Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal, metabolic, and reproductive condition that affects 1 in 10 American women. It causes a whole host of painful and frustrating symptoms and, as of yet, has no cure. As a result, some professionals are turning to the healing power of food to provide symptom relief. Melissa Azzaro, an integrative registered dietitian, is one of those people.
Azzaro published a new book last month, A Balanced Approach to PCOS, which includes recommendations and recipes to help women include more of what she calls “PCOS Power Foods” to their diets. These foods are linked to health benefits like reducing inflammation, promoting hormone balance, and stabilizing blood sugar, which are known to help alleviate PCOS symptoms. We asked Azzaro to share some of her favorite “PCOS Power Foods” with us and give us some tips on the best way to sneak them into a daily routine.
Azzaro loves flax so much that it can be found in many of the recipes in her book. These little seeds come in handy for rebalancing hormones because they help remove excess androgens and estrogen from the body. If you’re considering adding flax to your diet, Azzaro says it is important to keep in mind that the human body can only digest and absorb ground flax. She recommends introducing flax into your diet in a simple way by adding it to smoothies, baked goods, or energy balls.
Because inflammation is common in women with PCOS, increasing consumption of foods that naturally contain Omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to have anti-inflammatory properties, can help support your body. Out of the seafood that is high in Omega-3s, Azzaro finds that salmon is the most accessible—and palatable. When shopping for salmon, Azzaro says that wild is best but that any version of salmon is still beneficial. Azzaro’s go-to quarantine recipe has been homemade salmon burgers using canned salmon because it takes five minutes to make and tastes delicious.
The liver plays a critical role in removing excess hormones from the body so eating foods that support your hard-working liver is essential. Azzaro explains that artichokes, which are high in fiber, are known to be particularly helpful in detoxifying the liver. She recommends popping artichokes into a chopped salad, pasta sauce, or risotto. If you can get your hands on frozen artichokes, Azzaro highly recommends using them as she finds they are much more flavorful. Just be sure to check that the ingredient list does not include a marinade of inflammatory oils like soybean or cotton oil.
Turmeric is a super potent anti-inflammatory that can be easily incorporated into many recipes, according to Azzaro. But because fresh turmeric is known to stain and is time-consuming to prepare she prefers to use a powdered version. Her favorite ways to use turmeric is to scramble it into eggs, sprinkle it into lentil soup, or brew a turmeric latte with coconut milk. Just remember that turmeric loses its potency over time so if your turmeric powder has been collecting dust in the back of your spice cabinet, toss it out and buy a new one.
Insulin resistance is known to be a common issue in women with PCOS but Azzaro says that incorporating just a quarter of a teaspoon of cinnamon a day may help lower blood sugar which, in turn, decreases your body’s insulin resistance. She encourages her clients to have fun with cinnamon by mixing it into smoothies, energy balls, and oats or sprinkling it over apples with nut butter or yogurt with flax and berries.
According to Azzaro, several small studies have found that women who drink two cups of spearmint tea a day had lower androgens by the end of the study. But Azzaro warns that finding pure spearmint tea in stores can be tough and you may need to resort to buying online. Wherever you decide to buy this tea, be sure to check the ingredient list as Azzaro says many companies try to mix in other ingredients. And while buying organic is always helpful, Azzaro emphasizes that it is not necessary.
An imbalanced gut microbiome can cause increased levels of androgens in women with PCOS, explains Azzaro. Lentils can help promote gut health, however, as they contain a high amount of soluble fiber. What Azzaro loves most about lentils is that they are the fastest, easiest, and most budget-friendly legume to cook. An added bonus is that they are an excellent source of plant-based protein.
Strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries are powerful little fruits according to Azzaro. Not only are they a low-sugar fruit and a good source of fiber, but they also contain high levels of antioxidants. And antioxidants, in turn, help reduce inflammation and balance blood sugar levels in the body. When possible, Azzaro says to buy berries when they are in season because they are more affordable and tastier but if they are out of season frozen berries are an excellent alternative.
Azzaro’s philosophy behind promoting PCOS Power Foods both in her book and when working with clients is a simple one: she prefers to teach women what foods they can eat rather than trying to force them into restrictive diets. So, she says not to worry about counting calories. Instead, consider finding opportunities to include these PCOS Power Foods into your meals for better hormonal health.