Until recently, there was little research and science-backed best practices on dietary approaches to relieving PCOS symptoms. Various low-inflammation approaches have been proposed as PCOS treatments, including plant-based and vegan methods. Dietary interventions are a first-line treatment for women with PCOS. A well-planned plant-based diet is naturally high in fiber and essential nutrients, which are both crucial to lowering LDL and cholesterol levels – both of which are high in women with PCOS. Research also shows that following a proper vegan diet can improve ovulation, regulate menstruation, and reduce risk for future conditions associated with PCOS, such as Type 2 diabetes.
A quick aside about vegan and plant-based diets: vegan diets consist of eating grains, vegetables, and fruits. If you decide to practice a vegan diet for PCOS symptom management, it is imperative to include high quality carbohydrates. Even under a vegan diet, limit carbohydrates to 45% of your daily caloric intake.
Is there Scientific Research on Vegan Diets and PCOS?
A study of women with PCOS by the University of South Carolina found that:
- A Vegan diet led to more effective weight loss efforts
- Dietary improvements were more likely to be sustained after six months
Other studies have also demonstrated that plant-based diets can be effective for weight loss, and by association, can contribute to alleviating PCOS symptoms. Similarly, the Alternative Healthy Eating Index was shown to reduce general inflammation, and may be effective in treating PCOS.
Putting a Vegan Diet for PCOS in Practice
- Focus on vegan foods that are high in fiber: Examples include: beans, peas, lentils, green beans, lettuce, etc. Vegetables, legumes and whole grains are great for reducing inflammation, promoting insulin sensitivity and good gut health while taking care of all your nutrient needs.
- Nuts and Seeds: These are great sources of plant-based protein and omega-3 fats.
- When it comes to fruits, opt for whole fruits. Try to avoid fruit juices, canned fruit, or processed fruit concentrates, if possible.
- If you are looking for ideal vegan foods, consult the Glycemic Index to focus on Low-GI foods
- Include a protein source and a healthy fat to help you stay full. Protein sources may include legumes, nuts/seeds, and veggies. Healthy fats can include olive oil or avocados.
- Supplementation: Everyone with PCOS should make sure they’re getting enough nutrients – and sometimes it takes more practice when you’re eating a plant-based diet. Some of those nutrients include vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine, magnesium, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids
Putting it all Together
- Eat regularly: every 3-4 hours to keep blood sugar and energy levels stable.
- Include protein, fats and carbohydrates in most meals.
- Take vitamin B12 supplement and have your vitamin D levels tested in order to maintain a healthy level.
- Work with a qualified professional to see if any additional supplements may be needed.
If you are considering a plant-based diet to help manage PCOS, treat other conditions, or simply to improve your overall health, these suggestions are a few helpful rules of thumb to follow. There is no magical, perfect diet for PCOS management, but there is research on nutrition and PCOS that includes a vegan diet.
Whether you’re vegan or not, you can find a balanced diet that works for your PCOS symptoms and support your overall health. You can find our recommendations on how to build a healthy plant-based diet here. Speak with our dietitians and nutritionists to ensure you are eating a nutritionally sound vegan diet to reduce weight and manage PCOS symptoms.
To read more about foods to avoid, foods to eat, and how to make easy changes as part of a healthy PCOS diet, download our PCOS Nutrition Guide.