There are numerous food remedies for PCOS, ranging from cinnamon and wheat germ to broccoli and turnip greens. This section of HealWithFood.org’s Nutrition Guide to Fighting PCOS presents 15 super-foods rich in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that help fight PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). For general information on how to prevent and heal PCOS naturally with food and appropriate nutrition, visit this Guide’s page dedicated to Diet Tips for Fighting PCOS. For healthy recipes that feature some of the top anti-PCOS foods, check out the Guide’s collection of Recipes for Preventing and Alleviating PCOS Symptoms.
#1: Romaine Lettuce
Lettuce is a low calorie food that can be used as a basis for light, delectable salads. But it does not always have to be iceberg lettuce! Romaine lettuce offers a multitude of health benefits, particularly for women who suffer from PCOS. In addition to being extremely low in calories, romaine lettuce is supercharged with many important nutrients, including chromium. Chromium is a component of the glucose tolerance factor (GTF) which helps maintain normal blood glucose levels by making insulin more efficient. This will fight insulin resistance which is often associated with PCOS. Furthermore, chromium promotes weight loss due to its ability to help control cravings, reduce hunger, and control fat in the blood.
Mild deficiencies in chromium are relatively common in Western countries, where the consumption of processed and refined foods is common (processing can significantly decrease the chromium content of foods). Also physically active people, people who drink a lot of coffee or tea, and people who consume high amounts of sugar have an elevated risk of being deficient in chromium. The absorption of chromium from romaine lettuce is believed to be particularly good because it also contains vitamin C which is known to enhance the absorption of chromium. To increase your intake of dietary chromium, try for example the Romaine and Smoked Salmon Salad, one of HealWithFood.org’s most chromium rich anti-PCOS recipes.
#2: Turnip Greens
Turnip greens are the leaves of the turnip plant, an ancient vegetable that was first cultivated in the Near East about 4,000 years ago. It belongs to the Brassica genus of plants which comprises a number of other health-promoting plants including broccoli, cabbage, and collards. Turnip greens are extremely low in calories; yet, they are loaded with weight loss promoting and PCOS fighting nutrients, including vitamin C and calcium. Furthermore, the calcium contained turnip greens is highly available for the body to use because of the low levels of oxalic acid found in turnip greens. Oxalic acid, abundant in many other greens, is known to inhibit the absorption of calcium
Barley is superhero grain for women with PCOS. Not only is it low in calories, it also has the lowest Glycemic Index (GI) rating of all common grains. Grains that have a high Glycemic Index (GI) rating are quickly broken down by the body and cause a rapid, large rise in blood glucose levels, which in turn triggers the pancreas to release large amounts of insulin. A certain amount of insulin is necessary for the body, but high amounts of insulin can lead to insulin resistance and obesity, which may worsen PCOS symptoms. In contrast, low-GI carbs such as barley take much longer to digest and cause only a small, slow rise in the blood glucose and insulin levels. In addition, low-GI foods reduce cravings — which could lead to weight gain — as they provide the body with a slow, steady supply of energy. Hulled barley, the most nutrient-dense type of barley, may be hard to find in regular grocery stores, but it is increasingly available at health food markets as well as online (online shoppers can buy organic whole grain barley here, for example).
Cinnamon has some extraordinary properties that may help increase insulin sensitivity and thus treat obesity as well as PCOS. A mere half a teaspoon of cinnamon per day has been shown to be very effective at normalizing blood sugar levels and reducing food cravings. The main active ingredient in cinnamon is called hydroxychalcone, which is thought to enhance the effect of insulin. Cinnamon also appears to prevent post-meal blood sugar spikes by slowing the gastric emptying rate (GER), which means that the food remains in the stomach longer.
#5: Crimini Mushrooms
Great news for mushroom aficionados: crimini mushrooms are a great functional food for women suffering from PCOS. Crimini mushrooms are one of the best low-calorie sources of B vitamins, particularly of vitamin B2 which is essential for normal thyroid function and metabolism and which can thus help reduce excess body weight. They are also rich in vitamin B3 which helps keep blood sugar on an even keel. Crimini mushrooms can be served raw or cooked. When serving them raw, you may want to sprinkle them with a little lemon juice to prevent them from turning dark brown.
The health benefits of broccoli are wide and varied. Many people already know that broccoli contains cancer-fighting substances, but did you know that this crunchy green vegetable may also be one of the best foods for women with PCOS? Broccoli is very low in calories, contains less than 1% fat, and ranks low on the glycemic index. It is also one of the best dairy-free sources of calcium (although your body can only absorb about 60% of the calcium in broccoli, that is still a decent amount).
To get the most out of broccoli’s health benefits, choose organically grown plants (they are typically more nutrient-dense and contain fewer harmful substances) and eat them raw or slightly steamed. When steaming broccoli, keep in mind that the fibrous stems take longer to cook than the florets, and therefore you should wait a few minutes before adding the florets to the steamer.
Tip: Try out HealWithFood.org’s Broccoli Salad with Apples and Cranberries, a super nutritious anti PCOS recipe that calls for raw broccoli.
Salmon is one of the best dietary sources of vitamin D. Low levels of vitamin D and have been associated problems related to PCOS, including infertility, weight gain, and insulin resistance. In addition, salmon is rich in magnesium, vitamin B3 and vitamin B6. These nutrients are known for their ability to help maintain normal blood sugar levels, hormonal balance, and fertility. When buying salmon, go for wild salmon rather than farm-raised fish. Wild salmon contains only low levels of PCBs, harmful chemicals that are often abundant in farmed salmon. That said, it is always advisable to eat salmon only in moderation, whether wild or farm-raised: too frequent/high a consumption of salmon (more than twice a week) may predispose you to high amounts of mercury and pesticides contained in fish. Especially women who are trying to get pregnant such be cautious because the toxins in fish can impair the neurological development of the fetus.
#8: Wheat Germ
Wheat germ is one of the best foods that fight PCOS. It provides a concentrated source of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), with a mere cup of crude wheat germ providing a whopping 75% of the recommended daily intake for this important vitamin! Wheat germ is also an excellent source of other B vitamins as well as zinc. What’s more, it is loaded with magnesium. Try adding wheat germ to breads, cereals, muesli, milk shakes, or pancakes — it makes a nutritious, yet undetectable addition! When storing wheat germ, keep in mind that it goes rancid fast because of its unsaturated fat content. To optimize the shelf life of this nutritional powerhouse food, store it in a sealed container in a cool, dry place away from exposure to the sun.
Can’t wait to jazz up your favorite smoothies, salads, and yogurt with wheat germ? Check out the article Where to Buy Wheat Germ for tips on how to get the most out of your next wheat germ purchase.