The Best (and worst) Diet for PCOS
The Best (and Worst) Diets for PCOS

What is the best diet for PCOS?Best Diet for PCOS

I hear it all the time… “What about [this] diet, or [that] diet?”

Good news- the answer is simple.  There is no best diet for everyone- not even for every woman with PCOS.

Everyone’s body is different, and no diet could possibly work for every person.  What works for your auntie may not work for your neighbor.

In my years of personal experience, training, research, and helping thousands of women overcome their most challenging symptoms, I have discovered certain commonalities.  For most, the best diet for women with PCOS is a gluten-free, low dairy, and whole food diet.

This is the diet I use for my PCOS Diva Jumpstart program and what my meal plans are based upon.  It is best for women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome because it will decrease the symptoms of PCOS by eliminating inflammation and helping to regulate insulin.  These two factors are the root cause of many of our worst symptoms including infertility, hirstuism, acne, and difficulty losing weight.

Here is a bird’s eye view of popular diets:

Diet In a Nut Shell Balances Insulin Tames Inflammation Good for PCOS Bad for PCOS
Paleo Eat like a Neanderthal! This diet encourages participants to eat meats and vegetables- basically anything found as-is in nature. Maybe Maybe No processed foods or gluten, (low) dairy Doesn’t focus on specifically low glycemic foods to control insulin. Many women with PCOS need some gluten-free grains to feel balanced/grounded.
Carb Counting (Weight Watchers) Participants,can eat what they want within a point limit. Each food is given a number of,points.,Healthy foods that fill you up,have fewer points than foods that are empty calories. Group meetings and,weigh-ins give accountability and support. No No Encourages conscious eating Includes gluten and dairy, does not consider inflammatory foods or,balancing of insulin
Low Carb,(Atkins, South Beach) These diets emphasize high protein, fiber and nutrient rich foods and,limit processed foods. Yes- South Beach

No-Atkins

 No  These have little dairy and no gluten (though some is phased back in).  South Beach watches the glycemic index of vegetables and fruits. Gluten rich and inflammatory products are eventually allowed.
Prepared Meals,(Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem) Participants,eat prepackaged low-calorie food. Fruits and vegetables may be added. A consultant,may offer support in person or on the phone.,Once close to their weight loss goal, participants begin to prepare,some of their own meals.  No  No Most food is processed and prepackaged (exactly what we should avoid).  The diet is not designed to manage insulin or inflammation and includes foods that aggravate both.
Slim Fast Focuses on portion control using primarily Slim Fast meal replacement,products.  No  No  Meal replacement shakes are gluten free. Slim Fast products are processed. The diet is not designed to manage insulin or inflammation and includes foods that aggravate both.
FODMAP This is a popular plan for people,with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).,Participants,limit foods high in fructose, lactose, fructans, galactans and,polyols.  Maybe  No  Limits dairy Allows gluten and some dairy which may elevate inflammation.

Fiber intake may decrease.

Metabolic Typing Participants,determine their metabolic type and adapt their diet to include only the foods,that their body type requires. A participant’s type determines the percentage,of protein, fat and carbs consumed daily.  No  No Helps participants understand their cravings and keys into foods that can get them under control The diet is not designed to manage insulin or inflammation and includes foods that aggravate both
Carb Cycling Carb,cycling participants alternate high-carb and low-carb days. All foods are,allowed.  No  No Makes participants aware of carbohydrate consumption and identifies healthy sources for carbohydrates Big swings in carbohydrate levels may stimulate insulin fluctuations.  Does not eliminate inflammatory foods
Vegan Vegans don’t eat meat, fish, poultry,or other animal products and by-products such as eggs, dairy products, honey,,etc.,A healthy vegan diet includes,fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grain products, nuts, seeds, and,legumes.  No  No Vegans must eat lots of healthy foods. Dairy is not allowed You will need a B12 (and possibly iron) supplement.  Vegans may eat processed and gluten filled foods. The vegan diet does not eliminate inflammatory foods or consider insulin regulation.
PCOS Diva Jumpstart and Meal Plans This diet and lifestyle plan encourages participants,to consume unprocessed, whole foods in a balanced way. It eliminates inflammatory foods like gluten,and dairy.  Yes  Yes Eliminates processed and inflammatory foods. Considers insulin regulation. Encourages lifestyle changes that reduce PCOS symptoms.  N/A

There is no one size fits all definition of PCOS, and there is no one size fits all diet.

Part of being a PCOS Diva is listening to your body and the cues it sends you. My body responds best to a whole food, gluten-free, processed soy-free, low dairy diet with lots of veggies, some clean animal protein, a bit of gluten-free grains, healthy fat, and low glycemic fruit.

Many of the diets listed could be adapted to eliminate foods that inflame PCOS symptoms.

PCOS Meal Plans

Experiment, listen to your body, and trust your inner voice.  Your body wants to be healthy; you just have to find the right combination of diet and activity that help it do its job.

My opinion is based upon years of research and experience working with thousands of women with PCOS.  Of course, I encourage you to do your own research, talk to your doctor, and not just take my opinion.  As I always say, “knowledge is power.”

I welcome your opinion and experience. Please comment below and share this article with women who share our PCOS struggle.  Our mutual support can be our greatest strength.

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  • Audrey

    Amy — just wondering about Paleo? Most people who practice strict paleo consume no dairy, no grains and no legumes, and little fruit. Wouldn’t this aid in balancing insulin and reducing inflammation?

  • Gina Repole-Taylor

    HI Amy, Just wanted to pass along that since I’ve started with your Meal Plans, my bloating and sugars have been perfect!!! Love the menu’s and variety. Great job!

    • Amy Anderson Medling

      I’m so happy to hear this good news!

  • Nora Watzke

    Hey everyone I just have to say when I first got diagnosed with PCOS I was in the dark I couldn’t find a specialist or even a GYN that would listen to what I was going through and I noticed after a few weeks that everytime I ate certain foods I’d get sick and get insane headaches that would put me down and I was already dealing w extreme pain in my ovary (mine tends to be mainly left side) The drs wouldn’t listen and or didn’t know how to help me and so I started keeping a journal of what I ate which was barely anything even though you couldn’t tell by looking at me (sigh) but after a few days I noticed a pattern anytime I ate bread of any kind , cereal of any kind, pasta normal not gluten free or milk, chips etc…..I’d become very sick I’d throw up and be put down by ovary pains and extremely awful headaches for hours so I decided to test it and I stopped eating anything w gluten in it…..from March 2012 to September 2012 I was scared and alone as i stated the drs I seen couldn’t help me much other than prescribing 2000 mgs of metformin daily they didn’t know much about the condition…..when I started my monthly cycle in March of 2012 I didn’t stop until that September, 6 months and it was painful and I was very emotional well who wouldn’t be ? within 2 weeks of stopping all gluten I stopped…my cycle just stopped and I have had regular 28 day cycles every Month since. I told my GYN and she was thrilled to know I found something and she started telling other patients about it cause it works for every aspect of PCOS…in 3 months I lost 37lbs and I didn’t do anything….except stop eating gluten and take my metformin daily. Up until it stopped she the GYN kept trying to get me to get a hot water ablation done to control my cycle and I refused cause maybe some day I’d like another child….and I’m glad I.did and I’m glad I listened to my body….I hope you all have the same amount of luck I did ……Nora

    Diagnosed September 2012….and still fighting daily!

  • Dawn Franchi

    My daughter is 17 and has been diagnosed with pros. Recently she has been feeling nauseous all the time and it gets worse after she eats. Can anyone tell me if this can be caused by diet and by pcos?

    • Sarah

      I found that my low progesterone levels were what caused me to feel nauseous every day. Once my doctor got me on a natural progesterone cream, my energy went up and the nausea went away. It’s common for women with PCOS to also have low progesterone levels.

      • Dawn Franchi

        Thank you Sarah. I called my daughter’s doctor and posed the question of her progesterone being off. Her answer basically was if she was nauseous when she had her period maybe but no it’s not that. I took her to the gastro doctor he thinks it’s psychological or acid reflux. I feel like I can’t win. I guess it’s possible it’s her nerves because aside from the recent pcos diagnosis she’s worrying about picking a college and school work. She doesn’t handle stress well. Thank you for your response.

        • Sarah

          Dawn,
          Your daughter’s situation sounds so much like me growing up. I saw every doctor I could and everyone said I was “fine” and they couldn’t find anything wrong with me. It wasn’t until I got way sicker as I kept getting older that my labs were finally “bad enough” to get me some diagnosis. Please don’t give up on finding answers and finding doctors who will and can help. If you haven’t already, please search for holistic doctors, DOs, Chiropractors, anyone who looks at the whole body and preventative medicine. There are many problems with traditional medicine, but one major issue is that MDs tend to follow strict guidelines when it comes to lab numbers. For example, completely hypothetical since I can’t remember the actual numbers, but say that your progesterone needs to be 20 or lower for the doctor to put you on a progesterone supplement. Well, if her number is 21, or 20.5, or even 25, she could still be symptomatic and need medicine or supplementation. She may just need a lower dose which could greatly improve how she feels. Just because we maybe don’t fall into the exact range that doctor’s follow for diagnosing conditions through labs, doesn’t mean she isn’t on the boarder, and suffering from a lot of symptoms. Holistic type doctors tend to understand this better and will find a treatment or a wider range. Wishing you and your daughter all the best and praying you can find some help!

    • Amy Anderson Medling

      Women with PCOS often have hypoglycemia. If she is eating high carb/sugar foods this can lead to a feeling of nausea after eating.

      • Dawn Franchi

        Amy I called my daughter’s doctor and she said it’s not that because her blood work is fine. I feel like I can’t win. I feel so bad because I can’t help her. She’s scheduled for an endoscopy but somehow I don’t think it’s going to help. I guess it’s possible it’s her nerves.

        • Amy Anderson Medling

          Dawn – I had to get a glucometer to measure my blood sugar pre and post meals. That is how I found out my blood sugar was taking a dip.

  • Amy Anderson Medling

    Hi Audrey, Paleo is a good choice for women with PCOS if you follow the strict version and avoid gluten and dairy. This should go a long way to reducing your inflammation and symptoms. Be careful about the glycemic index of the fruits and vegetables you choose and you may be all set. As always, listen to your body and modify as necessary. Good luck!

  • Nina

    I am actually a vegan/vegetarian. I consume no gluten or processed foods so wouldn’t this balance insulin and reduce inflammation? I also eat some grains (brown rice, quinoa) and avoid the high carb fruits, mainly sticking with berries. I like the chart you proposed but it’s a little too cut and dry.

    • Amy Anderson Medling

      Hi Nina. Yes, avoiding gluten and processed foods will definitely help! Your choices within the vegan framework are exactly the reason I say in the article that many of these diets can be modified to work for women with PCOS. Remember, this is a just a “bird’s eye view.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • kara

      Hey Nina! I’m in the same boat as you and have just seen a doctor who told me I really need to think my choice to be a vegetarian as it is seriously compromising my health and ability to lose weight. I ethically can’t imagine ever going back to eating meat though and so am trying to find out how to treat PCOS on a vegetarian/vegan diet (I don’t have dairy). Just wondering what has worked for you or if you know of any resources which talk about it? (Everything I’ve seen online has been super vague and unhelpful) Thanks.

  • Erica Jones

    What exactly does whole food mean?

    • Amy Anderson Medling

      Whole food is not processed or refined (or processed as little as possible) and does not contain any additives. For example, organic chicken is a whole food. A bagel is not.

    • Liz

      Unprocessed food 🙂

  • Nthabiseng Dube

    Hi Amy- I’m in my late 20s… I’m worried about this condition I just found out this month after I’ve been in several Doctors the past three years about my left swollen ovary… and I’ve been trying to conceive for the last four years and I got married in 2012 and I’m loosing hope now, I’ve been eating well, exercising and now I decided to Google about PCOS I see that I have to take Vitamins so I was wondering which Vitamins should I take the best ones for my condition? I’m from South Africa I haven’t find a good Doctor for my condition, the one who can talk to me and advice me of what to do.

    PLEASE HELP

  • Dawn Franchi

    What is it about gluten that causes problems with pcos? When my daughter was younger she was lactose intolerant but it did go away. It wouldn’t be difficult for her to go dairy free because she’s done it before. This may sound crazy but I’m so confused about what kind of bread to give her. She loves wheat bread but I read that’s not good.

  • Debbie

    Eating Paleo has worked for me! I lost 45 lbs in 6 months and fell pregnant in the 6th month!

  • Gina Raines Vogel

    What if you have PCOS and Fatty Liver?

    • Liz

      Forks over knives, not only for PCOS, but for most diseases 🙂

  • kara

    Are there any PCOS sufferers who are vegetarian? I have basically been told by my doctor that I really have to rethink about being a vegetarian as it is compromising my health and ability to lose weight. I eat a whole food diet and exercise vigorously but can’t lose weight. I don’t think I can ethically bring myself to eat meat again and have found no articles or good websites surrounding this subject of vegetarianism and pcos so if anyone has any advice or know where I can find out more, I’d love you to!

    • Jbarb

      I’m sorry your doctor is wrong. Fiber can do wonderful things for insulin and research shows that just eating lower calorie helps with insulin resistance and pcos. Low carb diets being best for PCOS is only a theory, it’s actually never been tested it’s only an assumption made from people with diabetes doing well on lower GI diets. The only food shown to aggravate PCOS is dairy in a scientific study. I’d try to limit that as a vegetarian and focus on eggs, tofu, nuts, and beans as your protein sources. However, you can overeat healthy whole foods so I would say you need to track your portions to lose weight. Be careful not to overexercise, exercising too much can cause more inflammation rather than helping with inflammation.

    • Liz

      Documentary: Forks over knives 🙂
      Wholefood, low fat plant based is key 🙂
      Nutritionfacts.org

      • Liz

        Bite-sized vegan on YouTube is also very educational 🙂

    • Maria Pettit

      I was a vegetarian for 18 years (from 12 to 30 years old) and I consistently gained weight even when eating a healthy diet. I was a health nut as a teenager and young adult, in part because of my vegetarianism. I started eating seafood a couple of years ago, but can’t really bring myself ethically to eat poultry or anything like that – I can’t even eat octopus because I think they’re too smart. Honestly, I feel a lot better physically now that I don’t consume soy products and I think overconsumption of soy, even in the form of tofu, has been really problematic for my hormone balance long term.

      I found that the most important thing for me is doing something sustainable. If it’s not absolutely perfect, but helps you be better, I’d prefer that over yo-yo dieting and fighting for perfection. Perfect can come after some balance is achieved and things shift in the right direction. Eating more eggs has helped me, though I know they’re a contentious issue in a lot of diets. Maybe consider eating some seafood, things like mussels and clams that don’t really have…. brains or nervous systems. That is, if you can stomach them.

      Also, I don’t agree that low fat is best. I think Joel Fuhrman (https://www.drfuhrman.com/learn/health-concerns/100/pcos) has a lot of good information to offer, but I don’t follow his or any one source’s advice strictly. You have to find what works for you. Good luck!

  • Sarah

    You should look into the Shape Reclaimed program. It’s great: low/no carb, low fat, all Whole Foods. It’s doctor led and a lifestyle change long-term.

  • lauren

    This is not true. Will you put anything but gasoline in different models of cars (not diesel trucks)???
    Yea I didn’t think so. Which is why there IS ONE DIET FOR THE HUMAN BODY!!!

  • Erin Alexander

    I have PCOS but my insulin is 100% normal according to 3 endocrinologists. However I still struggle to lose weight, but can’t see myself doing KETO because I have high cholesterol.. any suggestions?

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