What Is the Best Diet for PCOS?

The best diet for PCOS

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), is the most common endocrine disorder in reproductive age women, affecting 5% to 10% of women. PCOS is characterized by high levels of androgens (male hormones such as testosterone) from the ovaries and is associated with insulin resistance. While it’s still unclear what causes PCOS, inflammation is believed to play a major role.

Diet and lifestyle are recommended as the first-line treatment for PCOS but what has been unclear until recently is what the best diet approach is for women with this condition.

Diet Composition for PCOS: What The Research Shows

Since the connection was made between PCOS and insulin resistance in the mid-1990’s, more research has been done on various diet compositions. Indeed, researchers have looked at different diet modifications such as low-glycemic-index, high protein, high fat, low calorie, and anti-inflammatory approaches.

In 2012, the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics published a review and analysis of the different diet composition studies in women with PCOS. The review only involved six studies due to the lack of sample sizes, duration, and study design. The recommendation based on the analysis was that weight loss, regardless of which nutrition approach was followed, resulted in improvement in both metabolic and reproductive aspects.

While women with PCOS are probably well aware that weight loss would improve their condition, and some women with PCOS aren’t overweight and don’t need to lose weight, there are some nutrition strategies women with PCOS can take to restore hormone balance, menstrual regularity, and to reduce the risk for chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes.

Eating plans that have shown favorable effects on weight loss and metabolic parameters in PCOS include modifying glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL), modifying carbohydrate, fat or protein amounts, and including anti-inflammatory foods. Since all women with PCOS are unique and not the same, eating plans need to be individualized.

For this reason, it is recommended that women with PCOS work with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) who specializes in PCOS to find an eating style that will work best for her.  

Higher Protein Diets

In a six-month trial, PCOS women who ate a high protein (>40% protein, 30% fat) diet lost more weight and body fat than following a standard protein (<15% pro, 30% fat) diet. There was no caloric restriction in either diet, leading the researchers to speculate that because high protein diets tend to be more satisfying, women ate less food overall which led to more weight loss.

Low GI Diets

Eating foods that are low GI may benefit women with PCOS, especially those who are overweight or have high insulin levels. Overweight women with PCOS, who followed a low-GI for 1 year had better menstrual regularity and better insulin sensitivity when compared with a conventional diet (CD). Those with high insulin levels had a 2-fold reduction in body fat despite modest weight loss compared with the CD. Low GI foods tend to be high in fiber and don’t spike up glucose and insulin levels when eaten in moderation.

Anti-inflammatory Diets

Newer research is now pointing to the health benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet for PCOS.

In a study published in the Journal of Hormone and Metabolic Research, overweight women with PCOS who followed the antioxidant-rich DASH eating plan lost abdominal fat and showed significant improvements in insulin resistance and inflammatory markers.

In another study published in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences, women with PCOS who followed an anti-inflammatory diet for 3 months lost 7% of their body weight and showed significant improvements in their cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammatory markers. Sixty-three percent of women regained menstrual cyclicity and 12% conceived following this type of diet.

The Best Diet for PCOS

The best diet for women with PCOS then, is one that works best for the individual woman based on her unique needs and lifestyle. A combination of including low GI and anti-inflammatory foods along with modifications of protein, fat, or carbohydrate amounts should be personalized for optimal health.


Asemi Z, Esmaillzadeh A.DASH Diet, Insulin Resistance, and Serum hs-CRP in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Horm Metab Res. 2014.

Moran L. Dietary Composition in the Treatment of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Systematic Review to Inform Evidence-Based Guidelines J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013;113:520-545.

Sørensen LB, et al. Effects of increased dietary protein-to-carbohydrate ratios in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95(1):39-48.

Salama A et al. N Am J Med Sci. 2015 Jul; 7(7): 310–316.

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