Your doctor told you that you have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), but didn’t give you much guidance on nutrition – what do you do? You may have turned to a google search or social media to find more information.
This can feel pretty overwhelming, especially when the search results may say to cut out gluten, dairy, and carbohydrates or sugar.
And this is probably why one of the most common questions I receive as a PCOS dietitian is “What are the top foods to avoid with PCOS?”
So let’s jump in– what are actually the worst foods for PCOS?
Worst Foods for PCOS
Because most people (about 80%) have insulin resistance, it may seem like it makes sense to limit added sugar. And because PCOS is inflammatory, it may seem like it makes sense to limit processed foods.
But let’s think about the bigger picture!
Food plays a bigger role in our lives than just “food as fuel”. Food can play a role in our social, mental, and emotional health. One food, food group, meal, or snack will not make or break your hormone balance or health outcomes.
Your overall eating habits matter the most for balancing blood sugar and insulin levels – and yes, you can absolutely enjoy dessert when you’re craving it!
If the idea of including foods that you enjoy in your diet seems overwhelming or scary then I highly recommend exploring the 10 principles of intuitive eating. You can read about them in the book called Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resche. You can also visit the Intuitive Eating website for more information and I also have a blog post about Intuitive Eating and PCOS.
Focus on Adding Foods Instead of Cutting Things Out
Adding nutrition, along with other health-promoting behaviors, can be part of managing PCOS. Since PCOS is a long-term condition, it’s pretty unrealistic to cut out certain foods that you love for the rest of your life. Cutting out a food that you love temporarily can backfire, because you may binge or overeat when you finally decide to give in to that food craving.
Did you know that yo-yo dieting is associated with worsening insulin resistance and inflammation? It’s much better for your health and hormones to find a stable way of eating
Asking “what can I add to my meals or snacks today?” is less stressful than “wow, I can never eat that bread, cheese, or fried food that I love!”
For managing insulin resistance and balancing hormones:
- eat meals consistently throughout the day
- Don’t skip meals
- Include high quality fats with meals and snacks,
- Pair carbohydrates with protein, fat, and fiber
This should help you stay full and reduce cravings for less nutritious options.
While nutrition is one important piece to the puzzle, there are other positive behaviors that you can add to manage PCOS. Sleep, movement, and stress management are crucial as well.
Should You Avoid Gluten with PCOS?
You may have heard that people with PCOS have to cut out gluten. There is a link between gluten and inflammation, and PCOS is an inflammatory condition. However, gluten is not inflammatory to everyone.
There are no studies about PCOS and gluten, meaning there is not enough evidence to draw this conclusion that everyone with PCOS needs to eliminate gluten.
People with celiac disease do need to eliminate gluten to prevent long term intestinal damage, so if you think you are intolerant to gluten, it is important to see a doctor to figure out a diagnosis.
For more information about PCOS and gluten, read my blog post here.
PCOS and Dairy
There is some research indicating that full-fat dairy is a better option for people with PCOS. Low-fat and fat-free dairy can contribute to elevated insulin levels and androgens. But other than that, there is no conclusive research that everyone with PCOS should eliminate dairy.
There is some research that dairy is linked to acne. If you’re looking to reduce acne and it’s not improved with switching to full-fat, then it may be beneficial to do a trial dairy elimination.
Find more about dairy and PCOS here: https://pcosnutritionco.com/2022/05/23/dairy-and-pcos/
So what ACTUALLY are the foods to avoid with PCOS?
The foods to avoid with PCOS are the foods that you don’t tolerate well, are allergic to, or simply cannot stand!
Other than that, I don’t recommend approaching PCOS by trying to avoid foods.
Managing a medical condition by cutting out foods – especially foods that you love – is not sustainable in the long term. Fortunately, you can take care of yourself by adding nutritious foods, sleeping enough, moving your body, and managing stress to balance hormones and improve PCOS symptoms.
Hi! I just recently was diagnosed with PCOS and have been going down the rabbit hole and feeling extremely overwhelmed with trying to figure out a new diet and lifestyle changes. Everything I was reading lead me to believe I have to cut everything out and only eat this or that and being a picky eater led me to feeling discouraged. I managed to come across one of your blog posts and immediately felt better and more determined. Knowing the research behind choices and why to cut things out helped me to feel better about (such as gluten and dairy). This website and the blogs I have been reading truly have been a saving grace while navigating this new journey.
Sam Abbott, MSEd, RD says
Lexie, I’m so glad they’ve helped! Are you on my email list? I also send out tips and thoughts each week. :)