Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age. Many women with PCOS find they’re able to manage their symptoms and reduce their risk of other medical concerns by controlling their diet and lifestyle choices.
Many foods have a negative effect on your body and hormones when you have PCOS. Not only do they stall your weight loss progress, but also make many of your symptoms much worse.
Here is a list of top foods to avoid if you have PCOS
- Sugar – Even though all sugar is not created equal it is best to avoid it if you have PCOS. Remember, too much glucose is bad, but fructose is worse and even healthy natural alternatives like maple syrup, molasses, and coconut sugar still contain up to 50% of fructose. Occasional low GI (glycemic index) fresh fruit is ok, but only in its natural form. Dried fruit, fruit juices or concentrates should be avoided.
- Dairy – While dairy is often a key problem food for many women with PCOS, there are a few important facts that everyone should know. It is important to understand that it’s the lactose, whey, and casein proteins in dairy food that most people are sensitive to. However, for the vast majority of people, eating butter and ghee is totally fine because these foods don’t contain lactose or milk proteins in any meaningful concentration. In fact, butter and ghee are actually really good for us since they are rich sources of healthy fats including conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) which helps reduce body fat. Not everyone with PCOS is intolerant to dairy. But it is recommended to avoid it completely for a few months and slowly reintroduce it into your diet to see how and if it affects you.
- Gluten – Gluten is a tough one to avoid because it’s found in just about everything from baked goods, cereals, pastas, even some alcoholic beverages, but going gluten-free is a really powerful way to initiate your PCOS health. The ability of our gut to selectively choose what gets let into our bloodstream, and what heads down to the sanitation department is regulated by tiny cell structures in our intestinal lining. When we eat gluten, a reactive goo called zonulin gets released. For people with a sensitivity to gluten, this can lead to a condition known as leaky gut. When you suffer from leaky gut, there is an excessive flow of foreign proteins and microbes across your intestinal barrier. These toxins enter our bloodstream and we must depend on an inflammatory response to control this invasion. Inflammation is the natural response of our immune system to perceived threats which while well-intended, is a major problem when it’s inappropriately triggered by certain foods. This is especially true for women with PCOS as chronic inflammation is one of the primary mechanisms driving all of the PCOS symptoms. The common term for this kind of intolerance is non-celiac gluten sensitivity which is a condition that can’t be diagnosed by the normal celiac blood tests or even an intestinal biopsy.
- Carbs – Same as sugar, carbs are a big no when it comes to PCOS and that is because they’re the other major source of glucose in our diet. Carbohydrates by definition are made up of long chains of glucose stuck together into larger molecules. The problem with many of the most common carbohydrate foods is that they quickly breakdown in our bodies causing our blood glucose levels to spike. In other words they have a high glycemic index. The most common examples of high GI carbohydrates include bread and baked goods, cereals, pastas, white rice, and white potatoes.
- Soy – It seems like an obvious choice to swap dairy (if you have to avoid it) with soy products, but even though there is evidence that soy can have favorable effects on cholesterol levels, insulin resistance, inflammatory markers, and even fertility rates under certain circumstances it is best to avoid it and here is why. Soy has been shown to have adverse effects on thyroid function and ovulation. The negative effects of soy are largely understood to be a result of biologically active compounds (isoflavones) that interfere with the normal functioning of estrogen in our bodies. Soy is also sometimes considered problematic because of its phytic acid content, which can affect the absorption of minerals by the gut. Not all soy is created equal, so, for instance, fermented soy products like miso, tempeh, natto, and tamari sauce are all great healthy probiotic foods and can be consumed from time to time.
- Processed Meats – If you don’t know what we mean by processed meats, we mean any meat product that has been preserved by curing, salting, smoking, or canning. While processed meats are fairly low on the list of foods to avoid with PCOS, it’s recommended you avoid them because they typically contain a range of unhelpful ingredients such as sugar, dairy proteins, MSG, nitrates, and nitrites. There are two exceptions that are perfectly fine to consume with PCOS and these are traditional biltong or unsmoked beef jerky that isn’t full of sugar and sausage varieties made using only ground meat, fat, salt, and spices.
- Vegetable Oils – Vegetable oils make the list of foods to stay away from with PCOS because they are high in omega 6 fatty acids which are pro-inflammatory when not adequately balanced by a similar amount of anti-inflammatory omega 3s. These two fats work best when consumed in a ratio of between 4:1 to 1:1 omega 6:omega 3 but the average Western diet typically results in a ratio of 20:1 or higher. An omega fat imbalance has been linked to cardiovascular disease, arthritis, kidney disease, cancer, and depression. Of course, you can always consume a lot more oily fish, or start taking a fish oil supplement, but eliminating vegetable oils is really easy to do given all the tasty alternatives like coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, and many more options. Which vegetable oils to avoid, we are talking about the processed seed oils coming from soybeans, sunflower, canola, and cottonseed, etc.
- Trans Fats – Industrial trans fats are a subset of vegetable oils that are a definite food you’ll want to avoid. These oils are engineered by food manufacturers to improve the texture, shelf life and flavor stability of their products but they are also highly toxic and have been associated with all sorts of health problems such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. The best way to be sure that your food product is actually trans fat-free is to make sure that the ingredients list doesn’t include any hydrogenated, or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils as these are some of the sneaky terms used to make the trans fat content less obvious.
- Coffee – There is no scientific evidence that there are any effects of coffee on PCOS. However, quitting coffee is a good way to restore a healthier hormone balance, especially if you’re susceptible to stress and anxiety. Why coffee doesn’t go well with PCOS? The caffeine in coffee increases your stress hormones which in turn increases your insulin levels. Becoming accustomed to coffee decreases your insulin sensitivity making it more difficult to regulate your blood sugar levels. The acidity of coffee causes digestive discomfort, indigestion, heartburn and imbalances in our gut microbiome. Caffeine can disrupt sleep and promotes anxiety.
- Alcohol – Unlike coffee, the evidence supporting the elimination of alcohol from a PCOS friendly diet seems fairly uncontroversial given the high rates of liver disease associated with this disorder. Even small amounts of alcohol consumption have been associated with liver disease in women with PCOS. While being overweight and having insulin resistance are considered the main factors for liver disease, even women with lean-type PCOS have an increased risk profile as high testosterone levels may be a contributing factor.
Chronic inflammation and hormone imbalance are main reasons for a PCOS diagnosis and it’s these same two mechanisms that cause all of the unwanted symptoms. Since what we eat has a massive impact on both of these issues, it doesn’t matter if you’re trying to lose weight, get pregnant, or overcome hair and skin issues, by avoiding the foods listed above you can expect to see dramatic results.