PCOS diet: The best Nigeran foods for PCOS management =
Healthy Eating Tips, Healthy Living, Women's Health & Wellness

PCOS diet: The best Nigerian food to manage PCOS 

The food you eat makes or mars your PCOS journey. To help you make healthy PCOS diet choices, we spoke with health-related experts, namely Dr. Rebekah Oluokun, Eseoghene Asagba (a certified nutritionist), and Oluwamayode Olumoroti (a freelance nutritionist and food consultant).

If you have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)—the endocrine disorder that affects reproductive-age women—questions about weight, diet options, male-pattern hair growth, and irregular periods are going to be on your lips. They’re potential alerts to the disorder that affects one in six Nigerian women. 

PCOS treatment and diagnosis, however, are obscure and dynamic, with genes, family history, ethnicity, and diet contributing to its development. Despite the ambiguity of its root cause, dietary changes provide a ray of hope for PCOS management. But how does diet affect women’s cysts, and what foods should you prioritize (or avoid) to manage PCOS? 

To answer these questions and other diet-related PCOS puzzles, PricePally sought the guidance of medical and nutritional experts: Dr. Rebekah Oluokun (a medical doctor), Eseoghene Asagba (a certified nutritionist), and Oluwamayode Olumoroti (a freelance nutritionist and food consultant). Read on to learn the best foods for managing PCOS. 

Before diving deep into the PCOS diet waters, the main points you should note are:

  • Genetics, family history, and diet choices affect PCOS management.
  • Dietary changes aren’t a silver bullet for managing PCOS, but the ketogenic, anti-inflammatory, and DASH diets are effective for managing PCOS.
  • Women with PCOS should prioritize foods with a low glycemic index and avoid ultra-processed foods. 
  • Lifestyle changes like exercising, stress management, and joining a support group improve health outcomes for PCOS women.

A brief dive into Polycystic Ovarian Symptoms (PCOS)

Signs of PCOS in Nigerian womenIt’s a hormonal condition that affects the behavior of the ovaries. In PCOS, women have excess androgen levels (hyperandrogenism) and small, painless, multiple cysts in their ovaries. The condition affects menstruation, reproductive health (ovulation), and hormonal imbalance. 

Several metabolic pathways influence hyperandrogenism in women. Some of them are listed below

  • the hypersecretion of the luteinizing hormone (LH) relative to the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).
  • impaired hypothalamic-pituitary feedback.
  • premature arrest of activated primary follicles.

Health tip: Birth control pills don’t cause PCOS. Instead, they may trigger PCOS-like symptoms because of hormonal imbalances after you stop using them. On the contrary, hormonal birth control pills are “first-line medical treatments” for PCOS because they regulate the menstrual cycle and lower the production of the male sex hormone in women.

Insulin resistance, genetics and epigenetics, and excessive body fat are other factors that may trigger hyperandrogenism and, by extension, PCOS in women. 

PCOS symptoms vary among women, including the following: 

  • acne or oily skin
  • excessive male-pattern hairiness (hirsutism) and baldness
  • weight gain around the belly
  • menstrual disorders such as amenorrhea, oligomenorrhea, and menorrhagia 
  • polycystic ovaries
  • anovulation (absence of ovulation)

Similarly, women with PCOS are at increased risk of the following health conditions: 

  • type 2 diabetes
  • obesity
  • hypertension and heart-related diseases
  • cancer of the inner lining of the uterus (endometrial cancer) and ovarian cancer
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • suicide
  • infertility 

PCOS: What role does diet play?

“You are what you eat” holds water in PCOS. The quality of the food you eat increases the risk of developing the syndrome. 

The main culprit in food is the Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs), formed when fats and proteins combine with sugar in the bloodstream. Although the body makes AGEs, you can consume them through heat-treated foods, fast food, and smoking. 

AGEs increase the likelihood of PCOS by altering the steroid breakdown in polycystic ovaries and affecting enzyme behavior. It may also cause AGE-induced insulin resistance and inflammatory changes that affect steroid production in the ovaries. The changes are likely to cause hyperandrogenism and ovulation dysfunctionality in women with PCOS.  

Additionally, AGEs increase the chances of developing bodily stress, inflammation, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, with the latter two health conditions known to worsen PCOS conditions in women.

PCOS diet: Which food should you eat and why? 

A standardized, one-size-fits-all PCOS diet doesn’t exist, as women’s experiences vary. Eseoghene explains it like this: “People have peculiar experiences with PCOS, and that’s why it’s important to consult a nutritionist [or dietician] for a more personalized approach to managing it.”

Based on the available research and comments from the health experts we interviewed, dietary changes improve PCOS management. Read the summary of our findings below. 

1. Eat low-calorie, high-fiber foods

Obesity and weight-related issues are never far from PCOS women. The best way to deal with it is by avoiding foods that promote excess sugar in the body. In this sense, Dr. Rebekah recommends the ketogenic diet (KD). The keto diet restricts carbohydrate intake while increasing protein and healthy fat quotas. 

She said, “Foods containing low simple sugars but rich in vitamins and fiber are effective for overweight PCOS women. Prioritize eating several fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like fish and eggs. Carbohydrates and starchy foods, on the other hand, should be eaten in controlled portions.” 

Her stance is scientifically accurate: in 2020, KD lowered the body mass index (BMI) of PCOS women by three points and caused them to lose an average of 20 pounds across 12 weeks. Similarly, in 2023, KD significantly reduced free testosterone (the acne and hair growth driver in PCOS women) and the hypersecretion of LH relative to FSH—the hormones responsible for excess androgen. 

Health tip: Always prioritize low glycemic index (GI) foods, especially if you’re trying to lose weight with PCOS. Low-GI foods decrease body fat, shrink waist circumference, and reduce appetite for food. 

2. Don’t shy away from protein

Eseogehene Asagba, a certified nutritionist, explains why women with PCOS women must elevate protein intake in their diet. A high-protein diet is a no-brainer for PCOS women, especially if they’re struggling with obesity. “Women with PCOS shouldn’t shy away from protein. They’ll benefit more from a diet slightly higher in protein than carbohydrates. It improves insulin sensitivity and weight management,” Eseoghene said.  

Similarly, Oluwamayode said PCOS women will have improved health income with the following changes: “Swap red meat for white meat [e.g., chicken and turkey meat]. Replace saturated fat [e.g., butter and cheese] with unsaturated fat [nuts, plant-based oils, and avocados]. Consume grilled (not fried) foods and drink more water.”

3. Anti-inflammatory and DASH diets are best for the heart

The best foods for PCOS women in NigeriaInflammation—the unwanted extended response of the immune system to sickness or injury—is one of the conditions PCOS aggravates in women, leading to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other cardiovascular diseases. 

Meanwhile, Eseoghene believes an anti-inflammatory and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet are lifestyle changes that may ease inflammatory markers and the risk of heart disease in PCOS women. 

In her words, “Eat foods high in fiber like whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. Prioritize protein-rich foods (e.g., meat, chicken, fish, turkey), legumes and eggs, and healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and avocado. Eseoghene also urged women with PCOS to “limit their intake of processed foods, highly refined carbohydrates, and processed meats.” 

In 2015, an anti-inflammatory diet consisting of fish, legumes, nuts, olive oil, spices, and green tea helped PCOS women lose 7% of their body weight and improved their cholesterol levels, blood pressure, inflammatory markers, and menstrual cyclicity.

Summarily, prioritize the following foods in your PCOS diet:.

  • non-starchy and leafy green vegetables, e.g., broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, and kale
  • nuts and seeds, e.g., almonds, walnuts, and chia seeds
  • legumes, e.g., beans, lentils, black beans, and green beans
  • fatty fish,  e.g., salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna
  • whole grains, e.g., brown rice, oats, and barley
  • berries like strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries
  • healthy oils, e.g., extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil
  • low-fat or fat-free dairy, e.g., fat-free milk and low-fat yogurt

Shopping tip: PricePally is your one-stop shop for PCOS-friendly food items in Nigeria. 

PCOS diet: Which foods should you avoid? 

The worst foods for PCOS women in NigeriaInsulin resistance, the insensitivity of your body to the hormone that regulates blood sugar, is a major PCOS symptom, affecting weight management and reproductive health. Oluwamayode puts it this way: “Excess glucose is one of the causes of insulin resistance. If PCOS women reduce the carbs they eat, they’ll have less glucose in the body and reduce the severity of insulin resistance.” 

As a result, limiting foods that promote insulin resistance is the rule of thumb for foods to avoid in your PCOS diet. 

Oluwamayode advised women with PCOS to avoid the following foods: 

  • fried foods
  • high-salt foods, e.g., canned soups and pizza
  • saturated fat
  • ultra-processed foods
  • high-calorie drinks and added sugars 
  • starchy foods, like white rice, should be taken in controlled proportion

Similarly, Eseoghene touted processed meats (e.g., bacon, sausage, and hot dogs) as persona non-grata for PCOS women because they’re prone to AGE formation that complicates its management. 

Other AGE-rich foods you should remove from your PCOS diet include: 

  • high-fat dairy products (e.g., full-fat cheese and whole milk)
  • red meat (e.g., beef, pork, and lamb), especially when fried or cooked at high temperatures
  • dry-heat processed foods like chips, crackers, and cookies

What’s next after the PCOS diet?

We asked our health experts about other ways to improve PCOS management besides dieting. 

1. Early diagnosis is the real deal

Dr. Rebekah Oluokun explains the importance of early diagnosis in PCOS management. PCOS begins in women aged 18–39, but it’s largely undetected or never detected at all (almost 70% of women with PCOS are unaware of the condition). Inevitably, the delayed diagnosis worsens PCOS symptoms and management

However, early diagnosis can help you nip the pain in the bud, as Dr. Rebekah pointed out: “Early diagnosis is key because it saves a lot of women from the rude shock of it [PCOS] and its possible complications. If any woman notices excessive acne or hair on her body and irregular periods, among other symptoms, she should visit the hospital for evaluation because it might be nothing and it might be PCOS.” 

2. A little lifestyle change here and there makes a difference

Eseoghene Asagba, a certified nutritionist, explains the importance of exercise, rest, and sleep in PCOS management.Managing PCOS is tough. Lifestyle changes make it better. “Be more physically active—engage in strength training, get adequate sleep, and maintain less stress,” Eseoghene said. 

Engaging in moderate or vigorous exercise for at least 30 minutes three times a week does wonders for PCOS reproductive symptoms, per this study.

Dr. Rebekah provided more practical ways women with PCOS can exercise. 

She said, “There are no absolute, clear-cut exercises specific to women with PCOS.  Lift weight (but not too heavy) and avoid strenuous exercise because the body may produce stress hormones in such cases that would counter the desired effect. [For women with PCOS, especially those targeting weight loss, the goal of exercising is to stay in a calorie deficit.”

3. You need a support system

Oluwamayode Olumoroti, a nutritionist and freelance food consultant, explains the importance of support groups for stress management in PCOS women. PCOS is like the proverbial hydra, with many twists and turns, making it an emotional and mental rollercoaster for women. As a result, stress is an environmental factor that triggers PCOS or makes it hard to manage. 

Oluwamayode, however, highlighted support groups for dealing with the emotional and mental stress that comes with managing PCOS. “Join a support group, especially if you’re prone to worry, to discuss your feelings with a therapist [and other PCOS women],” Oluwamayode explained.

Support groups provide evidence-based information, peer-to-peer upliftment, and partnerships with healthcare professionals to manage the syndrome as healthily as possible. Other benefits of PCOS support groups for PCOS management include: 

  • improved communication and openness to discussing PCOS symptoms with healthcare providers, leading to better health outcomes.
  • better sense of control for PCOS women.
  • accessibility to practical information.

Some of the PCOS support groups you can join in Nigeria include: 

N.B.: PricePally isn’t affiliated with any of the groups or individuals. Any subsequent collaboration should adhere to the terms and conditions of the specific groups. 

FAQs about PCOS diet in Nigeria

Can I still get pregnant and have children if I have PCOS?

PCOS interferes with the reproductive hormones responsible for menses and ovulation, which may cause fertility issues if left unmanaged. But PCOS women can get pregnant and bear children with adequate healthcare. 

Which fruits are best for PCOS?

The best and worst fruits for PCOS for women in NigeriaWomen with PCOS should eat fruits that keep their sugar levels and insulin levels at bay to avoid diabetes or prediabetes. Fruits generally contain natural sugars, like fibers, that don’t raise blood sugar, but not every fruit has the same effect. 

For women with PCOS, the generic rule is to eat high-fiber fruits with a GI below 55. GI explains how carbohydrates affect blood sugar. The lower the number, the slower it raises the sugar level in the body.

Examples of the best fruits for PCOS are listed below: 

  • berries, e.g., raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries 
  • apples 
  • grapefruits
  • oranges
  • pears
  • African star apple
  • kiwi
  • avocado
  • apricots 

In contrast, PCOS women should avoid the fruits listed below. While fruits are rich sources of vitamins, antioxidants, and other essential nutrients, they have a high sugar content (the GI is above 55–70).