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Foods to Avoid with PCOS: What You Need To Know

Foods to Avoid with PCOS: What You Need To Know

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. PCOS is attributed to having a hormonal imbalance, irregular menstruation, and metabolism problems. PCOS can also lead to health risks such as diabetes, heart disease, endometrial problems, and obesity. Women with PCOS manage their symptoms by living a healthier lifestyle. The key is to improve diet and identify which foods to avoid with PCOS.

What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome?

foods to avoid with pcos

Before knowing which foods to avoid with PCOS, it is important to understand what causes the condition. PCOS is the result of a hormonal imbalance.

Basically, women with PCOS have a higher amount of male hormones called androgens. This causes the development of multiple cysts in the ovaries.

Androgens affect the production of estrogen and progesterone, hormones regulate the menstrual cycle. PCOS is mainly characterized by:

  • Polycystic ovaries: Small, fluid-filled sacs that grow inside the ovaries.
  • Irregular periods: Due to the cysts in the ovaries, the eggs don’t mature enough to reach ovulation. This can also lead to infertility.
  • High levels of male hormones: The overproduction of androgens can lead to excessive hair growth on the face and body, including chest and back.

Polycystic ovary syndrome is also associated with serious conditions such as:

  • endometrial cancer
  • diabetes
  • cardiovascular diseases

Women who have PCOS are generally overweight. PCOS is not preventable, but its symptoms can be managed.

Research shows that weight loss can prevent metabolic complications and improve quality of life. And knowing which foods to avoid with PCOS is a good place to start.

What is a PCOS-friendly diet?

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. It is responsible for converting sugar or glucose into energy.

Insulin is overproduced when one suffers insulin resistance, as this is the body’s way of keeping blood sugar levels normal. Women who are overweight or obese are likely to be insulin resistant, which can cause high blood sugar levels, leading to weight gain.

Maintaining a healthy weight is a way to minimize risks associated with PCOS. Knowing the right types of food to eat as well as which foods to avoid with PCOS can help with weight loss.

Foods to Avoid with PCOS and What to Eat Instead

PCOS cannot be prevented, but it can be managed. Lifestyle changes like diet, exercise, and weight loss can improve PCOS symptoms.

Maintaining a healthy body weight can regulate the menstrual cycle, lower insulin, improve cholesterol levels, and reduce diabetes risks. Adding healthier options to your diet while identifying which foods to avoid with PCOS can help with weight loss.

High-fiber foods can boost metabolism and keep insulin levels down. Make sure to add the following options to your diet:

  • Broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts
  • Dark, leafy greens like kale, spinach, and arugula
  • Beans and lentils
  • Berries and other red fruits like cherries and grapes
  • Nuts and whole grains

Try the following diets to help reduce body fat:

  • Low glycemic index (GI) diet. Foods with low GI slowly releases sugars in the bloodstream, meaning abrupt spikes in insulin level are avoided. Opt for food with low carbohydrates like whole grains, legumes, nuts, and starchy vegetables.
  • Anti-inflammatory diet. Women with PCOS may experience metabolic stress due to dietary factors, such excess glucose. This leads to inflammation-related symptoms like fatigue. Anti-inflammatory foods include berries, nuts, leafy greens, tomatoes, plant-based fats like olive oil, and fish high in omega-3 like salmon and tuna.
  • DASH diet. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This helps reduce risks of heart disease which can be increased in women with PCOS. According to a study, obese individuals who followed this approach were found to have lower insulin levels and less body fat.
  • For protein, choose leaner sources like chicken, tofu, and fatty fish.

With the following food choices in mind, it is also important to know which foods to avoid with PCOS. By doing so, you will be able to make a solid diet plan.

foods to avoid with pcos

PCOS treatment: Foods to avoid with PCOS

Your insulin level changes regardless of what you eat. However, there are certain foods which trigger more dangerous effects.

Among these are carbohydrates. But carbohydrates with fiber found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are healthy. On the other hand, carbohydrates that are sugary and refined can make weight loss more difficult to achieve.

The following are examples of which foods to avoid with PCOS:

Refined carbohydrates

Women with PCOS do not process carbohydrates normally. This is due to the insulin build-up in their blood. Refined carbohydrates can worsen insulin resistance and cause inflammation. Foods containing refined carbohydrates include white bread, pastries, pasta made with durum flour or semolina, and white rice.

Sugary beverages

Sugary beverages include soda, juice, and energy drinks. Bottled smoothies and other cold-pressed drinks also contain sugar. Switch concentrated sugars found in powdered drinks to natural sugar from fruits instead.

Sugary, processed food

Apart from drinks, sugary food is included in foods to avoid with PCOS.

This includes desserts like cake, cookies, ice cream, and candy. Processed food is usually not filling. As a result, you are likely to consume more, which adds more carbohydrates and fats to your body.

Saturated and trans fats

Saturated fat are mostly found in red and processed meats such as burger patties, hotdogs, and sausages. Trans fats, on the other hand, is found in most fast food like pizza and fries. Both are inflammatory and not ideal for weight loss.


Women with PCOS may have fatty liver, and alcohol is a direct toxin. Alcoholic beverages, especially cocktails contain high levels of sugar. And so limiting alcohol intake and opting for those not made with sugary mixers is a necessary dietary change.


According to research, limiting dairy intake can help with hormonal symptoms and lose weight. Dairy contains calcium and Vitamin D which is beneficial. However, dairy products like artificial cheese, ice cream, and yogurt with sugary toppings should be limited.

Key Takeaways

PCOS is characterized by irregular periods, infertility, excess hair growth, and polycystic ovaries. Women with PCOS are generally overweight or obese.

PCOS affects metabolic systems, including processing of insulin. While not preventable, PCOS is highly manageable.

Maintaining a healthy weight is one way to control PCOS symptoms. This includes eating the right types of food and knowing which foods to avoid with PCOS. Limit the intake of foods high in carbohydrates found in grains, sugary beverages, and fast food.

Ovulation Calculator

Ovulation Calculator

Tracking your period cycle, determines your most fertile days and increases your chance of conceiving or applying for birth control.

Ovulation Calculator

Tracking your period cycle, determines your most fertile days and increases your chance of conceiving or applying for birth control.

Ovulation Calculator

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Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Healthful Eating Tips for PCOS https://www.uwhealth.org/healthfacts/nutrition/281.pdf (Accessed 28 April 2020)

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos/ (Accessed 29 April 2020)

Polycystic ovary syndrome and its impact on women’s quality of life: More than just an endocrine disorder https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3108690/ (Accessed 29 April 2020)

How PCOS Affects Women’s Lifestyle https://www.manilamed.com.ph/pcos-affect-womens-lifestyle/ (Accessed 29 April 2020)

PCOS Symptoms and Causes https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pcos/symptoms-causes/syc-20353439 (Accessed 29 April 2020)

Polycystic ovary syndrome, https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/polycystic-ovary-syndrome#:~:text=Polycystic%20ovary%20syndrome%20(PCOS)%20is,and%20treatable%20cause%20of%20infertility., Accesses July 5, 2021

Anti-Inflammatory Dietary Combo in Overweight and Obese Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4525389/, Accesses July 5, 2021

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Written by Honey Buenaventura Updated Jul 05
Medically reviewed by Mary Rani Cadiz, M.D.