Top Foods To Avoid with PCOS

7 Food To Avoid With PCOS

Top Foods To Avoid with PCOS
by Tallene Posted June 22, 2023

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) describes when a woman of reproductive age has chronic hormonal imbalances. It sounds simple, but PCOS can make living life to the fullest pretty difficult. As you may know from my blog, PCOS is reversible, including symptoms like fatigue, mood swings, irregular periods, weight gain, acne, and infertility. Long-term complications like type-2 diabetes, sleep apnea, and endometrial cancer can even arise in some women with PCOS. Needless to say, women with PCOS don’t necessarily have it “easy”.

Though you can’t be cured of PCOS, you can manage it with the help of a great diet. Because of the nuances of PCOS, you can’t choose just any exercise and diet on the internet and expect to lose weight (if that’s your goal) and feel better. However, understanding what foods you need and what food you don’t, will help you start making smart PCOS diet choices. Then, you can get the rest of your healthy eating guide using our Meal & Workout Plan!

Let’s start with foods you should avoid. Start ditching these from your diet ASAP and make room for PCOS-fighting foods instead. Here are the foods to avoid when trying to reverse and heal your PCOS:

Top Foods To Avoid with PCOS

7 Top Foods To Avoid With PCOS

If you’re battling PCOS, you probably have other nutrition goals aside from losing weight. You want your food to help you feel better! Just like there are grocery items that will fuel you and ease your symptoms, there are foods out there that have the potential to worsen your symptoms. 

With that being said, although this is a list of foods to avoid, I understand that life happens. No matter our health goals, it’s always about progress, not perfection. If you decide to have some of these foods, it’s not going to “ruin” anything. PCOS is something we have to manage long-term, so our eating habits should be something we are comfortable with, rather than something that makes us feel restricted and stressed.

Women with PCOS often struggle more with insulin resistance, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol (depending on the type of PCOS you have; take the quiz to find out.) All these things can be manipulated via diet—for better or for worse.

How does diet affect PCOS

How Does Diet Affect PCOS?

As mentioned, women with PCOS often struggle with insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone created by the pancreas and it helps glucose get to the cells in your muscles, fat, and liver to be used for energy. However, if someone is insulin resistant, their cells don’t receive the glucose they’re supposed to. When this happens, the glucose can’t be used, removed, or stored and it raises your blood sugar levels, LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, cortisol levels, and your weight in response to the inflammation. (Learn more about the signs of inflammation here.)

Lots of foods can worsen insulin resistance, namely inflammatory and sugary foods. However, if insulin resistance occurs, the cells won’t receive the glucose they’re supposed to! 

Below, we’ll discuss foods to avoid if you have PCOS that will help increase your insulin sensitivity and lower inflammation!

What Foods To Avoid When You Have PCOS

Gluten

Although not all women with PCOS are sensitive to gluten, it’s worth giving the gluten free diet a try for at least 30 days to see if it’s right for you. Gluten creates inflammation in everyone, however not to the same degree. Some people are better at processing gluten than others. Since PCOS is an inflammatory condition, if you are sensitive to gluten, it can exacerbate your symptoms like bloating, cystic acne, brain fog, fatigue, skin rashes and weight gain.

Luckily, gluten-free has become pretty popular in the last few years, so there are a lot of options out there for high-quality gluten-free foods. I have carefully curated a library of gluten free recipes to search through as well!

Dairy

If you’re struggling with insulin resistance and high testosterone, consider trying to go dairy free. That includes avoiding milk, cheese, creams and other dairy products. Dairy has been shown to increase androgen levels and exacerbate insulin resistance due to it’s hormone content.

Dairy is full of nutrients, which is ideal for babies and children who need to grow. The hormones in dairy products also trigger a metabolic reaction that tells our bodies to “grow” too. This isn’t ideal for women with PCOS who are already metabolically compromised and tend to have trouble losing weight. Dairy also has a protein called casein, which acts on your brain’s opiate receptors and makes you feel addicted to dairy products like cheese.

Consider following a dairy free lifestyle to see if it helps you improve your PCOS symptoms.If you need help to understand what foods contain dairy, check out this post for help

Processed Food

Processed food like pre-packaged cakes, cookies, and pies are often high in calories, unhealthy fats, and additives, while being low in nutrients and fiber. All these ingredients can cause a significant inflammatory and insulin response in the body.

Processed foods, especially those high in refined carbohydrates like white bread, sugary snacks, and sodas, can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels. This triggers a surge in insulin production from the pancreas, which over time can lead to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can worsen the symptoms of PCOS and disrupt hormonal balance.

High insulin levels trigger many of your PCOS symptoms and put you at a greater risk for long-term complications like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Sugar

If you don’t want your blood sugar levels to increase, you should limit the sugar. Your body is already struggling to process glucose (sugar), so giving your body more sugar to manage can worsen your PCOS symptoms of fatigue, constant hunger, weight gain, and more.  

Though you may think a sugary drink when you start to feel tired will give you energy, it definitely won’t last or be worth it! Consider limiting your sugar intake as much as possible if you have PCOS. (Get more details on managing natural sugars vs added sugars in this episode of A Cyster & Her Mister.) 

Red Meat

Let’s be clear: you don’t need to stop eating red meat altogether, because there are benefits to consuming this protein. However, I recommend trying to limit it to 2-3 times a week and opting for fish or white meat instead. (And, always go antibiotic/hormone-free). This is because red meat has been shown to trigger an inflammatory response. 

Again, though, unlike some of the other foods on this list to avoid, red meat does also have benefits. So, try avoiding highly processed meats and instead grab high-quality hormone-free, antibiotic-free, and sustainably produced red meat for the best nutritional value and lowest inflammatory risk. This is a food to avoid eating every day, but not to cut out altogether! 

Alcohol

First of all, alcohol is not our liver’s friend. Our liver is responsible for our body’s hormone balance. Any extra hormones produced in the adrenal system are removed by the liver. Women with PCOS are at a higher risk for having non alcoholic fatty liver disease. Drinking alcohol will not do anything to help with that.

Unfortunately, with PCOS, our bodies often experience hormonal excess that causes imbalance, so limiting your liver functions can prevent your body from properly balancing hormones. This, of course, may worsen many of your PCOS symptoms like acne, irregular menstrual cycles, excess hair growth, and more. I recommend limiting alcohol or cutting it out altogether and seeing if your symptoms improve. 

Caffeine

Caffeine is another ingredient women with PCOS should limit. The purpose of caffeine is to keep us alert and focused, right? Cysters specifically desire this extra energy, since sleeping problems and fatigue are chronic PCOS symptoms. However, caffeine probably won’t give you the burst of energy you’re looking for. In fact, for many Cysters, caffeine makes you wired & tired

This is because caffeine works by prompting your adrenal system to create more cortisol. Your cortisol hormone is balanced with melatonin in our bodies to keep us alert but calm. However, cortisol is known by another name: the stress hormone. We call it that because cortisol is also produced when our body experiences stress. 

When this happens, it’s our bodies trying to keep us safe. When stress levels rise, our bodies think there’s an oncoming threat we need to be prepared to conquer. To be as ready as possible pumps us full of extra cortisol, which makes us feel wired and anxious. And, if you remember, inflammation breeds more cortisol too. So, if caffeine is also challenging your body to create more cortisol, you’ll likely experience adrenal fatigue if you’re using coffee as your energy source all day. That means caffeine can make you more tired, jittery, and anxious.

What Foods to Avoid When You Have PCOS
Consider avoiding or limiting these foods to better manage your PCOS symptoms. 

Our diet has a profound impact on our health and wellbeing. This goes for everyone, but it’s especially true for women with PCOS. Avoid the foods on this list, and instead opt for beneficial PCOS-fighting foods! You can find my pantry must-haves here and don’t forget to download The Cysterhood App

There, you can join our Cysterhood program which gives you access to healthy eating tips, a comprehensive meal plan, a huge recipe catalog, regular accountability meetings, and more. It’s the best way to take control of your PCOS and start taking steps to reversing it. 

It’s time to take back your body, Cysters!

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2 thoughts on “7 Food To Avoid With PCOS”

    1. I try to limit my intake as much as possible! Just be mindful of the amount you are eating and try to pair anything sugary (fruit included!) with protein!

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Join our newsletter

We got you! here’s some tips and tricks
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    Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) describes when a woman of reproductive age has chronic hormonal imbalances. It sounds simple, but PCOS can make living life to the fullest pretty difficult. As you may know from my blog, PCOS is reversible, including symptoms like fatigue, mood swings, irregular periods, weight gain, acne, and infertility. Long-term complications like type-2 diabetes, sleep apnea, and endometrial cancer can even arise in some women with PCOS. Needless to say, women with PCOS don’t necessarily have it “easy”.

    Though you can’t be cured of PCOS, you can manage it with the help of a great diet. Because of the nuances of PCOS, you can’t choose just any exercise and diet on the internet and expect to lose weight (if that’s your goal) and feel better. However, understanding what foods you need and what food you don’t, will help you start making smart PCOS diet choices. Then, you can get the rest of your healthy eating guide using our Meal & Workout Plan!

    Let’s start with foods you should avoid. Start ditching these from your diet ASAP and make room for PCOS-fighting foods instead. Here are the foods to avoid when trying to reverse and heal your PCOS:

    Top Foods To Avoid with PCOS

    7 Top Foods To Avoid With PCOS

    If you’re battling PCOS, you probably have other nutrition goals aside from losing weight. You want your food to help you feel better! Just like there are grocery items that will fuel you and ease your symptoms, there are foods out there that have the potential to worsen your symptoms. 

    With that being said, although this is a list of foods to avoid, I understand that life happens. No matter our health goals, it’s always about progress, not perfection. If you decide to have some of these foods, it’s not going to “ruin” anything. PCOS is something we have to manage long-term, so our eating habits should be something we are comfortable with, rather than something that makes us feel restricted and stressed.

    Women with PCOS often struggle more with insulin resistance, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol (depending on the type of PCOS you have; take the quiz to find out.) All these things can be manipulated via diet—for better or for worse.

    How does diet affect PCOS

    How Does Diet Affect PCOS?

    As mentioned, women with PCOS often struggle with insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone created by the pancreas and it helps glucose get to the cells in your muscles, fat, and liver to be used for energy. However, if someone is insulin resistant, their cells don’t receive the glucose they’re supposed to. When this happens, the glucose can’t be used, removed, or stored and it raises your blood sugar levels, LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, cortisol levels, and your weight in response to the inflammation. (Learn more about the signs of inflammation here.)

    Lots of foods can worsen insulin resistance, namely inflammatory and sugary foods. However, if insulin resistance occurs, the cells won’t receive the glucose they’re supposed to! 

    Below, we’ll discuss foods to avoid if you have PCOS that will help increase your insulin sensitivity and lower inflammation!

    What Foods To Avoid When You Have PCOS

    Gluten

    Although not all women with PCOS are sensitive to gluten, it’s worth giving the gluten free diet a try for at least 30 days to see if it’s right for you. Gluten creates inflammation in everyone, however not to the same degree. Some people are better at processing gluten than others. Since PCOS is an inflammatory condition, if you are sensitive to gluten, it can exacerbate your symptoms like bloating, cystic acne, brain fog, fatigue, skin rashes and weight gain.

    Luckily, gluten-free has become pretty popular in the last few years, so there are a lot of options out there for high-quality gluten-free foods. I have carefully curated a library of gluten free recipes to search through as well!

    Dairy

    If you’re struggling with insulin resistance and high testosterone, consider trying to go dairy free. That includes avoiding milk, cheese, creams and other dairy products. Dairy has been shown to increase androgen levels and exacerbate insulin resistance due to it’s hormone content.

    Dairy is full of nutrients, which is ideal for babies and children who need to grow. The hormones in dairy products also trigger a metabolic reaction that tells our bodies to “grow” too. This isn’t ideal for women with PCOS who are already metabolically compromised and tend to have trouble losing weight. Dairy also has a protein called casein, which acts on your brain’s opiate receptors and makes you feel addicted to dairy products like cheese.

    Consider following a dairy free lifestyle to see if it helps you improve your PCOS symptoms.If you need help to understand what foods contain dairy, check out this post for help

    Processed Food

    Processed food like pre-packaged cakes, cookies, and pies are often high in calories, unhealthy fats, and additives, while being low in nutrients and fiber. All these ingredients can cause a significant inflammatory and insulin response in the body.

    Processed foods, especially those high in refined carbohydrates like white bread, sugary snacks, and sodas, can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels. This triggers a surge in insulin production from the pancreas, which over time can lead to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can worsen the symptoms of PCOS and disrupt hormonal balance.

    High insulin levels trigger many of your PCOS symptoms and put you at a greater risk for long-term complications like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

    Sugar

    If you don’t want your blood sugar levels to increase, you should limit the sugar. Your body is already struggling to process glucose (sugar), so giving your body more sugar to manage can worsen your PCOS symptoms of fatigue, constant hunger, weight gain, and more.  

    Though you may think a sugary drink when you start to feel tired will give you energy, it definitely won’t last or be worth it! Consider limiting your sugar intake as much as possible if you have PCOS. (Get more details on managing natural sugars vs added sugars in this episode of A Cyster & Her Mister.) 

    Red Meat

    Let’s be clear: you don’t need to stop eating red meat altogether, because there are benefits to consuming this protein. However, I recommend trying to limit it to 2-3 times a week and opting for fish or white meat instead. (And, always go antibiotic/hormone-free). This is because red meat has been shown to trigger an inflammatory response. 

    Again, though, unlike some of the other foods on this list to avoid, red meat does also have benefits. So, try avoiding highly processed meats and instead grab high-quality hormone-free, antibiotic-free, and sustainably produced red meat for the best nutritional value and lowest inflammatory risk. This is a food to avoid eating every day, but not to cut out altogether! 

    Alcohol

    First of all, alcohol is not our liver’s friend. Our liver is responsible for our body’s hormone balance. Any extra hormones produced in the adrenal system are removed by the liver. Women with PCOS are at a higher risk for having non alcoholic fatty liver disease. Drinking alcohol will not do anything to help with that.

    Unfortunately, with PCOS, our bodies often experience hormonal excess that causes imbalance, so limiting your liver functions can prevent your body from properly balancing hormones. This, of course, may worsen many of your PCOS symptoms like acne, irregular menstrual cycles, excess hair growth, and more. I recommend limiting alcohol or cutting it out altogether and seeing if your symptoms improve. 

    Caffeine

    Caffeine is another ingredient women with PCOS should limit. The purpose of caffeine is to keep us alert and focused, right? Cysters specifically desire this extra energy, since sleeping problems and fatigue are chronic PCOS symptoms. However, caffeine probably won’t give you the burst of energy you’re looking for. In fact, for many Cysters, caffeine makes you wired & tired

    This is because caffeine works by prompting your adrenal system to create more cortisol. Your cortisol hormone is balanced with melatonin in our bodies to keep us alert but calm. However, cortisol is known by another name: the stress hormone. We call it that because cortisol is also produced when our body experiences stress. 

    When this happens, it’s our bodies trying to keep us safe. When stress levels rise, our bodies think there’s an oncoming threat we need to be prepared to conquer. To be as ready as possible pumps us full of extra cortisol, which makes us feel wired and anxious. And, if you remember, inflammation breeds more cortisol too. So, if caffeine is also challenging your body to create more cortisol, you’ll likely experience adrenal fatigue if you’re using coffee as your energy source all day. That means caffeine can make you more tired, jittery, and anxious.

    What Foods to Avoid When You Have PCOS
    Consider avoiding or limiting these foods to better manage your PCOS symptoms. 

    Our diet has a profound impact on our health and wellbeing. This goes for everyone, but it’s especially true for women with PCOS. Avoid the foods on this list, and instead opt for beneficial PCOS-fighting foods! You can find my pantry must-haves here and don’t forget to download The Cysterhood App

    There, you can join our Cysterhood program which gives you access to healthy eating tips, a comprehensive meal plan, a huge recipe catalog, regular accountability meetings, and more. It’s the best way to take control of your PCOS and start taking steps to reversing it. 

    It’s time to take back your body, Cysters!

    Hey Cyster,
    Join our newsletter

    We got you! here’s some tips and tricks
    on staying focused on your diagnosis.