Foods to Avoid with PCOS
If you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS, you may be confused on what to eat. You’re not the only one! There are twelve million searches on google on foods to avoid with PCOS. And once you’ve read some of the articles, you’ll wonder what’s left to eat! You’ll find cute colorful graphics all over instagram stating:
Foods to avoid with PCOS
And then you’ll also read to avoid meat, non-organic foods, GMO’s, and more! It becomes very overwhelming to know what you can eat. But here’s the deal – 90% of this is not evidence based! I am so tired of reading this stuff plastered all over social media. I think it’s wrong to instill fear in women who are already stressed enough with the diagnosis. But what is accurate is that some foods are healthier for PCOS than others. So I put together a list of foods that should be limited if you have PCOS. Key word here is “limited”! There are no foods you have to avoid 100% if you have PCOS.
No one size fits all approach to PCOS
Before getting into what foods are healthy or not so healthy for PCOS, it’s important to understand is that there is no one size fits all approach to nutrition for PCOS. Every woman has different genes, degrees of insulin resistance and inflammation, gut microbiomes, food sensitivities, metabolisms, so it’s impossible to give specific dietary advice.
Health issues in PCOS
So while there is no one exact diet for all women with PCOS, there are dietary patterns that may help improve symptoms of PCOS and decrease health risks. And there are other types of foods that may have a negative impact on the health of women with PCOS. The specific health concerns of women with PCOS include that can be improved or worsened with foods include:
-risk of heart disease and diabetes
– gut microbiome
– worsened food sensitivities which can cause inflammation
Foods to eat less often with PCOS
Certain foods have the potential to worsen symptoms of PCOS. But keep in mind it’s more about dietary patterns than individual foods. I also don’t like to use the word “avoid” as it sets up the connotation of good and bad foods. I’d rather say to limit your intake of the following foods:
- Beverages and foods high in added sugar. All carbs raise blood sugar. However, sugary foods and drinks cause a more rapid spike of blood sugar. Rapid spikes of blood sugar put more demand on the pancreas to make insulin. This can worsen insulin resistance. Sugar has been linked to cardiovascular disease, elevated blood pressure, triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol as well as visceral obesity, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, acne, and hyperuricemia. In addition, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition warns that processed sugars trigger the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines. High-glycemic index foods also fuel the production of advanced glycation end (AGE) products that stimulate inflammation. High sugar foods have a negative effect on the gut microbiome.Names for added sugar include: Agave sugar or nectar, apple juice concentrate, brown sugar, corn syrup, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, molasses, maple syrup, raw sugar, table sugar, powered sugar, evaporated cane sugar. So don’t be tricked into thinking these foods are healthier! Stay tuned because in the near future, “added” sugars will be added to the food labels. Right now labels are a little confusing as it does not differentiate between added and natural sugars (found in fruit or plain yogurt).
Tip: drink more water, unsweetened ice teas, flavored seltzer rather than sweetened drinks, juice, soda.
- Refined or “white”carbs. The reasons are the same as for added sugar. High glycemic carbs include: white bread, white rice, white pasta, cereals like Cornflakes and Rice Krispies, pretzels, cakes and other processed snack foods.
Tip: Choose more low-GI carbs including dried beans and legumes, all non-starchy vegetables, some starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, most fruit, and many whole grain breads and cereals (like barley, whole wheat bread, rye bread, and all-bran cereal). They can contain gluten or be gluten free.
- Partially hydrogenated oils/trans fats, such as those found in some stick margarines, fried foods. prepackaged baked goods, flavored coffee creams
(liquid and powder), some brands of shelf-stable peanut butter, and chocolate- or yogurt-coated snacks. These foods increase inflammation as well as risk of heart disease.
Tip: Look for partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredient labels – and stay away!
- Excesses of omega 6 fats can trigger the body to produce pro-inflammatory chemicals. They are found in refined vegetable oils, such as corn and soy, safflower, sunflower, grapeseed, soy, and some mayonnaise and salad dressings
Tip: Choose healthier oils like extra virgin olive oil (my first recommendation by far!) and extra virgin coconut oil. You can also find salad dressing and mayo made from these olive oil.
- Limit intake of meats (especially luncheon meats) and other high fat-animal based foods. Animal products promote the growth of detrimental bacteria and result in the release of toxic chemicals that may be harmful to our health. Like carbohydrates, proteins are fermented by the bacteria living in the large intestine. Fermentation of protein causes a release of toxic metabolites that are being linked to cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and some cancers.
Tip: vary your protein with fish (especially wild salmon), hormone free poultry and lean grass fed meat. Also look for plant based protein like nuts, seeds, non GMO unprocessed soy, legumes.
- Limit/avoid artificial sweeteners. While further research is warranted, studies are suggesting that artificial sweeteners may induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. It’s also likely that artificial sweeteners will have variable effects on individual people due to effect of genes, individual metabolisms and gut microbiomes. You will need to weigh pros & cons of using artificial sweeteners versus sugar.
Tip: My recommendation is to use as little of either as possible! Read my blog post Are artificial sweeteners bad for you?
- Fried and charred foods are high in advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Dietary AGEs are pathologic substances that have been implicated in the development and progression of various metabolic and chronic diseases. As the warm weather approaches, be careful not to get your meat too charred on the grill.
Tip: Grilling is a great way to cook foods in the warm weather. Using an acidic marinade can help decrease AGE’s as can cooking over lower heat.Individual approach neededHere is where it gets a little more complicated as some women have food sensitivities whereas others do not. But just because you have PCOS, it does not mean you have to avoid these foods. But pay attention to how your body feels.
- Dairy: Hot button topic. Up to 70% of the population is lactose intolerant, so some women feel better avoiding it. Studies have shown dairy may worsen acne in PCOS. So pay attention to how it affects your body. There are no studies that prove all women with PCOS need to avoid dairy. Stay tuned for a blog post on this.
Tip: If you choose to consume dairy, go for full fat or at least 2%. Avoid very low fat or fat free. Fermented dairy like yogurt, keffir and cheese has more health benefits as compared to milk. There are very few studies regarding dairy and PCOS. Avoid it if it makes you feel wors
- Gluten. There is no research that conclusively shows a gluten free diet is better than any other diet for PCOS. If you show signs of gluten intolerance (bloating, GI issues, autoimmune disorders), do a trial of omitting gluten to see if you feel better. I did a really long blog post on this topic. Read more here.
Tip: Avoid gluten if it makes you feel worse. But don’t feel you have to!
- Coffee: Some women feel better avoiding caffeine. Too much can worsen anxiety, exacerbate feelings of stress and cause sleep problems, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a cup in the morning if you want it! There is no reason as to why women with PCOS have to avoid all caffeine. Coffee is actually rich in antioxidants and may have some health benefits. Here is an old blog post I did on coffee (pros and cons)
Tip: Don’t feel you have to give up your morning cup of coffee if it’s important to you. But avoid adding sugar or creamers with partially hydrogenated oils (or other fake stuff). But consume it in moderation. Here is an old blog post I did on coffee (pros and cons)
- Alcohol. Alcohol in excess has numerous negative health implications for PCOS (or anyone) including a negative effect on gut microbiome, but nothing wrong with a glass of wine or drink on occasion! It can also trigger the urge to eat more and have a negative impact on sleep.
Tip: Moderation if you choose to drink! Avoid sweet mixers loaded with carbs, sugar and calories.
Don’t add more stress to your life by believing everything you read on the internet about what foods you should supposedly avoid with PCOS. While some of it is accurate, much of it is not evidence based. Think more about the healthy foods you could be adding to your diet to help heal your PCOS. While there is evidence for limiting the foods listed in #1-#7, your best bet with the other foods is to pay attention to how your body feels. You may find you feel better eliminating them … or notice no difference!
What foods worsen your symptoms?
I especially love problem-solving, whether it’s helping women defeat issues plaguing them for years, helping a busy executive find practical ways to get heart healthy, or providing tips to help you reverse diabetes. That’s why I’m on a constant quest to expand my knowledge by staying on top of the latest research.