Nutrition for PCOS

by Leanne Ward
Nutrition for PCOS

I’ve had a lost of requests for information about nutrition for PCOS so I’ve decided to do this article for you guys. This is a common condition affecting women and diet and lifestyle interventions can be very helpful. As always, I recommend seeing a local accredited practising dietitian to assist in an individualised meal plan, but here is some advice and strategies about diet and nutrition for PCOS. 

What is PCOS?

PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) is a hormonal condition that effects up to 20 per cent of women. PCOS can be largely genetic and it is also becoming increasing common as lifestyle factors result in many women rapidly gaining weight during their reproductive years. This weight gain is linked to increased insulin levels which in turn can cause the development of cysts on the ovaries.

Why is nutrition for PCOS important?

Carrying excess weight and consuming large amounts of carbohydrates can increase your insulin levels. Insulin is a hormone released by your pancreas to help control your blood sugar levels. Too much insulin can then increase your testosterone levels (causing acne and excessive hair growth) and promote fat storage. Roughly 50% of those with PCOS are obese (BMI >30kg/m2) and have insulin resistance, meaning your body can’t use insulin properly. This can then lead to diabetes if left untreated.

PCOS needs a relatively strict lifestyle approach with regular exercise and a higher protein, lower GI diet to help manage insulin levels and support weight loss. Losing as little as 5% of your body weight (if you are overweight) can have an immediate benefit on your health.

Glycaemic Index (GI) is a ranking system, showing how quickly your blood sugar rises after eating different carbohydrates. Low GI diets (eating foods that cause your blood sugar levels to rise slowly), can be useful to reduce the symptoms of PCOS. This is because eating low GI foods can improve insulin levels.

Nutrition for PCOS – Strategies and advice

♥ Avoid skipping meals and always have a low GI breakfast.

♥ Avoid grazing consistency. While eating regularly is important to manage your hunger and blood sugar levels, eating too regularly disrupts this cycle and can lead to gradual weight gain, or an inability to lose weight. Leave at least 2-3 hours in between meals and/or snacks.

♥ 2 litres of fluid daily (non-calorie drinks e.g. Water, soda water, unsweetened tea/coffee)

♥ Reduction in total calories and increase in energy expenditure (exercise)

♥ 2 serves of fruit per day (limit juice and dried fruit) (1 serve = 1 medium piece of fruit)

♥ At least 5 serves of non-starchy vegetables per day (1 serve = ½ cup cooked veggies or 1 cup salad vegetables)

♥ Moderate amounts of lean protein evenly spread throughout the day

♥ Small amounts of healthy fat evenly spread throughout the day (eg. salmon, avocado, linseeds, chia seeds, olive oil)

♥ Reduce saturated fat intake (unsaturated fat as above is beneficial)

♥ Lower* carbohydrate & low GI (glycaemic index) diets are generally recommended

*Your dietitian can advise you what your recommended carbohydrate amount should be each day

Sample Meal Plan for PCOS if you’re trying to lose weight

Amount                                               Example

Breakfast       1x fruit                        8 strawberries/ 4 prunes/ 1 passionfruit or kiwi fruit

1x low GI CHO          1 soy & linseed bread or ¾ cup low sugar, wholegrain cereal

1x dairy/protein           1 cup skim milk OR  ¾ cup plain low fat yoghurt

OR 2 eggs OR 1/3 cup baked beans

1x fat (omega 3)          1 tbsp of linseeds/chia seeds or 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Lunch             2x veg                         Minimum 2 cups mixed salad or veggies

1x Low GI                  1x rye/mixed grain wrap OR 4 Vita-wheats

1x protein                    120g lean meat (turkey/ham)

or 2 eggs or 1 x small tin of tuna/salmon

Dinner            1x low GI CHO          ¾ cup pasta or ¾ cup sweet potato or 1 cob corn

1x protein                    120g fish fillet, salmon, chicken, lean red meat, tofu

2x veg                         Minimum 2 cups non-starch vegetables or salad


Snacks                       150g yoghurt (Natural Greek yoghurt is best) optional cinnamon

(only if hungry)          ¼ cup total of mixed unsalted nuts/seeds (eg. Walnuts, pumpkin seeds)

                                    ½ cup of roasted ‘chic nuts’ or broad beans

2 small squares of dark (>60% cocoa) chocolate

1 small skim milk coffee without sugar/syrup

2-3 vita-wheats with low fat cottage cheese, tomato and pepper

1 piece of low GI fruit

Small mixed nut bar (watch added sugars and keep under 650kJ)

Bowl of vegetable soup + 1 boiled egg

Vegetable sticks (eg. Carrot, celery, capsium) with 2 tbsp dip

Vegetable chips (home made with olive oil and spices)

Other notes:

  • Sauces/spices as desired (keep reduced sodium, sugar, fat)
  • Choose a wide variety of colourful vegetables and salad for extra nutrients
  • Vinegar/lemon juice may beneficial for PCOS
  • Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation may be beneficial for PCOS
  • Cinnamon and/or chromium picolinate may be beneficial for PCOS

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Karin February 19, 2018 - 11:40 am

Thanks so much for this, Leanne. I’m wondering if you can shed any light on whether intermittent fasting (re the new CSIRO results) would be a good or bad thing for someone with PCOS. I’ve seen reports it can reverse diabetes, but I’m guessing that’s the overall weight loss. I’m concerned about possible insulin spikes with fasting, but then again others say they’ve had great success. Thoughts?

Leanne Ward February 19, 2018 - 6:18 pm

Hi Karin, great question. I think the thing we all need to be mindful of is that different things work differently for each individual. Perhaps discuss with your local dietitian who can recommend it based on your clinical history. I think most of the good results with intermittent fasting are due to the overall reduction in calories consumed through out the day. I wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing if you’re doing it correctly eg. Not binge eating or eating poor quality processed foods in the eating window. I think most people can get fab results from cutting out alcohol & processed foods & exercising regularly. If that fails then perhaps talk to your local dietitian who can see if fasting might work for you 🙂 good luck x


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