How to eat to manage PCOS

What is the best diet for PCOS? PCOS can be an extremely frustrating and complicated diagnosis. The internet is full of nutrition claims on how to eat for PCOS (some true, many not true). It makes my mind spin.

Is there a best diet for PCOS? Should I be doing keto? Intermittent fasting? Noom? Hold up – we’re not here to talk about what fad diet is the best. Because fad diets are not here to stay.

They may help with managing symptoms or conditions initially, but more often than not, they are so unsustainable that people just give up. We are here to talk about simple, sustainable diet changes for PCOS that can be better for your body long term.

Symptoms of PCOS include irregular periods, difficulty getting pregnant, excessive hair growth, thinning hair, and oily skin. A key component of PCOS is having some form of insulin resistance, which can cause high levels of insulin in the body.

These high levels of insulin then can cause an excess of androgens (testosterone) and lack of ovulation, as well as weight gain or difficulty losing weight. If you’re struggling with these symptoms, here’s how we can help.

As you can imagine, dealing with PCOS symptoms is a challenge. But diet (or your pattern of eating) and exercise are an important part of managing PCOS. We’ve gathered a few of our favorite tips for managing PCOS in a sustainable way.

Tips on Eating with PCOS

Let’s go over examples of foods that you can eat at every meal of the day that are nutritious, conscious of carbohydrate intake and will keep you fuller, longer!

1. Monitor how much carbohydrate you eat at each meal

We typically recommend carbohydrate intake per meal to fall between 45-60 grams, but this number will vary depending on the person. We also recommend eating breakfast! Skipping meals may set you up for a rollercoaster of cravings throughout the rest of the day. Here are a few breakfast examples that fall within 45 grams of carbs.

Option 1: 45 grams of carbs

  • 1 cup cooked old-fashioned or steel-cut oatmeal
  • 1 TBSP chopped walnuts
  • 2 TBSP dried cranberries or raisins

Option 2: 45 grams of carbs

  • One whole wheat English muffin
  • 1 TBSP peanut or other nut butter
  • 8 oz milk (1% or skim) or alternative dairy

Option 3: 45 grams of carbs

  • ¾ cup dry, whole grain cereal
  • 2 TBSP dried fruit
  • one hard-boiled egg
  • 8 oz milk (1% or skim) or alternative dairy

2. Add protein!

While keeping your carbohydrate intake between 45-60 grams of carbs, add a good source of protein to slow down digestion, keep your blood sugars stable, and keep you feeling full longer! Here are a few lunch examples that are a good balance of carbohydrate and protein.

Click here for a delicious PCOS friendly beef and sweet potato chili recipe!

Option 1: 45 grams of carbs

  • salad with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers
  • 3 oz grilled chicken
  • ½ cup kidney or garbanzo beans
  • 2 TBSP low-fat dressing
  • half (6-inch) whole wheat pita
  • one apple

Option 2: 45-60 grams of carbs

  • one small (6-inch) whole wheat sub roll
  • 3 oz. turkey, ham, or roast beef
  • lettuce, tomato, onions and peppers (as desired)
  • 1-2 teaspoons mustard or mayo
  • 8 oz. milk or alternative dairy milk

Option 3: 60 grams of carbs

  • 2 cups bean soup (lentil, pea, black bean)
  • one small whole wheat roll
  • two plums
  • water or unsweetened beverage

3. Make sure you get enough fiber!

Have you ever heard of the glycemic index? It’s basically a measure of how quickly blood sugar increases after eating a food. Lower on the glycemic index means your blood sugar does not rise as quickly. That’s a good thing! Studies have shown that with insulin resistance, eating carbohydrates with a low glycemic index can improve insulin sensitivity.

Generally, a low glycemic index is 55 or less. Whole grains tend to score lower than white or more processed carbohydrates. Basically, foods with higher fiber content (like whole grains and fresh produce) would increase blood sugar more gradually and therefore have a lower score.⁠

Cereal can also be a good place to add fiber at breakfast, but type and portion are important. Check out this blog about how to choose a better breakfast cereal. 

When it comes to building meals, mentally divide your plate into quarters. In order to reach your fiber goal, a good rule of thumb is to fill a quarter of your plate with a high fiber, low glycemic carbohydrate like brown rice, quinoa, sprouted grain bread, whole wheat or bean-based pasta, etc. Fill two quarters of the plate with nonstarchy vegetables! The last quarter of the plate is for your protein (seafood, poultry, lean meat, tofu, beans, etc). Finally, add a little fat for satiety (avocado, nuts, seeds, cheese, oil, etc.).

Option 1: 60 grams

  • 3-4 oz grilled/stir-fried shrimp
  • 2/3 cup brown rice
  • 1 cup sautéed green beens
  • 1/2 cup black or kidney beans
  • water or unsweetened beverage
  • 12 cherries

Option 2: 45 grams of carbs

  • 2 cups beef stew (made with lean beef, carrots, potatoes and other veggies)
  • 1 cup steamed broccoli with 1 tsp olive oil and desired seasonings
  • 1 cup grapes with 6 walnut halves or 1 medium apple with 1 Tbsp almond butter

Recipes for Eating with PCOS

Almond crusted chicken: This is a great method for a crispy piece of chicken, that is a lower glycemic choice than traditional breadcrumbs, plus a great addition of heart healthy fat and fiber!

Lentil curry: If you haven’t given lentils a try, this is the time to do it! Lentils are a great plan-based protein with lots of fiber, and the curry makes it super flavorful!

Hummus: We talked earlier about balancing carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Hummus is a great snack because it’s a good source of fat and fiber. Pair it with crunchy veggies, crackers, or pita for a satisfying snack.

For more information and helpful tips for PCOS, check out these pages:


-Blog reviewed and updated by Rebecca Bitzer MS RD LD September 10, 2021

Klara Knezevic is a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Maryland. She has over a decade of experience in the nutrition field and currently serves as the CEO and co-owner of Rebecca Bitzer and Associates, one of the largest nutrition private practices in the country. Klara is passionate about sharing practical nutrition tips to help you feel confident in the choices that you make. Coauthor ofCooking with Food Sensitivities Survival GuideandNourished: 10 Ingredients to Happy, Healthy Eating.