PCOS Diet 101 (+ What I Ate to Manage My Symptoms)‍

A detailed guide into the best PCOS diets.

When some people talk about managing PCOS symptoms like acne or irregular menstrual cycles, what they usually mean is: “What’s the best medication to fix this?” 

It’s no surprise that though lifestyle changes are recommended as key to managing PCOS, almost half of women with PCOS say they’ve never received any information about lifestyle management. And that’s a problem because getting the right guidance around diet and lifestyle is crucial to reducing the more serious complications tied to PCOS down the line, like type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

Unfortunately, most of us only receive treatment for our symptoms, not the root cause. 

I can attest to that: I visited three medical professionals and a professional skin therapist and none mentioned lifestyle changes to treat PCOS. Birth control and expensive skin products seemed to be the first line of treatment. 

The biggest change to my health came when I switched up my diet, and I’m not alone. I dropped extra weight, had more energy, and regulated my cycle. Below, we get into the basics of a PCOS diet.

Why diet affects PCOS

After almost two years of trying to conceive, Nadia Brito Pateguana was desperate.

Brito Pateguana, who is a naturopathic doctor, suspected she had PCOS. She’d gained 13 kilograms, was losing hair, and her skin was breaking out regularly. An ultrasound showed she had several cysts on her ovaries, while blood tests confirmed she had high levels of male hormones. Her own doctor confirmed her initial suspicions: she was officially diagnosed with PCOS.

Brito Pateguana knew that a low-carb diet had helped women in her own practice fall pregnant so she committed to a ketogenic diet. Within a month, she lost 2.5kg, her skin was clearing up, and her cycle became regular.

She soon fell pregnant. 

Brito Pateguana’s story is a case study in the power of diet to treat PCOS. She writes about it in depth in her book called The PCOS Plan.


Eating a healthy diet can make a significant difference in your PCOS symptoms. Specifically, diet can help you manage insulin resistance. PCOS is linked with higher levels of insulin resistance, when your body doesn't respond as well to insulin as it should. It can mess with your blood sugar levels and cause a bunch of health issues, like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. 

Insulin resistance is thought to be the root cause of many PCOS symptoms,  including irregular periods and infertility. In The Insulin Resistance Diet Plan & Cookbook: Lose Weight, Manage PCOS, and Prevent Prediabetes, Tara Spencer explains that she used a diet to overcome her insulin resistance. Spencer, who has PCOS, is a certified nutritionist and personal trainer.

“The ideal diet for someone suffering from insulin resistance is based on whole foods, with large quantities of protein, fiber, fruits, and vegetables. Most importantly, this diet should be low in sugars and white flours, with low glycemic load. This style of eating is simple, and more natural for most people to process and digest,” writes Spencer.

While a low-carb diet may improve insulin resistance, this doesn’t mean carbs are out completely. Complex carbohydrates (think 100% wholewheat bread, quinoa, and sweet potatoes) are packed with fiber and are digested more slowly. They’ll help regulate blood sugar levels and prevent insulin spikes. 

Instead, you’ll want to limit carbohydrates, including refined sugars, white bread, and pasta.

You’ll also want to restrict processed foods, such as chips, crackers, and sweets. Processed foods can be high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats and may contribute to insulin resistance.

Once I restricted processed foods and sugary drinks, I saw an immediate change in my health. 

I started to eat more vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Additionally, I cut out unhealthy snacks and switched to healthy alternatives like nuts and seeds.  I also made sure to consume foods that are rich in anti-inflammatory properties, such as turmeric and ginger. As a result, I felt less bloated, had more energy, and my skin cleared up.

Beyond dieting,I also started to exercise more regularly. Over time, I noticed that my mood improved and my energy levels increased. I was able to manage my PCOS symptoms more effectively. 

Maintaining a healthy diet was also crucial in my journey to managing PCOS. But it wasn't a natural process. My diet was horrible, and I needed to clean my eating habits. I’m not the only one.

Evidence shows that women with PCOS tend to have a less healthy diet overall, with higher cholesterol and lower levels of magnesium and zinc. They also tend to have lower levels of physical activity, although they drink less alcohol compared to women who don't have PCOS.

If this sounds familiar, don’t beat yourself up. We’re hardwired to crave salty, fatty, and sugary foods. In the book, How to Eat: All Your Food and Diet Questions Answered, authors Mark Bittman and David L. Katz examine how evolution influences what we want to eat.

Let’s look at the reasons:

  • Fatty food: Our taste buds enjoy the taste and texture of fat because it contains a lot of energy. Fat has more than double the amount of calories per gram compared to protein and carbohydrates. “If you were living in a world with scarce food and working hard to chase after your calories, fat would be a huge win.”
  • Salty foods: Salty foods naturally aren’t easy to come by. It started to get easier once we mined for salt. “...our craving for (salt) are ancient, and baked into our DNA. Give us a more than adequate supply and we may overconsume..”
  • Sugar: Sugar is found naturally in a lot of sources that are good for us, like fruit and breast milk. Problems start when we overeat. “Sugar is not unhealthy when the only places to find it are breast milk, whole fruits, and honey you have wrestle from a swarm of angry bees. The cravings were good in their native context; we’ve changed the context.” 

While there's no cure for PCOS, research points to a few PCOS-friendly diets that can put your PCOS into remission.

The best diets for PCOS

The world of diets can be confusing  - there’s just so many options, and it’s easy to experience overload. Here, the goal is to give you  a summary of  a few of the more widely studied diets for PCOS. A lot of people have written entire books about PCOS and insulin diets, and I’ll link to those resources. 

Low Glycemic Index (GI) Diet

 As the name suggests, this diet focuses on consuming foods that have a low glycemic index, which means they don't cause a rapid spike in blood sugar levels. Examples of low GI foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Research shows that this way of eating can reduce PCOS symptoms.

Mediterranean Diet

 Known as one of the easiest diets to follow, the Mediterranean  diet emphasises  whole, unprocessed foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, and healthy fats like olive oil and nuts. It’s been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation. Evidence suggests this way of eating is one the best for PCOS because it reduces the risk of serious illnesses commonly associated with the condition, like diabetes and hypertension. 

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Inflammation is a common factor in many chronic diseases, and PCOS is no different. An anti-inflammatory diet is high in foods that safeguard against inflammation. On this diet, you’ll eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. It also limits or eliminates inflammatory foods, eschewing processed foods, refined sugars, and saturated fats. A ton of research supports the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet. Scientists believe we can prevent several health conditions by filling our pantry with the right, anti-inflammatory foods. 


 The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet promotes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean proteins, and healthy fats while limiting sodium, added sugars, and saturated fats.  Following these guidelines may help you keep your blood pressure in check and lower your risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, we know these are all bigger worries for women with PCOS. And a review of trials showed that the Dash diet was linked with better insulin resistance. In fact, it had the same effect on insulin as metformin, a prescription drug for insulin sensitivity.

When it comes to dieting, most people would agree that weight loss is one measure of success. And a body of research shows weight loss is heavily dependent on diet adherence, not diet type. Put another way, the type of diet you follow matters less than your ability to see it through in the long term. So, it may be a good idea to find a diet that’s not overly restrictive. You’re more likely to stick with a flexible eating plan.

Here are some good recipe resources to get your started:

  • Insulin Resistance Cookbook
  • PCOS Plan
  • PCOS Nutrition Center

When I finally found relief from my symptoms, I was elated but I’d wish I’d done it years earlier. I’d have saved myself so much time, money, and emotional distress.

Featured image credit: Photo by SHVETS production