The Best (and Worst) PCOS Diets
by Amy Medling, founder of PCOS Diva
What is the best PCOS diet?
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 Discover Your PCOS Diva Jumpstart program, in my book Healing PCOS, 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||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.
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.
Amy Medling, author of Healing PCOS and certified health coach, specializes in working with women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), who are frustrated and have lost all hope when the only solution their doctors offer is to lose weight, take a pill, and live with their symptoms. In response, Amy founded PCOS Diva and developed a proven protocol of supplements, diet, and lifestyle programs that offer women tools to help gain control of their PCOS and regain their fertility, femininity, health, and happiness.
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?
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!
I’m so happy to hear this good news!
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!
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?
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.
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.
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!
Women with PCOS often have hypoglycemia. If she is eating high carb/sugar foods this can lead to a feeling of nausea after eating.
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.
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.
eating low carb will bring blood sugars down but will increase insulin tolerance = not addressing the cause, but patching up the symptoms
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!
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.
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!
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.
What exactly does whole food mean?
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.
Whole foods usually means healthy foods and healthy foods usually means fruits and veggies …. not animal products. Since chicken is associated with most weight gain of any meat tested, and obesity promoted diabetes, heart disease, PCOS and cancer, there is no valid reason to refer to chicken as “whole food”
Chicken and Obesity
Unprocessed food 🙂
No chemically tampered with = hydrogenated fats and oils
Whole foods usually means healthy foods and healthy foods usually means fruits and veggies …. not animal products.
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.
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.
Eating Paleo has worked for me! I lost 45 lbs in 6 months and fell pregnant in the 6th month!
What if you have PCOS and Fatty Liver?
Forks over knives, not only for PCOS, but for most diseases 🙂
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!
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.
Documentary: Forks over knives 🙂
Wholefood, low fat plant based is key 🙂
Bite-sized vegan on YouTube is also very educational 🙂
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!
Fish is horrible it’s consumption is associated with both diabetes and obesity.
Eggs are one of the worst foods you can eat for inflammation and cholesterol.
Cutting the carbs out is a hack, it is not sustainable and it is not healthy and adds on complications beyond what PCOS is associated with and causes more disease in the body than just PCOS.
I see that this was posted a year ago, so I don’t know if you’ll see this, but I wanted to tell you that I have been making the same inquiry you described and I recently found a resource that is helping me: http://www.masteringdiabetes.org/ This is a nutritional coaching program focused entirely on managing insulin resistance through a vegan diet. It’s called Mastering Diabetes because the owners, Cyrus Khambatta (who is in Forks Over Knives) and Robby Barbaro, were both diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in their teens or early twenties and their business primarily target diabetics, though they also work with women with PCOS. Cyrus and Robby just launched an affordable version of their coaching program, so if it is of interest to you, you might write to them and inquire about it.
I heard Cyrus speak at an event in San Francisco and he said that after he was diagnosed with both diabetes and Hashimoto’s disease, he adopted the diet his doctors recommended (low-carb, Paleo). He began to feel terrible. So, he talked to a lot of people and eventually decided to try out a specific form of a vegan diet (he had never been vegetarian before). It radically and rapidly improved his sense of health and energy. He was confused by this because it was opposite was his doctors told him should happen. He said he wondered if he was a biological freak, so he decided to go to UC Berkeley and complete a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry with his research focused on insulin sensitivity on a plant-based diet. Consequently, he is now _very_ informed about how to eat vegan in a healthy way that promotes insulin sensitivity. He learned that there are specific ways you can eat as a vegan that are actually optimal for insulin sensitivity, but if you don’t eat the right way, it won’t work. He has been eating this way for about a decade now, and he says he has great health, great sleep, great energy, and that his insulin sensitivity (already excellent) continues to improve–something he says he didn’t know was even possible based on his research reviews.
I have been eating a whole foods, plant-based vegan diet for many years (almost no soy, salt, sugar, oil, wheat or processed food of any kind). When I follow this diet, I feel great. When I don’t, when I am eating vegan junk food, I don’t feel great–I have miserable PCOS symptoms (though I didn’t know that’s what they were until this year). Mostly, I stay on track, but In 2016, I went through a seriously overwhelming period of life upheaval and got very off course with my diet and felt _so_ bad. In 2017, I got diagnosed with PCOS (which sure explained a lot!) and have been aggressively correcting my dietary course since then. But, I’m still not ovulating. So, I contacted Cyrus and in making a review of my diet, he said I was 90% of the way there but that there were critical tweaks I needed to make to support insulin sensitivity. I only started working with him a couple of weeks ago, and in that time my weight has dropped six pounds and my period started within about a week, making my cycle 36 days long–compared with 50 days the month before. So, I’m hopeful and excited about that!
Last thing: Just in case anyone reads this who hasn’t yet worked with Amy Medling, I want to add that I would _not_ recommend Mastering Diabetes as a substitute for doing Amy’s coaching program, even though her dietary guidelines aren’t vegan-friendly. Amy’s Jumpstart program helped me so much. She is exclusively focused on PCOS, and she offers a very holistic, integrated support system that speaks to the whole human experience. That is _not_ what Cyrus and Robby provide–you’ll get very precise nutritional guidelines and a research education about vegan nutrition for insulin sensitivity issues. Amy has a mature, wise presence that is very comforting in a coach, whereas Cyrus is more of a young and enthusiastic full-on nutrition geek. Nevertheless, with respect to diet it was a little confusing and difficult for me to be a committed vegan in Amy’s program. I was really out to sea about how to eat. So, if you are also a committed vegan, I think it would be awesome to go through Amy’s program but use the nutritional guidelines that Cyrus and Robby provide in their program.
I would love to join a support group for vegan women with PCOS. Does anyone know of one? If not, is anyone interested in starting one?
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.
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!!!
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?
This is bull. A vegan diet does help with inflammation and insulin rebalancing. She’s just trying to sell something. Dairy is very inflammatory! She basically made a vegan or whole food plant based diet and then added some dairy so her meal plans would taste better. Please look into a gluten free whole food plant based diet. The youtube video by Sarah Lemkus goes into it called “How to lose weight with PCOS.” She goes into the root causes of PCOS.
I feel as if I am walking proof vegetarian and vegan diets can help with PCOS. I’ve swapped all my dairy for alternatives, except some cheese which is SO hard to clip, and cut out all meat/eggs. I’ve lost weight in the matter of these months, have tons more energy, my periods are actually coming, I ovulated for the first time in a LONG time, and the annoying facial hair (I legit have SO much of) is thinning out!!! I’d love to know if this is all connected for certain. After reading actual information from actual doctors linking the two, I’m almost certain it is!