Top tips to cope with PCOS

Whats is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition that affects how a woman’s ovaries work.

The three main features of PCOS are:

  • Irregular periods – which means your ovaries don't regularly release eggs (ovulation).
  • Excess androgen – high levels of "male hormones" in your body, which may cause physical signs such as excess facial or body hair.
  • Polycystic ovaries – your ovaries become enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs (follicles) which surround the eggs.

(NHS, 2016)

Diet to help:

Low Glycemic Index (GI) foods can improve insulin levels. Many women with PCOS struggle with regulating insulin and therefore have more insulin in their blood to compensate. Insulin also increases testosterone levels. Having even slightly higher amounts of testosterone upsets the balance of hormones in the body and can lead to acne, excess hair and irregular periods. 

  • Include lower GI carbohydrates, such as: oats, bulgar wheat, sweet potatoes, legumes, lentils and vegetables.
  • Fruits and vegetables are low GI foods and make a good healthy snack, providing essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Plums (GI 24), cherries (GI 22), apples (GI 34) and strawberries (GI 40) are all good examples.
  • Chromium is an important mineral involved in regulating blood sugar. Include some wholegrain cereals, broccoli, or green beans.
  • Magnesium deficiency has been linked with an increased risk of insulin resistance. To keep magnesium levels up include some, wholegrain foods, dark green vegetables, quinoa, almonds and beans such as black beans.
  • Essential fatty acids help maintain the cell wall, which helps nutrient absorption. EAFs rebalance hormones, manage weight and can help fertility. Good sources include, oily fish – salmon, sardines, mackerel, pilchards, avocados and olive oil.
  • High levels of inflammation encourage excess androgen production as well as insulin resistance, contributing to weight gain and an imbalance of sex hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle. Kale, spinach, blueberries, blackberries and beans are all beneficial.


If you are overweight, the symptoms and overall risk of developing long-term health problems from PCOS can be greatly improved by losing some of the excess weight. Weight loss of just 5% can lead to a significant improvement in PCOS. A tailored diet and regular exercise really can make a big difference.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Leeds LS20 & LS18
Written by Dr Lisa Gatenby, RNutr PhD MMedSci BSc (hons) FHEA
Leeds LS20 & LS18

I am a registered nutritionist with a PhD in Nutrition and a Masters of Medical Science in Human Nutrition. I love food and believe that we can all enjoy a diet which can promote health and optimise our nutritional intakes. I am also a qualified chef and use these skills to help people on their healthy eating journey.

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