Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Diet Do’s and Don’ts

Parul Dube

November 23, 2022

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition characterised by irregular or no periods at all. Women suffering from PCOS generally have multiple cysts in their ovaries. Common symptoms of PCOS include obesity, acne, excessive hair and baldness. Most of the symptoms of PCOS are not fatal. However, the symptoms may turn life-threatening if you don’t manage PCOS correctly. These severe symptoms may include heart disease, endometrial cancer, high blood pressure and high blood sugar resulting in diabetes. 

As per a study based in the US, PCOS affects approximately 6-12% of women of reproductive age. As per another study, 33-83% of the women experiencing PCOS symptoms suffer from obesity. However, it is possible to manage the symptoms by following a healthy lifestyle and proper dietary regulations. Many patients have reported significant improvement in their symptoms by making minor changes to their diet and lifestyle.

Effects of Diet on PCOS

What you eat plays a massive role in deciding the health and condition of your body. It is because the type of food you eat triggers different hormones. That is true in the case of people who suffer from PCOS. Those who suffer from PCOS have higher levels of insulin than average. Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas that helps break down glucose and turn it into energy used by the body. If your body lacks insulin, glucose doesn’t break down, causing your blood sugar level to rise. However, the situation is the opposite in people affected by PCOS. They have high portions of insulin in their blood. When the amount of insulin in the blood increases, the ovaries produce higher levels of androgens. Increased insulin in the blood can also cause the body mass index to rise and make it difficult to lose weight.

Foods for PCOS Diet: What Should You Eat?

Foods high in fibre and protein or help reduce inflammation could be good additions to a PCOS diet. They can help ease symptoms of PCOS to a large extent.

Some foods that are high in fibre content are:

  • Cruciferous vegetables: These may include broccoli, Brussels sprout, cabbage, cauliflower, radish and so on.
  • Leafy greens: These may include arugula, Chinese chard, collards, Dandelion greens, kale, mustard greens, rapini, Swiss chard
  • Reens and red peppers: These are composed of 92% water. In addition, they have a variety of vitamins and minerals that are very useful for the body.
  • Beans and lentils: As per research, beans and lentils are a rich source of fibre and protein. They have many other benefits like better heart health and reduced blood sugar levels.
  • Almonds
  • Berries
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pumpkin

You can include protein sources in your diet as well. They are very filling and an excellent dietary option. Examples of protein sources include

  • Tofu
  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products

In addition, you could add various foods to your diet that are proven to reduce inflammation. Some of the options are:

  • Tomatoes
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Walnuts
  • Olive oil
  • Fatty fish

Foods for PCOS Diet: What Should You Avoid?

You should avoid foods that have refined carbohydrates. There are various reasons for avoiding such foods. Research suggests that refined carbohydrates increase the risk of inflammation, which can cause obesity. Further research in this area indicates that it can drive you to eat more, a significant cause of obesity worldwide. 

A study also suggested that eating high amounts of refined carbohydrates regularly can increase the risk of type2 diabetes and heart disease. It is because high amounts of triglycerides are present in refined carbohydrates. All these are symptoms of PCOS, and eating foods with refined carbohydrates can worsen them.

Examples of foods having refined carbohydrates include:

  • White bread
  • Muffins
  • Pastries
  • Sugary desserts
  • Fries
  • Margarine

Lifestyle Changes to Consider to Combat PCOS Symptoms

There are various lifestyle changes that you can adopt if you have PCOS. Though most lifestyle changes will not treat PCOS directly, they will help manage the symptoms that accompany PCOS.

Regular Physical Activity

Physical activity improves metabolism, blood flow, heart health, and lung strength and elevates overall mood. It can also help you lose weight (as being overweight is a common problem in PCOS). You can include physical activities like walking, jogging, running, swimming, cycling, dancing, weight training or any other activity that requires you to move. You can consistently do it just a few days per week to see the results.

Adequate Sleep

Various studies have shown that lack of sleep is strongly related to hormonal imbalance. Taking adequate sleep of 7-9 hours per day is associated with multiple benefits and can help ease various symptoms of PCOS. Research has shown that good sleep is vital to losing weight. Being overweight is a common problem in PCOS, so this benefit is critical. Research also shows many benefits of adequate sleep. For example, adequate sleep can reduce the chances of type 2 diabetes, reduced cases of depression and create a good overall mood.

Avoid Smoking and Alcohol Consumption

If you have PCOS, you are already at a greater risk of high blood sugar levels and diabetes. Avoiding smoking will help you prevent lower blood sugar levels. Research has shown that nicotine interferes with cells and makes them insensitive to insulin. That raises blood sugar levels and increases the risk of diabetes. Similarly, alcohol consumption is associated with an increase in blood sugar levels. Another research suggests that alcohol consumption in the long term can lead to hyperglycemia. 

Check Out for Symptoms of Depression

Studies suggest that people suffering from PCOS are more likely to face symptoms of depression. So PCOS symptoms should seek out support from health groups to ease the symptoms. If necessary, they should consult a therapist as well.

The Conclusion

PCOS is a condition that affects about one in every ten women’s reproductive age. Its symptoms include being overweight, excessive acne, baldness and psychological disorders like anxiety and depression. However, it is possible to primarily manage these symptoms by tweaking your diet. You should include high fibre and high protein foods in your diet. At the same time, you should avoid foods containing refined and processed carbohydrates altogether. In addition, you can introduce other lifestyle changes like regular engagement in physical activity, taking adequate rest, and altogether avoiding alcohol and smoking. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, you must consider taking therapy sessions. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What foods to avoid if you have PCOS?

A. You should avoid foods that have refined carbohydrates. There are various reasons for avoiding such foods. First, refined carbohydrates increase the risk of inflammation, which can lead to obesity. They can drive you to eat more which is a significant cause of obesity worldwide. Third, consuming high amounts of refined carbohydrates regularly can increase the risk of type2 diabetes and heart disease. That is because high amounts of triglycerides are present in refined carbohydrates. All these are symptoms of PCOS, and eating foods with refined carbohydrates can worsen them. Examples of refined carbohydrates foods include white bread, muffins, pastries, sugary desserts, fries, margarine etc. 

Q. What diet is best for PCOS?

A. You should increase the intake of natural and unprocessed foods, such as cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens, greens and red peppers, beans and lentils, almonds, berries, sweet potatoes and pumpkin. You can also include protein sources in your diet. For example, you may consist of foods like tofu, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy products. In addition, you could add various foods to your diet that are proven to reduce inflammation. Some options may include tomatoes, kale, spinach, walnuts, olive oil and fatty fish. 

Q. How many eggs a day PCOS?

A. Eggs are a great source of proteins. In addition, they have nutrients like iron, folate, thiamine and essential vitamins. When taken with bananas, they also do not lead to a spike in blood sugar levels. However, the key is to have eggs in moderation. An egg or two per day can help in improving symptoms of PCOS. 

Q. Are bananas good for PCOS?

A. Yes. Bananas are good for PCOS. Bananas are high in potassium content. At the same time, they are low in sugar. Also, they have adequate protein and carbohydrate content. This balance helps in preventing hyperinsulinemia. Another property of bananas is that they support the intestine in absorbing minerals from food.  

Q. What exercise is best for PCOS?

A. Exercise and a good diet can help reduce PCOS and manage its symptoms. Most cardiovascular exercises like brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming and dancing are good for PCOS. They improve insulin sensitivity. That reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes. Moreover, these exercises help in burning fat that keeps obesity at bay.  

Q. Is coffee good for PCOS?

A. Coffee has both pros and cons. The pros of coffee include antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, lower risk of type 2 diabetes and better metabolic rate. The cons of coffee include increasing the stress hormone, heightened feelings of hypoglycemia, and a temporary rise in blood pressure. Looking at the pros and cons, you can decide if coffee is good or bad for you. 

Q. How can I lose weight fast with PCOS?

A. There are two primary ways to lose weight – good physical activity and diet. When done together, these deliver quick results. However, you can also do these individually. A big reason for the current crisis of being overweight is insufficient physical activity. Doing physical activity ensures that you are burning calories and you can control your weight. You can do physical activities like yoga, Zumba, weight training, bodyweight movements, jogging, running, and swimming. All these physical activities help you burn calories.

Q. Is chicken okay for PCOS?

A. Chicken is a good source of lean protein. It is very filling and nutritious, and you can include it in your diet. You can also have meat like salmon, shrimp, tuna, turkey, skinless chicken, and cod on the same lines. However, you should avoid fried foods like fried chicken, especially if you have PCOS. 

Q. Is Almond good for PCOS?

A. As per experts, the main cause of PCOS is a hormonal imbalance among women. Almond reduces free testosterone levels in the body and hence helps in balancing hormones. Almond milk is also beneficial for people having PCOS. It is low in carbohydrate and calorie content and is therefore helpful in weight loss and reducing insulin resistance. 

Q. Which fruits should be avoided in PCOS?

A. Usually, fruits are good for PCOS as they are rich in fibre and protein. However, you can avoid high carbohydrate fruits. Also, you can eat fruits in moderation. 

Q. Is apple cider vinegar good for PCOS?

A. Vinegar helps in weight loss which is a significant problem for PCOS patients. When taken before meals in small amounts, it is also helpful for improving digestion. It also protects against heart disease, protects against cancer and the slow growth of bacteria. 

Q. Is green tea good for PCOS?

A. Green tea is effective against the symptoms of PCOS. It reduces insulin resistance and decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes.

About the Author

Parul holds a Masters of Medical Science in Public Health Nutrition from the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and has worked across the globe from the U.K to New Zealand (NZ) gaining her License with the Health Professionals Council (HPC, UK) and the NZ Nutrition Council. From being a Gold medalist in Clinical Nutrition to being awarded an internship with World Health Organisation (WHO, Cairo, Egypt) and Contracts with CDC Parul has had a wide spectrum of work experiences. She is very passionate about Nutrition and Fitness and holds strong to her guiding mantras ‘ Move more’ and ‘Eat Food that your grandmother can recognize’!

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