Vegan Diet for PCOS [What a Vegan with PCOS Should Know]

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So, you decided to adopt a vegan lifestyle for animal and/or environmental reasons.

But is it possible to manage PCOS symptoms and consume a vegan diet?

Are there any benefits associated with plant based diets and PCOS?

Lets discuss along with nutrition tips to consider in this Dietitian written article (the author also happens to be vegan, so don’t skip this one)!

Disclaimer: This article is not a substitute for medical or dietary advice. Always talk to your doctor about any health concerns, if you want to make major dietary changes, or take a supplement. See our Disclaimers for more details.

*Consumer Notice: This post contains affiliate links that are marked in this manner: (affiliate link*)”. If you click on these links and purchase, I earn a commission at no added cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

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What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?

First thing first – lets define this condition!

There are a lot of things that we have yet to learn about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) – such as what contributes the most to its development, and why some people have certain symptoms, while others do not.

In short, polycystic means many (poly) cysts on the ovaries. However, not all women with PCOS develop many cysts. Nonetheless, the ovaries may not function normally.

PCOS is considered a hormonal disorder and a quite common one for women of childbearing age.

Hormones involved may include an excess of androgens (commonly referred to as male hormones), insulin levels (helps convert glucose into energy) , and/or a lack of progesterone (a hormone involved with the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, etc.).

Symptoms experienced by those with PCOS may include (not a comprehensive list. Not every person with PCOS will experience these symptoms):

  • Irregular periods
  • Acne
  • Weight gain
  • Hair growth in unwanted places
  • Cysts on the ovaries

Those with PCOS may have an increased risk of (again not a comprehensive list):

  • Difficulties getting pregnant
  • Type 2 or pre diabetes
  • Mood changes, anxiety and/or depression
  • Sleep Apnea (a disorder in which breathing stops and starts during sleep)
  • Metabolic Syndrome (includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol or triglyceride levels in the blood – these increase heart disease risk)

Managing PCOS may involve medication and lifestyle factors. For purposes of this article being about vegans with PCOS after all, lets explore how vegan diets factor into managing some conditions those with PCOS may be more likely to develop.

Can a Vegan Diet Help?

Firstly, it’s important to note that further research on diet and PCOS is needed. We do not have a lot on diet and PCOS at this time, much less, the effect of a vegan diet and PCOS symptom management.

That being said, the position paper on Vegetarian Diets from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that:

“Vegetarians and vegans are at reduced risk of of certain health conditions, including ischemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer, and obesity. Low intakes of saturated fat and high intakes of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, soy products, nuts and seeds (all rich in fiber and phytochemicals) are characteristics of vegetarian and vegan diets that produce lower total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and better serum glucose control. These factors contribute to a reduction of chronic disease.”

Source: Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets

As mentioned in the last section, those with PCOS may already have or be at a greater risk for type 2 diabetes, and factors that increase the risk for heart disease.

PCOS has also been associated with inflammation and women with PCOS may or may be classified as obese via BMI ( body mass index – a calculation using height and weight).

As alluded to in the quote above, going for more whole food plant based and less saturated fats likely contribute to health benefits from vegan and vegetarian diets.

Additionally, one meta-analysis of observational studies suggests lower CRP CRP (c-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation) in those following a vegetarian diet (as opposed to omnivorous diets) for at least two years. This study suggests that vegan or vegetarian diets may have beneficial effects on inflammation.

However, its important to note that the study did not find the same significant difference with certain other inflammatory markers, and that the most of the study participants had a BMI of <25 , and none >30 (classified as the “obese” range).

And finally, grouping a diet as vegan, vegetarian, or omnivores can be vague. For example, some omnivores participants might consume a lot of animal products, while others might not. Some vegetarians may consume even more fruits and veggies, than vegans, and so forth.

In short, a well planned vegan diet might be helpful for PCOS, but we are not sure if it’s the best diet for all people with PCOS. Remember, PCOS can manifest differently so a dietary plan should be tailored to each individuals unique needs (more about this later).

But what are some general tips that many vegans will want to keep in mind? We’ll discuss that next!

Nutrition Tips for a Vegan with PCOS

The diet PCOS diagnosed women receive will likely focus on individual risk factors. Not everyone with PCOS will have, difficulties with fertility, increased cholesterol levels, etc.

Still, nutrition strategies to help manage PCOS often center on decreasing inflammation and the risk for certain diseases associated with PCOS (such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease).

While you may discover the topic of weight loss comes up a lot in the PCOS space – its important to know that not all individuals with PCOS have what is considered an “excess amount of weight” per BMI standards. Talk to your own health care provider about any concerns you have.

So with that in mind, lets get to some pointers a vegan with PCOS should keep in mind!

1. Learn About Vegan Nutrition

This goes for anyone who follows/wants to follow a vegan diet. We highly recommend learning where your nutrients come from!

In particular, vegans may want to keep the following nutrients on their radar:

Check out our article Vegan For Beginners to learn more where to find these nutrients, what to consider in the supplement aisle, and more.

Of note, metformin (a drug commonly used for those with insulin sensitivity issues) use can reduce vitamin B12 absorption in the stomach.

Talk to your doctor about what form and dose of vitamin B12 is appropriate for your situation. He or she can also order a test to test to help assess your levels.

2. Aim For Foods Higher in Fiber, and Possibly Lower on the Glycemic Index

What is the Glycemic index (GI) ? It uses of a scale from 1 to 100 that is based on the rise in blood glucose level for a particular food. High GI foods are believed to be absorbed quicker than low GI foods, resulting in higher blood sugar spikes.

You can find examples of high and low GI foods here. In general, vegan foods with a lower GI will tend to also contain lots of fiber, (for example, barley will have a lower GI than white bread made with refined flour).

It’s important to note that a lot research around PCOS and a low GI diet was done in women with a BMI classified as overweight or obese, and as we have mentioned, this is not the case for all women with PCOS.

Another limitation is that many studies use a low calorie diet in conjunction with a low GI diet. Further research is needed in this area.

Still, whole, plant based foods are generally low on the GI index, such as veggies, legumes, and whole intact grains. High fiber starchy foods tend to cause less of an insulin response than sugar or simple carbohydrates.

Some plant based foods exceptionally high in fiber include:

  • Beans
  • Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • Lentils
  • Whole Intact Grains (for example: barley, buckwheat, quinoa (a seed “grain”)

3. Favor Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Many studies have found a connection between inflammation and PCOS.

There are certain foods that have been associated with inflammation including:

  • Trans Fat (for example, found in foods with partially hydrogenated oils)
  • Too much saturated fat
  • An excessive amount of refined sugar (such as table sugar)

In opposition, antioxidant rich fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts (such as walnuts, rich in omega 3 Alpha-linolenic acid fats), may help to reduce inflammation.

4. Eat Macronutrient Balanced Meals at Regular Intervals

No one likes to be hangry (including your blood sugar)!

Set yourself up for success by eating balanced meals at regular times to help support more stable blood sugar levels.

When we are talking about “balanced meals” in terms of macronutrients, we are talking about including healthy carbohydrates, fat, and plant based protein at each meal.

This combination should help you feel more satisfied than say- eating a box of gummy worms (just carbohydrates!) for lunch, and may help reduce blood sugar spikes.

Here is an example of a vegan meal with carbohydrates, fat, and protein:

Quinoa (carbohydrate with fiber) + Black Beans (protein, carbs, fiber) + Avocado slices (fat, fiber). Add some veggies, like lettuce and tomato, and you’ve got a nutritious and delicious lunch!

Will I Need Any Nutritional Supplements?

As a reminder: This post contains affiliate links that are marked in this manner: (affiliate link*)”. If you click on these links and purchase, I earn a commission at no added cost to you.

Some studies suggest a benefit of specific supplements on certain conditions/symptoms associated with PCOS. However, it is important to remember that not everybody with has the same features.

Also, you may be able to able to get an enough of the following nutrients via diet.

As always, talk to your doctor about any health questions you have, and before implementing any supplement. Some supplements may interact with medications you are already taking.

Without further ado, here are some supplements that may be helpful for vegans living with PCOS (not a comprehensive list):

It’s also important to note that insufficient vitamin D is not uncommon. In the US, around 40% of American adults may have insufficient levels.

Vitamin D is not found in a a lot of vegan foods, aside from UV ray treated mushrooms or products has been fortified with vitamin D.

Therefore, its important to discus if you need a supplement with your own doctor.

If you are looking for a vegan supplement, know that many vitamin D supplements are sourced from sheep wool.

However, there are vegan supplements available! Here is an example of one that I have taken before. I appreciate that the company uses third party testing.

Nordic Naturals Plant Based Vitamin D3 (affiliate link*):

As a reminder, always talk to your doctor before starting a supplement. He/she can check your blood levels, and help determine the appropriate dose for you.

PCOS Diet and Lifestyle Changes

Before you go, don’t miss these additional things to consider!

Having PCOS can feel lonely and confusing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get answers from your health care team (you deserve it)!

  1. Work with a Registered Dietitian who is knowledgeable in the area of PCOS. He or she can help personalize a nutrition plan for your unique situation.
  2. Get some movement in! One meta-analysis suggests that exercise plus diet improve some of the levels of certain hormones associated with PCOS. Talk to your doctor about an appropriate exercise routine.
  3. Try to keep stress levels down as much as possible.
  4. Focus on getting good quality sleep.
  5. Don’t ignore disordered eating, anxious, or depressive thoughts. Get professional help if you have or feel like you have thoughts that are affecting your life.

Vegan Diet For PCOS – In Summary

It is possible to continue a vegan diet and work on strategies to help manage PCOS.

In general, a vegan diet that emphasizes healthy whole foods, and a reduction in simple sugars, and refined carbohydrates, saturated, and trans fats may be helpful.

Keep in mind, that everyone with PCOS is different. Work with your own doctor and Dietitian to develop a personalized diet and lifestyle plan for you.

If you are a vegan with PCOS, did you find this article helpful? If so, please share! We at least hope you are equipped with some more talking points to bring up with your health care provider/team.
If you would like to learn more about keeping things plant based, why not explore our blog? We discuss other topics like Intuitive Eating and Veganism: Is it Possible? and Dietitian Selected Plant Based Diet Books.
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