There is no standard diet for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). However, some strategies — such as an anti-inflammatory diet — may help manage some symptoms.

PCOS involves hormonal imbalances and metabolic disruption. It affects 5–10% of females aged 15–44.

These changes can result in:

PCOS can lead to other serious health challenges, such as diabetes, cardiovascular problems, depression, and a higher risk of endometrial cancer.

Some research has suggested that certain dietary choices can help reduce the impact of PCOS.

In this article, learn more about foods to eat and avoid with PCOS.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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The four main factors involved in PCOS are:

  • insulin resistance
  • changes in metabolic and hormonal functioning
  • high levels of body fat
  • problems creating gonadotrophin-releasing hormones, which are essential for reproductive well-being

These factors are all interlinked. Diet could be a factor in breaking this cycle and reducing the impact of PCOS. It could also help reduce the risk of complications such as diabetes and cancer.

Some ways in which diet may help people with PCOS relate to managing:

Over half of those with PCOS develop diabetes or prediabetes before the age of 40. Diabetes stems from how the body processes insulin. Taking dietary measures to prevent diabetes can be a significant step toward living well with PCOS.

There is currently no standard diet for PCOS, but various approaches appear likely to benefit people with this condition.

Here are three diets that may help people with PCOS manage their symptoms.

A low glycemic index (GI) diet

The body digests foods with a low GI more slowly, meaning they do not cause insulin levels to rise as high or as fast as other foods, such as sugar or highly processed carbohydrates.

Foods in a low GI diet include:

An anti-inflammatory diet

An anti-inflammatory diet may help improve markers that relate to PCOS, such as high blood sugar, body composition, hormonal imbalance, and cardiovascular risk.

Foods with anti-inflammatory properties include:

Try this anti-inflammatory diet meal plan.

The DASH diet

Doctors often recommend the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet to reduce the risk or impact of heart disease, but it might also help manage PCOS.

A DASH diet is rich in:

  • fish
  • poultry
  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • whole grains
  • low fat dairy produce

According to a 2021 review, a DASH diet might improve several features of PCOS. Examples include the appearance of the ovaries and the reduction in the number of growths. It might also improve insulin resistance, glucose management, and fat deposits.

While these diets vary in some ways, they have many similarities.

They all promote fresh, whole foods and discourage foods that are highly processed or high in unhealthy fat and added sugar.

Examples of foods to include in a PCOS-friendly diet include:

Managing weight will likely benefit people with PCOS, whichever diet they follow.

What are the healthiest vegetables?

People with PCOS can benefit from avoiding foods that increase the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and other common health issues.

These include:

  • refined carbohydrates, such as mass-produced pastries and white bread
  • fried foods, such as fast food
  • sugary beverages, such as sodas and energy drinks
  • processed meats, such as hot dogs, sausages, and luncheon meats
  • solid fats, including margarine, shortening, and lard
  • a high intake of red meat, such as steaks, hamburgers, and pork
  • foods with high levels of added salt or sugar
  • other highly processed foods

Lifestyle measures can also help people with PCOS manage the condition. Research suggests that combining dietary measures with physical activity may have the following benefits:

Studies also suggest behavioral strategies can help people reach their weight management goals. This, in turn, can help manage PCOS symptoms.

These practices include:

  • goal setting
  • social support networks
  • self-monitoring techniques
  • caring for mental well-being

Reducing stress through self-care practices, such as getting enough sleep, avoiding overcommitment, and making time to relax, can also help a person manage PCOS.

Common PCOS symptoms include:

Anyone experiencing these symptoms may wish to discuss their concerns with a doctor. Prompt treatment may help improve symptoms and prevent complications.

There is currently no cure for PCOS, but diet and medical treatment can help manage weight, glucose levels, and other features and complications.

Opting for healthy fats, lean proteins, whole grains, and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables may help reduce the risk of PCOS or manage its symptoms. Meanwhile, it is best to avoid highly processed foods and those containing high levels of fat, added sugar, and salt.