PCOS diet: foods to eat & foods to avoid

May 6, 2024

Written by Maeve Ginsberg

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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Key Points

  • Diet plays a crucial role in PCOS treatment to manage symptoms like insulin resistance and hyperandrogenism. 
  • Low-glycemic foods are important to minimize blood sugar spikes.
  • Inflammatory foods should be avoided. 

If you have polycystic ovarian syndrome, you have likely struggled with diet and weight. Due to the prevalence of insulin resistance in women with PCOS, weight loss can often be difficult. However, almost all PCOS symptoms can be managed and improved to a degree with the right diet. Eating the right foods to support healthy blood sugar and promote hormone balance can make a significant difference in symptoms.

Let's talk about the PCOS diet, what foods to eat for PCOS, and what foods to avoid.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome is an endocrine disorder affecting 6-10% of women of reproductive age worldwide. PCOS occurs when the ovaries are enlarged and produce more androgen hormones than normal, leading to hormonal imbalance, which can affect ovulation. For women with PCOS, this can mean the egg doesn't develop properly or doesn't release at all. It is also common to experience irregular periods or amenorrhea (lack of menstruation), as well as cysts in the ovaries.

Those with PCOS usually experience other symptoms as a result of hyperandrogenism, including excess hair on the face, hair, and body, as well as weight gain, skin tags, acne, hair loss, and skin darkening. It is often difficult to lose weight with PCOS and many are at risk (or already have) type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome. It is also common for women with PCOS to develop depression, anxiety, or sleep apnea.

The relationship between diet & PCOS

Because women with PCOS have so many metabolic risk factors, including insulin resistance, inflammation, metabolic syndrome, and obesity, diet plays a critical role in managing PCOS symptoms. Healthy weight is instrumental to improve insulin levels, lose weight, and restore regular ovulation and menstruation, so eating the right diet is vital.

The right PCOS diet can help you:

  • Lose weight
  • Lower blood sugars
  • Lower cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • Improve your hormonal balance
  • Decrease hair loss, acne, and menstrual irregularities
  • Improve inflammatory markers

In order to gain all these benefits, you need the right team by your side. A board-certified registered dietitian will be able to create the right PCOS diet for you based on your symptoms, medical needs, and personal goals. Find a PCOS dietitian near you.

What to eat for the PCOS diet

There is no singular diet for PCOS, but there are general guidelines to follow as you try to improve your symptoms. "I encourage women with PCOS to focus on low-glycemic foods," says Rita Faycurry, RD. "Those foods help minimize insulin spikes while keeping you nourished."

Foods to eat for PCOS include:

  • Low-GI fruits and vegetables, including leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables
  • Lean protein
  • Low-fat dairy in small quantities
  • Fish high in fatty acids
  • Healthy fats from olive oil, olives, fish oils, seeds, and almonds
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains and high fiber foods

The Mediterranean diet can be a good option due to its focus on whole foods and healthy fats. Some see success with the DASH diet, which prioritizes produce, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products while limiting saturated fasts, cholesterol, sugar, and refined grains. Your dietitian will work with you to find the right diet for your symptoms of PCOS.

It's also important to time your meals so that your blood sugar doesn't have too many extremes. Smaller, more frequent meals can help to keep blood sugar balanced rather than eating three larger meals. However, people respond differently to different meal timing, so you can work with your dietitian to find the right timing for you based on your schedule, preferences, and responsibilities.

Foods to avoid with PCOS

Because achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is so important for PCOS symptoms, as well as for managing insulin resistance, there are some foods it's generally advised to avoid. "For PCOS patients, I like to focus on the most health-promoting foods rather than demonize any particular foods," says Rita Faycurry, RD. "However, due to the amount of inflammation that is typically present with PCOS, inflammatory foods are usually wise to avoid."

Foods to avoid with PCOS include:

  • Saturated fats such as butter or margarine
  • Fried foods
  • Refined carbohydrates and flours, like white bread
  • Red meat, including hamburgers, roast beef and steaks, deli meat, and hot dogs
  • Processed foods like cookies, candy, cereal, and chips
  • Sugary beverages like soda and sports drinks
  • Alcoholic beverages

Find a PCOS dietitian

If you're overwhelmed by all the guidelines – or if you feel like you've already tried everything to lose weight and improve your PCOS symptoms – don't worry. You're not alone. Many women with PCOS struggle to find the right diet to achieve a healthy weight and improve their symptoms.

That's where a PCOS dietitian comes in. There are nutritional professionals out there who specialize in managing polycystic ovary syndrome through diet to improve symptoms and promote weight loss as needed.

As board-certified providers, registered dietitians have access to the latest research and data on insulin resistance, symptoms of PCOS, excess androgen, and more. So when you work with an RD, they can provide the most up-to-date information about how to treat PCOS.

Your dietitian will create a custom PCOS diet for you based on your doctors' guidance, your symptoms, and your personal goals. If you want to conceive, that will be factored into your approach. If you are taking metformin or other PCOS medication, that will also be factored in. Your RD will help you better understand insulin resistance and the role it plays in your diet and can answer any questions you might have about how to take care of your body as you try to improve your PCOS symptoms.

When dealing with a condition as complicated and often frustrating as PCOS, it's important to have providers you can trust by your side for support and guidance. With Fay Nutrition, you can work with a board-certified registered dietitian covered by your insurance. Fay bills directly to insurance on your behalf, making the whole process much easier, and you could pay as little as $10 per session.

Get started with Fay Nutrition today.

The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.

  • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists -Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
  • Hormone and Metabolic Research - DASH diet, insulin resistance, and serum hs-CRP in polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized controlled clinical trial

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Maeve Ginsberg

Written by Maeve Ginsberg

Maeve Ginsberg is a health and wellness writer with a personal passion for fitness. As an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and former powerlifter, she loves combining her interests in health with her writing. Maeve has a Bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University. 

Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected, and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.