Food & PCOS: What to Avoid and What to Enjoy Guilt-Free
Published August 23, 2023.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder—It is the most common one among reproductive-aged women, affecting roughly 8-13% of women. PCOS affects hormone balance, fertility, health, and appearance as it can increase the likelihood of obesity, metabolic syndrome, or diabetes.
There are four types of PCOS:
- Insulin resistant
Not all types are treated in the same way, and some (like post-pill PCOS) are temporary and reversible. The most common type is insulin-resistant PCOS, and the information in this article is mainly geared toward that type. Although, those with other versions may also benefit from the advice.
PCOS can be largely managed through diet and lifestyle changes. So, let's go over some diet changes that can help you!
Disclaimer: The advice in this article is generic. You should consult with your medical provider before making any changes.
» Struggling with PCOS? Find out more about unusual signs and symptoms of PCOS
Worst Foods for PCOS
If the foods on this list are your favorites, it's totally okay—any food is fine in moderation. However, for those with PCOS, inflammatory foods can exacerbate symptoms.
So you should enjoy these as a special treat rather than on a daily basis:
Foods fried in oils are high in saturated and trans fats, which are particularly negative for those with insulin-resistant or inflammatory PCOS since it can fluctuate your blood sugar. Some examples include french fries, potato chips, fried chicken, and tempura. These fats can have the following effects:
- Raises the LDL cholesterol (the "bad" type) in your blood, which can increase the risk of heart disease
- Increases inflammatory responses within the body and can cause weight gain
- Spikes your blood sugar, causing an energy rush followed by a crash
Many fried foods can be alternatively cooked in an air fryer, which is a much healthier option. The final product will contain a much smaller amount of these fats but generally will be crispy and flavorful.
Common examples of processed meats are deli cuts, hot dogs, bacon, and any preserved meat, most of which are high in saturated fats and sodium. If your total intake of sodium is too high, it increases your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize that less than 2,300mg per day is optimal.
Alternatives for these largely depend on what it is you're eating, but you can switch them out for peanut butter, hummus, and homemade burgers.
Alcohol affects the body in numerous ways:
- Increases inflammatory response
- Decreases blood sugar levels (and the ability to regulate them if often consuming alcohol)
- Boosts testosterone
- Lowers nutrient absorption
- Alters body temperature
- In terms of trying to conceive, it can decrease blood flow to reproductive organs and delay ovulation
If you enjoy social drinking, try alternating between virgin and regular drinks to keep your alcohol consumption moderate.
Refined carbs, which are stripped of most nutrients except simple carbs, are not an ideal energy source. Eating more than the occasional item with refined carbs can lead to weight gain or inability to lose weight, increased insulin production, and inflammation, worsening PCOS symptoms.
Try making treats at home using whole grains when you do have a craving or find a local bakery with these options.
Many women with PCOS crave sugary food and beverages—like energy drinks, sodas, and pastries—throughout the day. But consuming too much sugar will spike insulin levels and increase the risk of diabetes.
In general, natural sugars from fruits, honey, and maple syrup are considered healthier options than sugars in processed and refined foods. Try getting your sugar allotment (usually around 100 calories per day) in with fresh fruits and berries.
PCOS Fruits to Avoid
With PCOS, there are fruits to steer clear of, including overripe bananas, dried fruits (like apricots and figs), and canned fruits.
» Check out these nutrition tips for people with PCOS
Best Diet for PCOS
The best low-carb diet for PCOS offers the right nutrients. With fewer carbs, your blood sugar spikes less and you have improved weight control since carbs impact hunger hormones. On top of minimizing the foods above, you should make sure you are eating varied types of fruits, vegetables, and meat (or other full proteins).
A PCOS insulin-resistant diet should prioritize stabilizing blood sugar levels since high insulin levels lead to inflammation and weight gain. This includes eating low glycemic foods in smaller amounts throughout the day, rather than large meals a few times each day.
Low GI Diet for PCOS
The best diet for high cholesterol and PCOS is a low GI diet, which doesn't have any refined carbs. This shouldn't be confused with no carbs at all, as carbs are an incredibly important energy source. Some examples to incorporate into your diet are:
- Fish: Is tuna good for PCOS? Yes, and so are salmon and sardines. These are all full of vitamins and help decrease insulin resistance.
- Whole grains: These healthy carbs include steel-cut oats, quinoa, and barley. Ingredients like this contain important nutrients and fiber that their counterparts lack and can be used to make the best bread for PCOS.
- Lean proteins: Lean proteins are packed with nutrition, will help you feel full longer, and reduce inflammation. Some to include are eggs, poultry, and lentils.
- Healthy fats: Necessary for a balanced diet, these fats won't spike your blood sugar or slow down digestion. These include avocados, walnuts, cheese, eggs, and full-fat yogurt.
- Non-starchy vegetables: The best vegetables for PCOS include spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and snow peas, which are full of fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins. Plus, they promote healthy gut bacteria for better digestion.
» Take a look at these Instagram accounts to follow for PCOS recipe ideas
It's completely understandable that these diet changes may seem drastic. However, they're also incredibly helpful in managing unpleasant PCOS symptoms and preventing long-term health problems. Making little changes over time—rather than trying to go cold turkey—can make you feel better and get pregnant faster (if you're trying).
Overall health and vitality impact fertility, so establishing fertility awareness and tracking your ovulation can help you understand your body better for increased chances of conception. Tempdrop makes it easy with their wearable device and intuitive app. So, why wait? Start making changes today for a healthier tomorrow.