It’s no secret that living with PCOS or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome requires certain shifts in diet and lifestyle. Properly managing your food intake and creating a PCOS-tailored diet may offer immense relief. A PCOS-friendly diet can help alleviate common symptoms and help the day run smoother.

There’s absolutely no one-size-fits-all diet for everyone with PCOS. People who have PCOS know that the symptoms vary and no one diagnosis is identical. That being said, there is a connection between the syndrome and food that can’t be ignored. While the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, dietitians have found that certain foods worsen or soothe the troubling symptoms.

Read on to find out how a PCOS-diet can help you see a drastic reduction in symptoms.

What an expert has to say about a PCOS-friendly diet

We spoke with Eslem Kusaslan, RD of Esl Nutrition to gain a clearer perspective of how PCOS and nutrition interact.

“Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to help the body use sugar from food as energy. The body’s demand for insulin increases when cells cannot use insulin properly. The pancreas makes more insulin to compensate. A rise in insulin levels causes the ovaries to produce and release male hormones (androgens). Increased male hormones, in turn, suppress ovulation and cause other symptoms of PCOS” Kusaslan said.

Being overweight is a major cause of insulin resistance.

“You’re more likely to develop diabetes if you’re obese or insulin resistant. But maintaining a healthy weight or even reducing your weight by 5-10 per cent can help decrease the risk of developing diabetes and avoid other PCOS complications,” Kusaslan said.

Understanding this link is crucial since PCOS is a complex disease that can have further complications if left unmonitored such as type 2 diabetes and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Kusaslan emphasizes the importance of demystifying the myths around a PCOS-friendly diet.

“There is currently no scientific evidence to support restricting or avoiding certain food groups (like gluten and dairy) to improve PCOS symptoms. So if you heard you need to cut out gluten or dairy for PCOS management, that is not true. Including foods from all the key food groups is useful when both trying to lose weight and making sure you get a balance of your nutrients. Include plenty of fruit and vegetables, healthy fats, whole grain carbs, dairy, and lean meats/fish or vegetable proteins. Additionally, reduce your intake of processed foods high in fat and sugar,” the RD said.

Foods to incorporate into your diet

Anti-inflammatory herbs/spices: Be sure to add plenty of anti-inflammatory spices and herbs into your diet. Some examples include ginger, turmeric, basil, rosemary, cayenne pepper, and cardamom. Adding these to smoothies, teas, or even seasoning blends is an easy way to incorporate these into your diet.

Vegetables: Those with PCOS should aim for at least three cups of non-starchy vegetables a day. Some examples of include leafy greens such as spinach, kale, arugula, broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, and celery.

Antioxidant-rich fruits: Eating a good amount of anti-oxidant-rich fruits will also decrease inflammation and boost immunity. Some examples include blueberries, blackberries, kiwis, cherries, and cranberries.

Lean protein: A balanced diet is the trick to combatting PCOS symptoms. Lean protein is an important part of a balanced diet. Try eating fish like salmon, tuna, and cod. Poultry such as skinless chicken and turkey are great options as well. Try tofu and beans as plant-based options. Nuts and seeds are also high protein and great additions. Walnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds are all good options.

Foods to avoid

These are the foods to avoid if you have PCOS.

Sugary beverages: Your body may crave sugar if you live with PCOS but it’s probably best to avoid sugar where you can since this will help with insulin resistance. Avoid sugary beverages and opt for sugar-free alternatives instead.

Processed foods: Fresh food is hugely preferable over processed foods for those with PCOS. The more natural, the better your body will process it.

Refined carbohydrates: The refined carbohydrates in your diet are likely the cause of pesky inflammation and are known to cause a spike in insulin. They’re also usually pretty low in nutrients. Avoid refined carbohydrates such as white rice, flour and pasta, breakfast cereals, and baked treats . Instead, opt for complex carbs. Some examples include quinoa, lentils and oats.

Related: The Ultimate Pain Reliever: How To Fight Period Pain with Magnesium