Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) Diet: Do’s & Dont’s

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

For women suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, the PCOS diet plan is one of the best ways to manage the symptoms and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Due to the seriousness of this medical condition, it is important to fully understand why this diet is so important, the effects it can have on the body, and the specific foods you should choose and avoid while following the PCOS diet.

What is the PCOS Diet?

The PCOS diet plan is a specially designed diet for women who are suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Also known as Polycystic Ovarian Disease (PCOD), this condition is characterized by an excess of hormones, called androgens, building up in a woman’s body. This hormonal imbalance can cause cysts to develop on the ovaries, which can cause irregular menstruation, or even completely stop a woman’s period. The high level of androgens can also cause secondary symptoms, such as acne, hair growth, or baldness. However, the most notable symptoms are obesity and insulin resistance; more than 50% of women who suffer from this condition are overweight, largely due to the increased levels of insulin in the body. [1]

Given how common obesity is in this condition, a specific diet was developed to counteract some of the symptoms, such as increased insulin resistance, which can greatly increase a woman’s chances of developing diabetes. A 2017 study involving Danish women, published by the Endocrine Society, has discovered that those with PCOS were four times more prone to develop diabetes than those who didn’t have. It furthermore stated that women with PCOS were likely to be diagnosed with diabetes four years earlier than their counterparts who didn’t have the gynecological condition. [2]

A label saying 'PCOS diet', a fitness tape, and grapefruit slices

Dark red fruits, such as grapefruit, red grapes, and cherries, are part of a healthy PCOS diet. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Foods to Avoid in the PCOS Diet

If you are following the PCOS diet, you should avoid sugary and processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, soy products and dairy products, among others.


The liver is critical in the elimination of excess hormones in the body, which is the primary problem in PCOS. Alcohol consumption can put a strain on the liver, which makes it harder to manage the hormone levels. Furthermore, alcohol contains high levels of sugar, which can exacerbate insulin resistance and make it harder to lose weight. [3]


One of the worst side effects of cysts on the ovaries is that they can inhibit a woman from getting pregnant. Since caffeine is also known to lead to infertility, excessive caffeine consumption should be avoided if you are following a strict PCOS diet plan. [4]

Soy Products

Soy is known to affect hormone levels in the body and the regularity of menstruation. When soy products are combined with PCOS, it can make matters worse and further disrupt normal menstrual cycles. [5]

Dairy Products

It is difficult to eliminate dairy products from a balanced diet, but there are numerous compounds in yogurt, cheese, and milk that can cause testosterone levels to rise, or remain unchecked, in the body. Since PCOS sufferers are already struggling to suppress androgen levels, consuming dairy products is counterproductive. [6]

Processed Meat

Highly processed foods tend to be high in trans fats and saturated fats, two things that can increase inflammation and generally put a strain on the body. Some common ingredients in processed foods, like deli meat, can even cause an increase in testosterone. [7]

Simple Sugars

Since PCOS makes it difficult for the body to control the level of insulin in the body, adding more simple carbohydrates to your body will only make matters worse, says a study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Basic sugars that come from white bread, pasta, snacks, and junk foods will stimulate even more production of insulin, exacerbating the symptoms of PCOS. [8]

Healthy Foods to Include in the PCOS Diet

If you are suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, your diet should include fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, grass-fed meat, beans, and legumes.

Healthy Fats

Remember that it is important to consume healthy fats in any balanced diet, and in the case of PCOS, you should consume omega-3 fatty acids and other monounsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds, oily fish and olive oil, among others. This can help eliminate toxins and support your body’s metabolic processes, including hormone regulation. [9]

Organic Meat

You want to consume grass-fed meat when you do eat lean protein sources, so organic meat is a great food to start with. This also won’t have a lot of antibiotics and chemicals added to the meat, which can sometimes interfere with hormonal activity in the body. [10]

Beans and Legumes

Although you want to eliminate simple carbohydrates that have a high Glycemic Index, more complex carbohydrates are needed for energy, and shouldn’t dramatically elevate your blood sugar and insulin levels. Beans, nuts, and legumes all take some effort to digest, so the release of blood sugar is therefore regulated in your body. [11]


All types of vegetables should be included in the PCOS diet plan, including green leafy vegetables and vibrant, antioxidant-filled veggies like tomatoes, carrots, and peppers. While these do contain carbohydrates, the benefits of their dietary fiber in controlling insulin levels, as well as their vitamins and antioxidants, making them a healthy addition to a PCOS diet. [12]


Some fruits can cause a spike in blood sugar due to their high concentration of fructose. However, there are certain fruits with a low Glycemic Index that should be included for their fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins, such as kiwi, watermelon, guava, cantaloupe, and strawberries. [13] [14]

PCOS Diet Plan

If you are just starting out on a PCOS diet plan, you can follow this simple guide as a daily framework.


Blend coconut water, peeled pears, protein powder, chia seeds, and peanut butter into a thick and hearty breakfast shake. This will have a generally low glycemic impact, meaning that it won’t stimulate the production of more insulin.


A simple salad of spinach, tomatoes, carrots, and cucumbers, with a sandwich on whole-wheat bread, filled with tuna, tomatoes or egg salad.


You can glaze a piece of grilled chicken with sesame oil and serve it with fried brown rice, with eggs mixed in the rice, for a protein-dense, low-sugar meal.


You can grab a string cheese and an apple, or something simple like celery sticks with a hummus dip, for a filling snack that won’t cause an insulin spike.

Weight Loss Diet Plan in PCOS

Considering that one of the major symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is obesity, some people want to tailor the PCOS diet plan to lose weight. If this is also your goal, ensure that you focus on protein intake, exercise regularly, restrict your calories and find a support network, among others.


You will want 30-40% of your calorie intake to be in the form of protein. This will stimulate muscle growth, which kicks the metabolism into high gear, where it can burn more calories (and fat) to support muscle cells. [15]

Calorie Limits

Weight loss depends heavily on exercise and dietary choices, but the most important aspect is creating a calorie deficit. It is crucial that you burn more calories than you consume on a daily basis if you want to lose weight. [16]


As mentioned, exercise is critical to losing weight, although some people simply go on a diet and expect to see results. You must also stay active and work hard to burn additional calories by working out 4-5 times per week, for at least 30 minutes per session. [17]

Support Network

A support network can be invaluable as you embark on a weight loss journey, particularly if you are also suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Fortunately, there are many resources, both online and in-person, for women who are struggling with this condition. Have a support network can give you encouragement when you need it, as well as advice on diet and lifestyle choices that can mitigate the symptoms of PCOS.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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