What Foods To Avoid With PCOS

Women diagnosed with Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can benefit from lifestyle changes.

Diet and exercise are included in the recommendations for living with PCOS, although an optimal eating regimen isn’t completely clear. What is known is that obesity can worsen the symptoms of PCOS, and weight loss improves its features.1

If you’re wondering what foods to avoid with PCOS, there are some guidelines available to you.

Living With PCOS

Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS is the most common endocrine disorder affecting women, impacting an estimated 8–13% of women of reproductive age worldwide.1

Women with PCOS have a hormone imbalance, in which their ovaries produce an abnormally high amount of male sex hormones called androgens. This imbalance often creates infrequent or irregular periods, and the lack of ovulation can lead to the development of small cysts on the outer edge of the ovary. The small fluid-filled cysts contain immature eggs called follicles that fail to regularly release eggs.2

These are the main symptoms of PCOS:

  • cysts 
  • infrequent, irregular, or prolonged periods
  • physical symptoms like excess hair, acne, or even male-pattern baldness due to excess androgen

What Foods to Avoid With PCOS

Women diagnosed with PCOS are more likely to have other conditions such as  systemic inflammation, obesity, and insulin resistance—or a combination of these chronic conditions, all of which increase the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other illnesses.3

While one food can’t cure or make PCOS worse, it is suggested that women avoid eating too many foods associated with inflammation, which can aggravate PCOS and increase the risk of those other conditions.3

Here are some guidelines of foods to limit or avoid with PCOS, which can increase inflammation:

  • fried foods, such as French fries and potato chips, and fried meats like fried chicken or fish3
  • saturated fats such as butter or margarine3
  • red meat3
  • processed luncheon meat and hot dogs3
  • processed snacks like cakes and cookies3
  • prepared cereal high in sugar3
  • sugary beverages such as sodas3
  • foods with the following in their ingredients list: sucrose, dextrose and high fructose corn syrup4
    • alcohol3
    • refined flour and white bread3
    • white rice3
    • pasta made from durum wheat flour, durum flour or semolina4

    Since studies suggest that over 70% of women suffering from PCOS have insulin resistance, a healthy diet is important. Insulin resistance is when the body’s cells stop responding to insulin in a normal manner, resulting in increases to insulin blood levels above normal. Insulin resistance is common in obese or overweight women with PCOS who follow an unhealthy diet, and can ultimately lead to diabetes.5

    A diet that is high in starchy and sugary foods along with refined carbohydrates may lead to increased insulin resistance and increased difficulty with weight gain.4

    That makes maintaining a healthy weight important, but don’t try to lose weight using a fad diet trend.3 Instead, look for foods that don’t spike blood sugar, like fiber-rich whole grains and non-starchy vegetables. Consuming a diet that is higher in fiber also helps to combat insulin resistance.4 It’s also suggested that smaller, more frequent meals and healthy snacks are a good idea.3

    See a Doctor

    Make an appointment to see your health care provider if you’re worried about your periods or you suspect you have PCOS. In particular, if you aren’t having your period, you’re having trouble getting pregnant, or you have signs of excess androgen such as new hair growth on your face and body, use our Physician Finder to find a doctor near you. It’s important to get a proper diagnosis to build a treatment plan for PCOS.