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PCOD Plant-based diet

  • Health & Wellness
  • 26 Sep 2017

Plant-based diet and polycystic ovarian syndrome

Polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS is a medical condition in females, in which the level of sex hormones, i.e., estrogen and progesterone is altered. This imbalance results in the growth of cysts (benign masses) on the ovaries, which in turn can increase the risk of diabetes, hypertension, irregular periods, osteoporosis, abnormal body hair growth, mood disorders, and infertility. Women suffering from PCOS may face difficulty in getting pregnant due to absent or irregular ovulation, and may  require treatments for infertility. Even if they conceive, there would be an increased risk of miscarriage during the first trimester.

Although there are many medicines for managing PCOS symptoms, diet and lifestyle modifications are the mainstay.

Regular exercise and healthy diet

One of the important risk factors of PCOS is unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle. Therefore, if you want to get rid of the symptoms of PCOS, you need to minimize the risk factors. A healthy diet and regular exercise is the first step to manage PCOS.

Managing Weight with PCOS

Often PCOS patients suffer from high levels of insulin (a hormone) in the blood and are not able to maintain a healthy weight. The hormone imbalance causes more sugars to be deposited as fats. Fat cells, in turn, secrete more hormones and disrupt the balance. Thus, this vicious cycle, cause more weight gain, especially, in the abdominal areas, and the hips. This fat is reluctant and difficult to lose.

Dietary changes like introducing low-fat plant-based diet may help in weight loss and to control several symptoms.  A plant-based diet is probably the best option for patients with PCOS.1

Controlling Insulin Levels:

Patients with PCOS have high glucose levels, which may increase their risk of developing type-2 diabetes. This risk can be controlled by avoiding foods like simple carbohydrates and sugars. Patients with PCOS are usually advised to take medications such as metformin to control insulin levels and eat a low-glycemic diet including whole grains, vegetables, and fruit.

Restoring ovulation:

Woman with PCOS do not ovulate regularly, due to the increased secretion of sex hormones; estrogen and progesterone. Studies show that iron-rich foods lower the incidence of ovulatory infertility. Thus, iron-rich foods like green vegetables, fruits, and fortified bread and grain products should be included in the diet. Foods rich in vitamin C help in the absorption of iron. Besides, plant-based foods are not a significant source of estrogen, which is a cause for hormonal imbalance.

Regulating menstruation:

The imbalance in the level of estrogen and progesterone causes irregular menstruation in a woman with PCOS. A plant-based whole food diet helps in weight loss and normalizing of the hormone levels, thus, regulating normal menstrual cycles. The researchers suggest that even 10 percent reduction in weight can contribute to the overall reduction of the symptoms. A high fiber diet and reduced intake of trans fatty acid are the primary steps of metabolic improvement and weight management. The foods that need to be included in the diet are usually legumes, whole wheat, oatmeal, and brown rice with high fiber content.2

Manage PCOS with a plant-based diet and lifestyle changes

1. Avoid processed and refined food products such as sugar, bread and pasta, white flour, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, trans-fats and high saturated fat, etc. Switch to plant-based whole food diet that includes gluten free grains, oatmeal, brown rice, millet, and quinoa.

2.  Drink at least 2 litres of purified water per day. Add flavor to the water with fresh citrus fruits, cucumber, mint or berries.

3. Avoid alcohol consumption.

4. Eat small portions, but frequently, i.e. every 3-4 hours.

5. Keep a combo of a lean protein and complex carb at every meal or snack.

6. Make healthy choices. Keep your food ready with you when you go out for work. So, you don’t have to eat whatever is available.

7. Eat a balanced diet.

8. Exercise or yoga should be an integral part of your lifestyle.

9. Excess hair growth (hirsutism) will reduce as androgen levels reduce. So, be patient.

10. Manage stress. Follow yoga and meditation techniques and keep a balance between professional and personal life.

About 50 percent of the women with PCOS are likely to develop diabetes by the age of 40. To prevent diabetes and other long-term complications of PCOS, following a healthy diet is very important.  Plant-based whole food diet that includes spinach, broccoli, brown rice, high fiber cereal and low-sugar drinks can help to prevent the risks.


1. Al-Ruthia YS et al. Ovulation induction by metformin among obese versus non-obese women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Saudi Pharm J. 2017 Jul;25(5):795-800.


2. Nybacka Ået al. Increased fibre and reduced trans fatty acid intake are primary predictors of metabolic improvement in overweight polycystic ovary syndrome-Substudy of randomized trial between diet, exercise and diet plus exercise for weight control. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2017 Jul 20.


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