Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is typically earmarked by irregular periods or by no menstruation at all.

People with PCOS typically have multiple cysts in their ovaries, caused by an overproduction of hormones called androgens.

According to research from 2019, between 33 and 83 percent of women living with PCOS also have overweight or obesity. Common symptoms include:

People with PCOS, particularly when symptoms are not managed, may also be at greater risk of:

Many people with PCOS find they’re able to manage their symptoms and reduce their risk of other health concerns with changes to their diet and lifestyle.

People with PCOS are often found to have higher than normal insulin levels. Insulin is a hormone that’s produced in the pancreas. It helps the cells in the body turn sugar (glucose) into energy.

If you don’t produce enough insulin, your blood sugar levels can rise. This can also happen if you have insulin resistance, meaning you aren’t able to use the insulin you do produce effectively.

If you have insulin resistance, your body may try to pump out high levels of insulin in an effort to keep your blood sugar levels normal. Too-high levels of insulin can cause your ovaries to produce more androgens, like testosterone.

Insulin resistance may also be caused by having a higher body mass index. Insulin resistance can make it harder to lose weight, which is why people with PCOS often experience this issue.

A diet high in refined carbohydrates, like starchy and sugary foods, can make insulin resistance, and therefore weight loss, more difficult to manage.

Foods to add

  • high fiber vegetables, like broccoli
  • lean protein, like fish
  • anti-inflammatory foods and spices, like turmeric and tomatoes

High fiber foods can help combat insulin resistance by slowing down digestion and reducing the effect of sugar on the blood. This may be beneficial for people with PCOS.

Here are some examples of high fiber foods:

Lean protein sources like tofu, chicken, and fish don’t provide fiber but are a very filling and nutritious dietary option for people with PCOS.

Foods that help reduce inflammation may also be beneficial. These foods include:

Foods to limit
  • foods high in refined carbohydrates, like white bread and muffins
  • sugary snacks and drinks
  • inflammatory foods, like processed and red meats

Refined carbohydrates cause inflammation, exacerbate insulin resistance, and should be avoided or limited significantly. These include highly processed foods like:

  • white bread
  • muffins
  • breakfast pastries
  • sugary desserts
  • anything made with white flour

Pasta noodles that list semolina, durum flour, or durum wheat flour as their first ingredient are high in carbohydrates and low in fiber. Pasta made from bean or lentil flour instead of wheat flour is a nutritious alternative.

Sugar is a carbohydrate and should be limited on a PCOS diet. When reading food labels, be sure to look for sugar’s various names, including:

  • sucrose
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • dextrose

On a PCOS diet, you may want to reduce consumption of beverages like soda and juice, which can be high in sugar, as well as inflammation-causing foods, like fries, margarine, and red or processed meats.

However, before removing a number of foods from your diet, it’s best to speak with a doctor. They can recommend an eating plan that is right for you and your individual needs.

Some lifestyle changes can help improve PCOS symptoms.

These changes include exercise and daily physical movement. When coupled with a limited intake of refined carbohydrates, both can help reduce insulin resistance. Many experts agree that at least 150 minutes per week of exercise is ideal.

Daily activity, low sugar intake, and a low-inflammation diet may also lead to weight loss. People may experience improved ovulation with weight loss.

The symptoms associated with PCOS can cause stress. Stress reduction techniques, which help calm the mind and let you connect with your body, can help. These include yoga and meditation.

In addition, speaking with a therapist or another healthcare professional may be beneficial.

If you have PCOS, you may feel frustrated at times. Eating a PCOS-friendly diet and making some lifestyle changes may help improve your mood and reduce some of the associated symptoms of PCOS.

Note that on a PCOS diet, there are some foods you may want to limit or avoid. However, in many instances, these foods have nutritious, beneficial counterparts. For example, if you commonly eat margarine and white toast for breakfast, try substituting high fiber whole-grain bread and olive oil or avocado.

If your symptoms persist, speak with a doctor. They can work with you to identify the cause and recommend next steps.