 22g, fiber 5g)
1 cup non dairy milk (protein 6g, carb 5g)
3 tbsp chia seeds (fiber 5g)
2 scoops collagen (protein 20g)
1 tsp stevia
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips (carb 8g, fiber 1g)
1/2 cup sprouted pumpkin seeds (carb 10g, fiber 4g) (I love this brand)
1/2 cup bell pepper (carb5 g, fiber 3g)
1/2 cup carrots (carb 3g, fiber 1g)
1/4 cup hummus (protein 5g, carb 9g, fiber 4g)
I truly hope this helps you and gives you some ideas and inspiration. Look out for a podcast on this topic coming soon as well! And don’t forget to check out Functional PCOS if you want more meal ideas!