Center for Young Women's Health


PCOS Nutrition Guide


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PCOS and The Pill Sample PCOS-Friendly Menus
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Spironolactone and PCOS PCOS Meal Assessment Worksheet
My Medication List PCOS Fitness Plan Worksheets
current guidePCOS Nutrition Guide Additional PCOS Resources
Top 10 PCOS Tips  
The Nutrition Facts Label and PCOS  

Diet and exercise are important parts of managing PCOS. This is because young women with PCOS often have higher levels of insulin (a hormone) in their blood, and many have trouble maintaining a healthy weight. Knowing the right foods to eat as well as the kinds of food to limit can improve the way you feel. It will also help you lose weight. Eating well, staying active, and maintaining a healthy weight (or losing even a small amount of weight if you're overweight) can improve PCOS symptoms.


What do I need to know about insulin and carbohydrates?

The insulin level in your blood goes up after you eat. It goes up the most after you eat or drink something that contains carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are found in grains (such as bread, pasta, rice, cereal, and potatoes), vegetables, fruits, most snack foods (such as chips, cookies, and candy), and sugary drinks such as soda and juice.


Are all carbohydrates the same?

No. Even if you eat two foods that have the same amount of carbohydrate, they may have a different effect on your insulin level. This effect has a lot to do with the type of carbohydrate the food has. Carbohydrate foods with fiber are usually the best to eat if you're trying to keep your insulin level down. Carbohydrate foods that are sugary or refined (such as white bread and white rice) can cause insulin levels to go up. Foods such as these are also not very filling (which means you may feel hungry shortly after eating them). Try to choose high–fiber, low–sugar carbohydrate foods most of the time.


Instead Of Choose
Sweetened juice, canned fruit in heavy syrup, or sweetened applesauce Fresh fruits or frozen/canned fruit without added sugar, or unsweetened applesauce
Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, and peas Non–starchy fresh vegetables or frozen/canned vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, and carrots
Refined grains made with white flour such as white bread and pasta, bagels, or white rice Whole grains such as whole wheat pasta, brown rice, and whole wheat bread
Sugared cereals such as Lucky Charms®, Fruit Loops®, or Frosted Flakes®, and other sweetened grains such as cereal bars (Nutrigrain Bars®), breakfast pastries (PopTarts®), and donuts High fiber cereals such as Kashi®, shredded wheat, and All Bran®. (Look for cereals that has at least 5 grams of fiber per serving or sprinkle ½ cup of bran cereal or unprocessed bran on a low–fiber cereal to increase the fiber)
Sugary drinks such as soda or juice Sugar–free or low sugar drinks such
as water, diet soda, Crystal Light®,
Fruit20®, or seltzer water
Sugary foods such as cookies, cakes, and candy Sugar–free, light, or “no sugar added” foods such as Jello®, popsicles, yogurt, or pudding
Snacks; such as potato chips, Fritos®, Doritos®, and tortilla chips Crackers and snacks with fiber such as Triscuits®, Wasa®, or popcorn


Do I need to buy special foods?

No. You don’t need to go out of your way to buy special foods. Just like with any healthy diet plan, your meals should include a healthy balance of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, plant–based protein, lean meats, and healthy fats. Most foods fit into a healthy diet for PCOS, but you should read food labels to help you pick out the best choices. Look for high–fiber grains such as brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, and whole-wheat rather than low–fiber grains such as white rice, pasta, or white bread.


Don’t be fooled by fat–free treats. They usually have a lot of added sugar. Also, some sugar–free foods (such as baked goods) are made with refined grains such as white flour and can raise your insulin levels the same way sugar can. Other sugar–free foods have no effect on insulin because they are also carbohydrate free. These foods (such as sugar–free Jello®, diet soda, Crystal Light®, and sugar–free popsicles) are PCOS–friendly.


Are “carbs” unhealthy?

No! Carbs (carbohydrates) give your body energy. Some people think that eating carbs will make them gain weight, but carbs will make you gain weight only if you eat too many of them. Many other important nutrients come from carbohydrate foods, so eating no carbs is not a good idea. Because high–fiber carbohydrate foods are high in other nutrients and help you feel full longer than sugary carbohydrates, it's best to choose these as often as possible.


What about foods that have fats and proteins in them?

Protein foods such as beans, hummus, nuts, peanut butter, tofu, eggs, fish, chicken, meat, and vegetarian meat substitutes, and fats such as oil, salad dressing, and avocado are important parts of a PCOS–friendly diet. Combining foods that contain protein or fat with a carbohydrate will help to slow down the absorption of the carbohydrate and keep insulin levels low. For example, instead of plain rice, have rice with beans and a little avocado.


Keep in mind that some fats are much healthier than others. Healthy fats are found in olive oil, canola oil, nuts, avocados, and fish. Choose healthy fats and proteins instead of butter, margarine, mayonnaise, full–fat cheese, and red meat.


Do I need to follow a diet that is extra high in protein?

No. Really high protein diets (such as the Atkins diet) are not a good diet option for teens because they can be low in some important nutrients such as fiber, the B vitamins, and vitamin C. It's also important to remember that even if you limit your carbohydrate intake, overeating fat or protein can cause weight gain. You should aim for a diet that has a balance of protein, healthy carbohydrates, and some fat.


What does low glycemic index mean?

Glycemic index is a term used to describe how a food affects blood sugar. The higher a food raises blood sugar, the higher the glycemic index. High–fiber carbs have a lower glycemic index than sugary or refined carbs. Combining a carbohydrate food with another food can lower the glycemic index because it allows your body to absorb the carbohydrate more slowly.


If I choose the right foods, do I still need to be worried about my portion sizes?

Yes! How much you eat also affects your insulin. For example, your insulin will go up much more if you have 3 cups of pasta than if you have 1 cup of pasta. This means it's usually better to have small meals and snacks during the day than it is to have a few really big meals. Having more smaller meals and snacks will keep your insulin level lower throughout the day.


Is it important for me to exercise?

Yes! It's really important that girls with PCOS exercise, because exercise brings down insulin levels, and can help with weight loss. Exercise can be especially helpful in lowering insulin after a meal. So, if possible, go for a walk after you eat a large meal. Any increase in exercise helps, so find an activity, sport, or exercise that you enjoy. If you aren’t doing a lot of exercise now, start slowly, and build up to your fitness goal. If you only exercise once in a while, try to exercise more regularly. Work towards increasing your physical activity to at least 5 days a week for 60 minutes per day.


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Written and reviewed by the CYWH Staff at Boston Children's Hospital


Updated: 12/12/2013

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