This post was updated on November 23rd, 2020
If you’re asking yourself what to eat with PCOS then you’re already a step ahead of most people with this disorder. But getting the answer to this question right, can profoundly affect what happens to your health and fertility.
Whether you’re trying to lose weight, get pregnant, or you’re worried about insulin resistance, acne, hair problems, or a decline in your emotional wellbeing, eating from the right PCOS food list can alter your health forever.
This was certainly my experience, as despite a lifetime of ill-health and more than four years of failed fertility treatments, I was not only able to overcome all of my PCOS symptoms, but I fell pregnant naturally and had a wonderful healthy pregnancy.
My own success in beating PCOS spurred me to create my free 30-Day PCOS Diet Challenge. This live event has now helped hundreds of thousands of women around the world in ways I never could’ve imagined when I first sat down to share what I’d learned.
Having worked as a health coach for several years now, what I’ve come to realize is that the specifics of my experience can be generalized for just about anyone just by helping them learn which foods to eat with PCOS.
And that’s what this article’s about.
I’ve also prepared a PCOS Diet Chart Cheat Sheet for you which lists over 180 of the best foods to eat with PCOS. If you eat almost exclusively from this list, then you really can’t go wrong.
1. Animal Sources of Protein Are Great Foods For PCOS
I know this is hardly breaking news, but there’s often confusion over whether meat is actually a useful food for PCOS. Well it is, and here’s a few reasons why.
The first thing worth mentioning is the fact that women with PCOS are often nutrient deficient. While our busy modern lifestyles can be partly to blame for this, we’re also most at risk of suffering from multiple deficiencies because the drugs we’re often prescribed cause depletions. For example, birth control is known to cause depletions of important nutrients like magnesium, selenium, and zinc (Palmery et al. 20131), while also adversely affecting your thyroid function (Grüning et al. 20072; Westhoff et al. 20133). Metformin is possibly even worse as not only is this common drug no longer recommended for most women with PCOS, but it depletes vitamin B12, an essential nutrient for just about everything we care about in terms of our health (Aroda et al. 20164).
Nutrient deficiencies of any kind are likely to have adverse effects on your health. They cause things like low energy and lethargy, hair loss, skin issues, and insomnia.
While you can try all sorts of “superfoods” and supplements, often the simplest and most effective thing to do is to eat more meat. Animal protein (the unprocessed kind) is one of the most nutrient dense foods on this planet and they tend to include a lot of micronutrients that aren’t readily available in plant foods. Examples that are fairly indisputable include things like vitamin B12, carnosine, creatine, and the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA – all of which have an important role to play in good health.
These facts all influenced me in a way that I decided to no longer remain a herbivore. I became a vegetarian at the age of 12 because I loved animals (and still do). Unfortunately, after learning more about my diagnosis and the importance of nutrition in overcoming PCOS, I had to accept the fact that animal derived protein was going to be a part of my life.
Another great reason to eat plenty of animal protein is that it allows your body to naturally regulate your sugar and carbohydrate cravings. Women with PCOS have been shown to be nearly five times as likely to have some kind of eating disorder – especially if they also suffer from anxiety or depression (Lee et al. 20175). It’s also really common for us to have trouble managing our weight or dealing with food cravings and this has nothing to do with a flawed character. It’s actually all about our satiety hormones, and our evolutionary past has a lot to do with how this works.
Take the satiety hormone cholecystokinin (CCK) for example. Our bodies produce this “fullness hormone” when we eat protein (Foltz et al. 20086) and fat (McLaughlin et al. 19987). This then has the effect of reducing our food intake (Perry and Wang 20128) and decreasing our sugar and carbohydrate cravings.
Having the opposite effect as CCK, the hormone ghrelin tells your brain when it’s time to eat. The less ghrelin in your system, the less you feel like eating and protein happens to be one of the best ways to suppress this hormone (Blom et al. 20069; Lejeune et al. 200610; Gannon et al. 201111).
If you’ve considered appetite suppressants, you won’t find anything better than barbequed pork-chops!
There are many other important hormones like Peptide YY and GLP-1 that respond well to the consumption of meat. But if carb-cravings are a particular issue for you, then this is a good indication that you’re not getting enough dietary protein (White et al. 199412).
My advice for buying meat, fish and eggs is to get the best quality you can afford. I don’t mean buying fancy cuts, as the fattiest, chewiest pieces are just as good nutritionally. What I’m talking about is grass fed beef, pastured eggs, seafood and wild caught fish.
There are many great hacks for keeping the cost of these foods reasonable but by far my favorite is to go for organ meats. These are typically a lot cheaper, and they’re often the most nutrient dense also. Things like heart and tongue are essentially just great cuts of muscle. But if you’re open to trying the ickier organs, you’re accessing some of the most nutrient rich foods on earth. Just half an ounce of beef liver for example, contains your entire RDA of vitamin A.
You’ll find lots of additional examples of healthy animal protein (beyond just beef and chicken) in the PCOS Diet Cheat Sheet that goes along with this blog.
Take home point: Eat plenty of fish, meat, and eggs from wholefood sources as part of your PCOS friendly diet.
2. Non-starchy Vegetables Are The Best Foods For PCOS
Despite being pro-meat, I’m even more enthusiastic about vegetables. As general advice, I encourage women with PCOS to eat more non-starchy vegetables than any vegetarians they know.
I’m talking about a pound a day of gourd vegetables like cucumber and zucchini, beetroot vegetables like spinach and swiss chard, nightshades like eggplant, tomatoes and pepper, and of course all the cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Depending on the selection of vegetables, I’ve even been known to put away nearly two pounds of vegetables a day so this should give you a feel for what I think is an appropriate quantity.
Like the majority of things I’ve changed to overcome PCOS, eating this many vegetables represents a dramatic transformation in my diet. In the past, I’d consider some onion, pickle, and ketchup in a burger three decent “servings”… yip… I’ve come a long way.
While wanting to start my family was the overarching factor for changing my relationship with vegetables, learning a few nutritional facts helped make this a reality.
The first big thing was understanding the importance of gut health which I explain at length here. All vegetables contain significant amounts of fiber which help the passage of food through your digestive tract. Some of these fibers, known as prebiotics, have the added benefit of then feeding the healthy bacteria that constitute your microbiome.
As science is just beginning to reveal, the microbiome controls just about every element of both your physical and emotional wellbeing and is intimately linked to our PCOS symptoms. By eating more prebiotic vegetables like artichokes, garlic, onions, and cabbage we’re actually feeding the bugs that soothe the inflammation driving all of our symptoms.
Another cool thing I’ve learned about vegetables is that they contain phytonutrients. To date, around 25,000 unique molecules have been found only in plant foods with many of these imparting amazing health effects. While I dislike the term “superfood” since it’s typically associated with exaggerated marketing claims, in most cases, there’s some truth to the claims and these are always caused by the phytonutrient content. Things like the carotenoids found in turmeric, glucosinolates found in cruciferous vegetables, and specific flavonoids found in green tea, are all well-known examples of the powerful antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties that can be found in plant foods. Given that PCOS is primarily an inflammatory disorder, we have even more than other people to gain from consuming these compounds.
Once I finally understood that vegetables were actually good for me, I was sold on the idea. But I still didn’t like them. That was until I learned how to cook them properly.
Adding plenty of salt, pepper, herbs and spices is a great way to turn boring vegetables into something quite delicious. Since wholefood sources of fats and oils are also really good for PCOS (see below), using these liberally can make a big difference too.
I find it almost unbelievable that I’d say this now, but there really are few foods I enjoy more than Brussels sprouts, or finely shredded cabbage, that’s been fried in with lard or butter and sprinkled with garlic salt.
Take home point: Non-starchy vegetables should make up at least half your plate. They’re the mainstay of a PCOS friendly diet.
3. The Right Carbohydrates Make For PCOS Friendly Foods
Carbohydrate foods are possibly one of the most powerful dietary levers that when pulled correctly, can make a massive difference to your PCOS symptoms. This is especially true if you have insulin resistance or you’re trying to lose weight.
This is because carb’s by definition are digested into glucose which recruits insulin to move the glucose out of your blood and into your cells where it’s needed for energy. While moderate levels of insulin are healthy, for women with PCOS that fall on the insulin resistance spectrum, this multi-functional hormone causes all sorts of mischief.
The first thing insulin does is that it promotes the storage of body fat particularly around the midsection. The stress hormone cortisol is recruited in this process which then also makes you feel more anxious. Both of these hormones along with the excess body fat they create then promote an inflammatory state which in turn messes with your hormones.
The up-shot of all of this is that elevated levels of insulin make all of your existing PCOS symptoms worse. As well as uncontrollable body weight no matter how hard you’re working out or reducing calories, poor insulin regulation contributes towards irregular periods, emotional sensitivity (especially to stress) and things like unwanted hair, and acne.
In my PCOS Diet Chart Cheat Sheet, I list all the carbohydrate foods that are best for helping to manage insulin levels. These wholefoods are all relatively slow digesting which means they take longer to affect your blood glucose levels. This is what’s known as low GI.
By eating a small amount of these low GI carbs with every meal it’s possible to keep your blood glucose levels stable throughout the day, even if you’re insulin resistant. As well as helping you maintain a stable mood and energy levels, a small amount of low GI carbs throughout the day can help curb sugar and carb cravings.
Many past participants from my free 30-Day PCOS Diet Challenge have actually been able to completely reverse their insulin resistance by taking this approach to the consumption of carbs.
For example, after being diagnosed with PCOS and insulin resistance Lisa Hiebner was prescribed metformin and sent on her way. Luckily though she decided to do her own research and that’s when she read about my PCOS diet recommendations. After completing my free 30-Day PCOS Diet Challenge, Lisa started improving her diet by eating the right kind of carbs while also eliminating sugar, dairy, gluten, and soy products.
Within just two months of that fateful first doctor’s appointment, the metformin was making her so sick she could barely eat. She quit taking it, but continued to adapt to a PCOS friendly diet. Within less than a year from her initial diagnosis not only had Lisa’s insulin sensitivity returned to normal, but so too had her thyroid and other hormone levels as well as some previously measured vitamin deficiencies. This was entirely without medical intervention and Lisa was so excited about what she’d achieved that she was happy for me to share this post she made in my PCOS Support Facebook Group.
Another previous Challenge participant that comes to mind is Valerie Williamson who was a high-risk candidate for type II diabetes until she started being smart about her diet. When Valerie was diagnosed with insulin resistance despite being relatively lean, she was fairly freaked out since her mom had diabetes and she didn’t want the same thing to happen to her. Fortunately, Valerie converted her anxiety into action and within just six months of following a PCOS friendly diet, she was able to stop taking the metformin she’d been prescribed. Six months after that, Valerie shared this wonderful news with our PCOS Facebook community which she kindly let me include here.
You can learn more about my dietary recommendations for carbohydrate consumption in this PCOS diet article.
If you’re familiar with the ever-popular ketogenic diet you’ll see that my carb recommendations take a different approach to achieve some-what similar results. While there’s no doubt that effectively eliminating carbs can have positive short-term benefits on our metabolic health, as I explain in this article on the ketogenic diet for PCOS, I don’t actually think that this dietary approach is the way to go if you’re looking for a long-term solution to your PCOS diagnosis.
Take home point: Eating a small amount of low GI carbs with every meal is the perfect way to minimize sugar cravings, and help ensure good blood glucose regulation.
4. Fats And Oils Are Foods That Help PCOS
Fats and oils have to be one of the most widely misunderstood food groups but we do so at our peril. If all you do is eat more wholefood sources of fat, then I can guarantee things will start changing for you.
This is because dietary fat is so filling, satisfying, and good for your health.
And no, I’m not just talking about olive oil, avocado’s, fish, and nuts. I mean butter and coconut oil and even fatty cuts of meat.
One of the biggest travesties imposed on our community by Big Food and a complicit government bureaucracy is the idea that fat makes you fat. This widely promoted, incorrect advice has been persistently challenged within the scientific community yet it’s only since 2015 that mainstream guidelines quietly began to change.
While they still have a long way to go when it comes to recognizing the scientific understanding that saturated fat is not in of itself harmful (Hite et al. 201013; Siri-Tarino et al. 201014), the Dietary Guidelines for Americans were quietly modified in 2015 to remove restrictions on total fat intake and the dropping of dietary cholesterol as a “nutrient of concern” (Mozaffarian et al. 201515).
What this means is that having plenty of eggs is totally fine and you no longer need to be scared of ribeye.
One of the biggest benefits of upping your fat intake is that it displaces foods that are least helpful for getting your PCOS under control.
Quitting sugar and eating carbohydrate-based foods are by far the biggest lever to pull when it comes to regulating your hormones and if you eat more fat, you’ll be amazed at how much easier this process can be. You see, when we eat more fat, our natural fullness and satiety hormones are triggered. When we feel full and satisfied, we’re much less tempted by sugary foods and are more inclined to make smarter decisions about what we eat next.
The fat-burning potential of consuming a lot of fat is also well demonstrated by the ketogenic diet. This is where you consume around 75% of calories from fat, 20% from protein and about 5% from carbs. This is at the extreme end of the fat consumption spectrum, but the popularity and success of this approach for people with all manner of different health issues is a clear testimony to its metabolic health benefits. Preliminary research suggests these results translate to women with PCOS also (Paoli et al. 202016) but as I mentioned earlier, my personal view is that the ketogenic diet is not a good long-term solution as I explain in detail here.
Rather than list all the fat containing foods to eat with PCOS, I find it easier to explain which oils aren’t so good. Provided you’re consuming fats and oils primarily from relatively unprocessed, wholefood sources then apart from industrial oils like those produced from cotton seed, canola, sunflower seed, grape seed, and rice bran, then you’ll be doing your body justice.
I generally recommend avoiding these oils as they tend to be pro-inflammatory which is exactly the opposite of what we want. But it’s not necessary to be completely dogmatic about this. For example, sesame seed oil is fairly inflammatory, but typically you only use a tiny amount when cooking to give your dishes a distinctive Asian flavor. Or perhaps you’ll find an otherwise compliant product that contains a little sunflower oil. This sort of consumption of otherwise unhelpful oils is not going to matter in the scheme of things so don’t let this piece of advice stress you out.
Fats and oils are certainly one of those foods that help PCOS and there’s always more evidence coming out supporting this thesis. But I get that at a personal level this can seem counter-productive especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
All I can say is that the science is fairly unambiguous about fat. It’s really not bad for you, and if the experience of the women that have lost weight after taking part in my free 30-Day PCOS Diet Challenge is anything to go by, it’s 100% clear that we need to shake off all the prior conditioning we’ve had to avoid high-fat foods.
This is by far one of the most enjoyable parts of a PCOS friendly diet, so make the most of it and let the results speak for themselves.
For a comprehensive list of healthy fats and oils make sure to get a copy of my PCOS Diet Chart Cheat Sheet.
Take home point: Get at least half your calories from fat. Eat fatty fish, meats and eggs, and be liberal with nut oils and olive oils.
5. Nuts & Seeds Are Foods That Help PCOS Too
As nutrient dense packets of fat, protein, carbohydrates, and fiber, nuts and seeds make beautiful PCOS friendly foods.
If I had to shortlist my favorite nuts and seeds I’d pick walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds. These are all rich in omega 3 fatty acids as well as being great sources of dietary fiber (especially the chia and flaxseeds). Almonds also make the short list because while they don’t stack up quite as well on most nutritional metrics, they make a very practical addition to any PCOS food list.
Walnuts and almonds are fantastic as a snack or in a salad, while chia and flaxseeds are the perfect ingredient for making a PCOS friendly porridge or smoothie. Then of course, there’s almost an untold amount of PCOS friendly baked goods you can make with a combination of these four ingredients.
For anyone that’s being intentional about avoiding gluten, baked goods made with nuts and seeds quickly become your best friend.
Then of course there’s the milk-substitute abilities of things like coconuts, almonds, and flaxseeds. While I appreciate that there can be some reluctance in switching to these milks when you’re used to dairy, seeing genuine results can really help with the transition. Given that the majority of women with PCOS don’t tolerate dairy well, it’s an everyday occurrence within my PCOS community for people to report getting clearer skin, less bloating, feeling energized, and getting their period back after staying away from dairy for a month. When you’re making bold steps like this to change your diet, nut and seeds milks become absolutely essential.
This was certainly the experience of Jamie Bietzell who was another previous 30-Day PCOS Diet Challenge participant who shared her success story with me. Jamie had a long history of infertility, miscarriage, troubles with bodyweight, and various cardiovascular health concerns but she managed to turn all of this around with a PCOS friendly diet. For Jamie, like many of the most successful women I work with, quitting dairy and switching to nut and seed-based substitutes was one of the major changes that seemed to make all the difference.
Over the course of a year, Jamie dropped from a size 22 jean to a size 18 after losing 50 pounds. Her hypertension resolved itself and her A1C levels dropped enough to take her out of the diabetic range. She started sleeping better and her hair thickened up, while the unwanted hair that was a constant bother became much less of an issue. The biggest prize for Jamie and her husband though was the birth of their son on Christmas day.
Take home point: Nuts and seeds are great sources of fat and fiber and are valuable substitutes for less PCOS friendly foods.
6. Low Sugar Fruits Should Stay On Your PCOS Food List
Okay, so fruit is possibly one of the most essential items to get right on your PCOS food list.
As anyone that’s being intentional about their PCOS knows, avoiding sugar is one of the best things you can do. But does this mean we need to also avoid fruit?
But there’s also some logic you need to apply when including fruit in your PCOS diet.
First, the sugar found in fruit is digested and metabolized very differently than the same sugar molecules found in a can of Coke. While the exact biochemistry behind this is both long and confusing, as far as I can tell, the presence of fiber and phytonutrients make the sugar in whole fruit relatively benign.
Thank goodness, because we all need a little sweetness in our lives, right?
So the whole fruit is fine but there are several caveats to this. Dried fruit is not so good because the sugars are more concentrated. Fruit juices are definitely not good because most of the fiber that improves the metabolism of the sugar gets removed during juicing leaving you with just a flavorful source of sugar-water.
Caveats aside, fruit is definitely a PCOS friendly food. It’s not necessary to eat fruit as I don’t think there’s anything particularly essential about its nutritional offering, but it’s certainly a valuable substitute to many harmful alternatives.
I know when we’re first adapting to a PCOS friendly diet, it’s easy to get caught up with sugar counting leading to caution around fruit.
Well my advice is simple.
Don’t over think fruit too much because there are likely bigger fish for you to fry. Stick to relatively less sweet tasting fruits like berries and melons, and keep to 1-2 servings per day.
If you’re following these guidelines, there’s just no way that fruit will have an adverse impact on your PCOS health outcomes. But what it will do is give you a healthy way to satisfy your needs for something sweet.
For a list of my recommended low-sugar fruits, get yourself a copy of my downloadable PCOS diet chart.
Take home point: Don’t get too technical when it comes to fruit, go for more tart tasting varieties and keep servings modest.
Don’t Underestimate The Value of PCOS Friendly Foods
So, that’s what I consider to be the six best foods for PCOS but I don’t just want you to understand what to eat with PCOS, I also want you to understand why.
Making the transition away from your normal eating habits takes effort and determination. And I’m guessing that regardless of how healthy your current diet is, that you still see room for improvement – especially now that you’ve gone through this list.
If you’re to have any chance of success with dietary change I think it’s absolutely essential to have good reasons behind the choices you make.
PCOS can be a disheartening disorder that puts us at increased risk for all sorts of terrible long-term health outcomes including but not limited to things like liver disease, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.
Many recent studies are now also showing that children born to women with PCOS are more likely to suffer from developmental disorders (Bell et al. 201817), psychiatric disorders, ADHD, and Autism (Berni et al. 201818; Katsigianni et al. 201919), as well as increased rates of cardiovascular disease and diabetes (Maduro 201820).
It‘s not a pretty picture. But I also don’t think that fear is a very helpful motivator.
What I find works a whole lot better is a realistic and positive vision about what overcoming PCOS might look like for you. Because for many women, changing their diet is all that’s needed to reverse their symptoms and take back control of their wellbeing.
I realize that believing in the power of food takes a pretty big leap of faith which is why I wanted to end this article with a couple of recent success stories. These are two fantastic examples of women who have transformed their lives after participating in my free 30-Day PCOS Diet Challenge.
Raynetta is the first and her story shows us just how empowering it can be to begin beating PCOS. What started out as a weight loss journey and a desire to fall pregnant has not only seen Raynetta sustainably work her way down from a size 12 to a size 6, but the process of doing so has brought out her best self. After struggling so long with her bodyweight to the point that it affected her self-confidence, Raynetta is now a successful health coach committed to helping others rediscover their inner warrior.
LeeAnne Soule’s story is another one that really warms my heart as the progress she made just through changing her diet was nothing short of astounding. LeeAnne once described herself as a textbook case of PCOS having experienced just about every symptom you could imagine (and more). She’d spent two decades struggling with debilitating symptoms but after switching to a PCOS friendly diet everything (yes everything) got 100 times better. While this brief summary barely does her justice, LeeAnne lost 65 pounds, started getting a regular 30-day period, and her acne, joint pain, and previous bouts of brain fog all became a thing of the past. She also started to get new hair growth on her head, less unwanted hair on her face, her migraines stopped, and her depression lifted.
Now I’m not saying that when you start eating from the list of foods presented in this article that you’re going to become a personal trainer, or that every health issue in your life will suddenly vanish like it did for LeeAnne.
But what I can guarantee is that you’ll feel a lot better, and the longer you stick at it, the more likely you are to see meaningful and sustainable changes to your health. The personal accounts that I’ve shared in this article are fairly remarkable but also remarkably common among women who completely commit to a PCOS friendly lifestyle. There’s no miracle cure for PCOS but by adopting the right kind of diet specifically for your diagnosis, there’s no reason to expect that in time, you won’t see equally fantastic results.
If you’re ready to make a change in your diet and are serious about tackling your PCOS for good, then I hope you’ll follow the example of all the women that have gone before you and sign up for my next free 30-Day PCOS Diet Challenge.
We’ll be getting started soon.
Kym Campbell is a Health Coach and PCOS expert with a strong passion for using evidence-based lifestyle interventions to manage this disorder. Kym combines rigorous scientific analysis with the advice from leading clinicians to disseminate the most helpful PCOS patient-centric information you can find online. You can read more about Kym and her team here.
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