One of the things I struggled with the most when I first set out to lose weight was, “What is the best diet for weight loss?” The first doctor I saw regarding my PCOS symptoms shrugged them off, told me I didn’t have PCOS, and advised me to count calories.

This method wasn’t effective for me, but that doesn’t mean it is bad. Every body is different, and counting calories while still being aware of the foods you are consuming can be effective for weight loss, but I don’t believe it is the most effective option.

I could write a whole separate article on that topic alone, but that isn’t what you’re here for. So, let’s cut straight to the point: how do you select the best diet for PCOS weight loss?

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for your body. They are found in foods such as fruit, starchy vegetables, bread, pasta, and sugary desserts.

Carbohydrates increase your blood sugar, causing an insulin response. For a woman with PCOS, this is significant since PCOS is so closely related to insulin resistance. Highly refined sugars and simple carbohydrates are absorbed quickly by the body, which produces a blood sugar spike. For this reason, simple carbohydrates may need to be limited and/or replaced by complex carbohydrates (such as the ones found in fruit or starchy vegetables, which contain other nutrients to aid digestion) in a PCOS-friendly diet.

Fat

Fat and carbohydrates are two macronutrients that have been seriously demonized by the diet industry. Sure, fat has made a comeback (especially with the ketogenic diet), but low-fat is still heralded as the savior of heart health.

There are three types of fat:

  • Saturated fat – animal fats, peanuts, palm oil.
  • Polyunsaturated fat – plant fats such as soybean oil and corn oil. This category also includes trans fats such as shortening, vegetable oil, and margarine.
  • Monounsaturated fat – plant fats like avocado and olive oil.

Saturated fat, primarily the type of fat found in red meat and butter, was once blamed for the heart health epidemic in the US, which led to a huge shift to lean protein and trans-fat-containing butter alternatives. But recent studies have shown that trans fat creates an inflammatory state in the body, increasing your risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. For the woman with PCOS, whose body is already in a pre-inflammatory-state, these types of fats may need to be limited or avoided outright.

Monounsaturated fat, however, may be protective to the body. Avocados and olive oil are great examples of this. Both are considered to be super foods, full of valuable nutrients to fuel the body.

Fiber

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate, but I put it in a separate category because it behaves differently. Your body cannot absorb fiber, but instead it passes through the intestines, helping digestion along, supporting healthy blood sugars, and balancing hunger levels.

Consuming fiber not only protects against diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, it also supports your gut microbiome, which could decrease inflammation and improve metabolism. Great fibrous foods to incorporate into your diet include leafy greens, nuts, fruits with edible skins, beans, lentils, legumes, blueberries, and chia seeds.

Protein

Protein plays a huge role in the body. Protein contains amino acids, which your body uses to make and repair cells. Increasing protein intake causes thermogenesis – which is a fancy way to say your body produces heat through increased metabolism.

Studies have shown that increasing protein can lead to weight loss, aid metabolism, help you gain muscle mass, satisfy your hunger, and leave you feeling full for longer. Great sources of protein include meat, poultry, fish, quinoa, beans, and nuts.

Pre- and Probiotic Foods

Gut health is necessary for your digestion system to function properly. When your gut microbiome (the bacteria and other tiny organisms that live in your digestive system, influencing your metabolic health) is out of whack, you may find your body struggling to process foods it used to have no trouble with. But how do you know if your gut microbiome is healthy? Here are some signs that you have an unhealthy gut:

  • Abdominal discomfort, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or heartburn
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Insomnia or poor sleep quality
  • Food intolerances
  • Sugar cravings
  • Weight changes
  • Skin irritation
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Mood swings, anxiety, or depression

Notice how most of these things are also symptoms of PCOS? PCOS is primarily an endocrine disorder, but it is closely tied with metabolic health. Improving your gut health by eating pre- and probiotic foods may help improve PCOS symptoms.

In a study published by The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 65 overweight women with PCOS altered their lifestyle to try to lose weight (the article doesn’t explain how they altered it, but I would assume through exercise and diet modifications). Some of the women were given a synbiotic supplement containing both pre- and probiotics while the others were given a placebo. All the subjects experienced weight loss, but there was a 60% greater reduction in BMI with the test group opposed to the control group. That’s amazing! By supporting their gut health, they achieved substantially greater results.

Pros and Cons of Common Diets

There are so many diets out there to choose from. It seems like there’s a new fad diet every few months, from keto to paleo to gluten free. It isn’t that they’re bad (okay, some of them aren’t good), but what is the best diet for losing weight with PCOS? Here are some diets that may help.

Mediterranean

The Mediterranean diet has become increasingly popular in recent years. It is primarily composed of whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, olive oil, lean protein, and fish. This diet tends to be high in fiber and low in carbohydrates, which is great for insulin sensitivity because most of the foods are low on the glycemic index (a system that scores the blood sugar increase and insulin response in regards to specific foods).

This diet is great overall. It’s heart-healthy, insulin-friendly, and effective for weight loss in PCOS patients. However, some of the ingredients used in the Mediterranean diet could be expensive or hard to find.

Low-Carb

There are lots of low-carb diets out there. The ketogenic diet, Atkins, and the South Beach diet are some examples. Overall, low-carb is a great option for women with PCOS because it is insulin-friendly, good for gut health, and effective for weight loss. However, the body still needs some carbohydrates to thrive.

Extreme diets like keto are often unsustainable in the long-term and could even be harmful. A high-fat diet can damage the intestinal barrier, negatively impacting weight and metabolism.

Low-Fat

Fat is more easily absorbed by the body than carbohydrates. One of the cons of a low-fat diet is that it is often high in carbohydrates, but it is also high in fiber. Carbohydrates can spike insulin, but fiber aids metabolism and slows digestion. Compared to low-carb diets, low-fat diets are equally or less effective for significant long-term weight loss.

Low Glycemic Index

The glycemic index is an indication of how quickly and how much certain foods affect your blood sugar. A food having a low glycemic index may be better for insulin sensitivity because it produces smaller or more gradual shifts in blood sugar. A low GI diet may improve overall metabolism over time. This diet may also decrease fasting blood sugar in the long-run, so it is great for those with type 2 or pre-diabetes. It should be noted that insulin spikes due to the consumption of carbohydrates, so a low GI diet may be comparable to low-carb.

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free

For some reason, this is the diet I have often seen promoted for PCOS. I’m not sure why, because I couldn’t find a lot of scientific evidence to support the claim that this is the best diet for treating PCOS. In fact, there aren’t a lot of studies out there about a gluten-free diet. I found one implying that it could produce weight loss, but it was a study on rats, not people.

One study I found about a dairy-free diet and PCOS said there was no correlation between dairy consumption and PCOS, but dairy products could be related to the risk of developing PCOS. So, I do not believe that a gluten and dairy-free diet is effective for weight loss in PCOS patients.

My Experience

As of this article, I have lost 40 pounds. This is huge for me. I have struggled with my weight for so long, but now I am lighter than I have been my entire adult life. I still have a long way to go, but I’m right on track.

For me, I have found that a low-carb diet high in protein and fiber is the most effective. Again, every body is different. What works for me might not work for you. But as long as I get lots of protein and fiber and only consume complex carbohydrates in small amounts, I feel good and I lose weight. This means that I often eat meat and vegetables only (which is completely fine with me – I love these foods and can cook healthy but delicious meals for myself). I sometimes snack on cheese, seeds, nuts, or fruit (especially berries – raspberries are delicious, heart-healthy, and low on the glycemic index). I’m not sure that I would continue to lose weight without exercising and staying hydrated. It is important to stay active, eat well, drink lots of water, get enough sleep, and minimize stress.

I can’t say what diet will be best for your body. If what you’re doing isn’t working, it’s okay to try something different. But keep in mind that weight is only one indicator of health. Not every diet that helps you lose weight is good for your body. Talk to your doctor, do your own research, and make decisions you believe are best for your health.

Sign up for our newsletter so you never miss an update!

Further Reading

Barrea L, Arnone A, Annunziata G, Muscogiuri G, Laudisio D, Salzano C, Pugliese G, Colao A, Savastano S. Adherence to the Mediterranean Diet, Dietary Patterns and Body Composition in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Nutrients. 2019 Sep 23;11(10):2278. doi: 10.3390/nu11102278. PMID: 31547562; PMCID: PMC6836220.

Chudzicka-Strugała I, Gołębiewska I, Banaszewska B, Brudecki G, Zwoździak B. The Role of Individually Selected Diets in Obese Women with PCOS-A Review. Nutrients. 2022 Oct 28;14(21):4555. doi: 10.3390/nu14214555. PMID: 36364814; PMCID: PMC9656326.

Fabíola Lacerda Pires Soares, Rafael de Oliveira Matoso, Lílian Gonçalves Teixeira, Zélia Menezes, Solange Silveira Pereira, Andréa Catão Alves, Nathália Vieira Batista, Ana Maria Caetano de Faria, Denise Carmona Cara, Adaliene Versiani Matos Ferreira, Jacqueline Isaura Alvarez-Leite, Gluten-free diet reduces adiposity, inflammation and insulin resistance associated with the induction of PPAR-alpha and PPAR-gamma expression, The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, Volume 24, Issue 6, 2013, Pages 1105-1111, ISSN 0955-2863.

Izabela Chudzicka-Strugała, Anna Kubiak, Beata Banaszewska, Barbara Zwozdziak, Martyna Siakowska, Leszek Pawelczyk, Antoni J Duleba, Effects of Synbiotic Supplementation and Lifestyle Modifications on Women With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 106, Issue 9, September 2021, Pages 2566–2573.

Koliaki C, Spinos T, Spinou Μ, Brinia ΜE, Mitsopoulou D, Katsilambros N. Defining the Optimal Dietary Approach for Safe, Effective and Sustainable Weight Loss in Overweight and Obese Adults. Healthcare (Basel). 2018 Jun 28;6(3):73. doi: 10.3390/healthcare6030073. PMID: 29958395; PMCID: PMC6163457.

Md. Ashraful Islam, Mohammad Nurul Amin, Shafayet Ahmed Siddiqui, Md. Parvez Hossain, Farhana Sultana, Md. Ruhul Kabir, Trans fatty acids and lipid profile: A serious risk factor to cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research & Reviews, Volume 13, Issue 2, 2019, Pages 1643-1647, ISSN 1871-4021.

Rajaeieh G, Marasi M, Shahshahan Z, Hassanbeigi F, Safavi SM. The Relationship between Intake of Dairy Products and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome in Women Who Referred to Isfahan University of Medical Science Clinics in 2013. Int J Prev Med. 2014 Jun;5(6):687-94. PMID: 25013687; PMCID: PMC4085920.

Zhang X, Zheng Y, Guo Y, Lai Z. The Effect of Low Carbohydrate Diet on Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Int J Endocrinol. 2019 Nov 26;2019:4386401. doi: 10.1155/2019/4386401. PMID: 31885557; PMCID: PMC6899277.

Comments (2)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up for my email newsletter to receive exclusive updates!