What Not to Eat When You Have PCOS?

Medically Reviewed on 10/14/2021
PCOS diet
Managing symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome requires maintaining a proper PCOS diet that includes avoiding the following foods.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder seen among women of childbearing age. Though the exact cause of PCOS is unclear, both genetics and poor lifestyle choices are implicated.

The most common problem for women with PCOS is weight gain. So, to aid in weight loss and maintain proper hormonal balance, certain foods are to be avoided. Additionally, these women often have premenstrual dysphoria and weight gain. Some women complain of migraine episodes around their menses.

10 foods to be avoided by PCOS patients

Diet is critical to manage and improve polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). A nutritious, well-balanced diet that is rich in nutrients can help you manage PCOS and lose weight.

One of the main pathologies in PCOS is hyperinsulinemia. The other symptoms of the condition, such as acne, irregular periods, excess hair growth, and mood swings, are due to an imbalance in the body’s androgens, which can be managed to an extent with a good diet and lifestyle changes.

A proper PCOS diet should avoid the following foods:

  1. Refined carbohydrates
    • Women with PCOS are at a higher risk of developing diabetes than other populations. Hence, it is recommended to avoid foods that increase the production of insulin levels.
    • Refined carbohydrates, such as white processed bread, pastries, white rice, white potatoes, and pastries that are made from refined flour, are to be avoided in patients with PCOS.
  2. Coffee
    • Consumption of coffee has shown a significant rise in estrogen hormone levels during the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle. PCOS itself leads to hormonal imbalance, so the consumption of coffee increases the risk of hormonal imbalance in patients with PCOS.
  3. Alcohol
    • Alcohol consumption should be limited in patients with PCOS with some doctors urging a complete avoidance.
    • Alcohol may increase the hormone testosterone, which leads to an imbalance of estrogen. Alcohol stimulates the excess release of hormones that control ovulation, luteinizing hormone, and follicle-stimulating hormone.
    • Alcohol can lower blood sugar levels, which can lead to increased sugar cravings, weight gain, nutritional depletion, and an inability to control glucose levels, resulting in a low blood sugar level. Wine can trigger migraines in some as well.
  4. Fried foods
    • Foods that are fried in oil contain high saturated fats and trans fats, which are considered unhealthy. Such foods increase the risk of inflammation, weight gain, and cancers.
    • Fried foods have the same effects as high sugary foods. They increase blood sugar levels instantly and provide energy. After this, they cause a sudden dip in blood sugar levels. Fried products are often rich in salt, which may cause bloating, weight gain, and gastric distress in people with PCOS.
  5. Sugary beverages
    • Sugary drinks, such as sodas and energy drinks, contain high levels of sugar that trigger the release of insulin and cause an imbalance in the production of the male sex hormone, testosterone. This impacts PCOS and worsens the symptoms, such as mood swings and bloating.
  6. Red meat
    • Intake of excess red meat may increase inflammation in the body and decrease the levels of the hormone progesterone. Steaks contain bad fats, which may increase the severity of PCOS symptoms.
  7. Processed meats
    • Highly processed meat, such as sausages and hot dogs, contains high amounts of saturated fats, nitrates, and sodium, which increase inflammation. So, such foods should be avoided by patients with PCOS. They can also cause more weight gain.
  8. Unhealthy fats
    • Unhealthy fats, such as hydrogenated or trans fats, are to be avoided by patients with PCOS because these fats increase levels of estrogen in the body. This can, in turn, worsen the symptoms of PCOS. These fats also increase the risk of heart diseases, obesity, and diabetes.
  9. Dairy
    • Milk contains hormones, such as insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which increase the levels of androgens. Androgens are hormones that help form estrogen. With an increase in estrogen levels, the symptoms of PCOS worsen. So, milk and products made from milk, such as ice cream, processed cheese, are to be avoided.
    • These products contain high sugars that increase glucose levels, which cause inflammation.
  10. Soy products
    • Soy may contain goitrogenic compounds that negatively impact the functions of the thyroid gland. This may aggravate the symptoms of PCOS, such as weight gain, bloating, and irritability.

It is not always easy to avoid all the food above. While the severity of symptoms varies with people, they should try to understand how such foods impact their bodies and avoid the foods that worsen their symptoms and impact weight loss.

What is PCOS and how does it impact health?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the common disorders related to hormonal imbalance, which is usually present as irregular periods or the stopping of menstruation (secondary amenorrhea) at childbearing age.

The ovaries develop multiple cysts due to the overproduction of hormones called androgens, and there is often irregular ovulation. This may often lead to infertility. However, infertility caused by PCOS is reversible. With the right treatment, the patient can get pregnant. There is, however, an increased risk of gestational diabetes during pregnancy that needs extensive monitoring for the well-being of the mother and baby.

Women with PCOS may also be at a high risk of developing:

Many women with PCOS discover that by maintaining a proper diet, exercising regularly, and reducing stress, they can manage their symptoms and lower their risk of developing further medical issues.

Medically Reviewed on 10/14/2021
Center for Young Women's Health. PCOS: Nutrition Basics. https://youngwomenshealth.org/2013/12/12/pcos-nutrition/

Lewis L. Weight Loss With PCOS. Ochsner Health. https://blog.ochsner.org/articles/weight-loss-with-pcos

Ellis E. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. EatRight. https://www.eatright.org/health/pregnancy/fertility-and-reproduction/polycystic-ovarian-syndrome