PCOS is an endocrine condition that affects around 10% of people with ovaries in the UK. One of the common symptoms of PCOS is insulin resistance: meaning your body is more sensitive to the presence of insulin, which is the primary hormone that controls blood sugar levels. Symptoms of insulin resistance include carbohydrate cravings, fatigue, trouble sleeping and other issues. Therefore, we can consider trying different foods and experimenting to see what impacts our insulin resistance, blood glucose levels and satiety.
You may be overwhelmed with your PCOS symptoms and have seen articles on “best foods for PCOS”. A perception of “good” and “bad” foods can add confusion, however, it is important to know that you can manage your PCOS without cutting out any of your favourite foods.
What foods can affect PCOS?
Nutrition can impact PCOS and there are certain foods that can impact your symptoms. But, it’s important to mention that food isn’t the only factor that influences PCOS and its symptoms. Curious about which foods can affect PCOS? Keep reading!
High glycaemic index (GI) foods
The glycaemic index (GI) is a measurement of how quickly a carbohydrate increases blood sugar levels after eating. Foods that are low GI raise blood sugar levels gradually, whilst high GI foods have the opposite effect. This is important for PCOS as increased blood sugar can trigger the production of insulin, which can impact the symptoms of PCOS. High-GI foods include fizzy drinks, white bread and rice or potatoes.
High-GI foods do not need to be avoided or cut from your diet. You may want to pair high-GI foods with fats or proteins to slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream and, in turn, impact insulin levels. This may feel beneficial to you by reducing feelings of fatigue, improving sleep and lowering carbohydrate cravings. But, this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy high-GI foods on their own. Be curious about how your body responds to high-GI foods – approach with curiosity, not judgement.
Fat is not something that needs to be avoided as it is essential for many processes in the body. Fats can actually be very helpful in managing PCOS symptoms. In particular, omega-3 fatty acids can be beneficial for PCOS. Omega-3 fatty acids are a family of polyunsaturated fats that regulate inflammation in the body. Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include oily fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring), flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts and soybeans.
Fats can also be paired with carbohydrates to slow down the release of glucose in the bloodstream.
Whole Grains e.g. brown bread or pasta, may be more beneficial for PCOS management than white grains. By swapping to whole grain alternatives, you will benefit from an increased fibre intake. Increased fibre helps to keep you fuller for longer and improves gut health, they also tend to have a low GI which is more beneficial for blood sugar levels.
What other factors affect PCOS?
As we mentioned earlier, nutrition is just part of the PCOS management puzzle. There are various factors that impact PCOS and you can read more about the causes of PCOS here.
In terms of PCOS management, medication, supplements, stress management, sleep and rest as well as movement all play a role. Taking a holistic approach to PCOS and understanding that there are many factors at play, not just food, is key to managing your symptoms.
Foods for PCOS: Frequently Asked Questions
Get all your questions answered on food for PCOS here.
Is avocado good for PCOS?
Avocado is a great source of unsaturated fats which may be beneficial for the inflammation often associated with PCOS. Avocados pack a punch with high levels of fatty acids and antioxidants. High-fat foods like avocados also benefit PCOS because they slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. This means, if paired with high carbohydrate foods, avocados may prevent blood glucose spikes and improve symptoms of insulin resistance.
Avocado also contains a decent amount of fibre, about 10 grams per medium fruit (1), which can help with blood glucose spikes plus is beneficial for gut health.
Is banana good for PCOS?
Bananas are a great source of vitamins and minerals including vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium, vitamin C and manganese. Bananas also contain decent levels of fibre, about 3g per medium fruit (2), which can benefit PCOS by reducing blood sugar spikes and may reduce symptoms of insulin resistance.
Is brown rice good for PCOS?
Brown rice is higher in fibre compared to white rice. This is because white rice has had the bran and the germ removed, reducing its fibre content. 100 grams of cooked brown rice provide 1.6 grams of fibre, whereas 100 grams of white provide only 0.4 grams of fibre (3). Fibre is helpful for PCOS because it slows down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, and in turn, slows the release of insulin. Fibre also impacts gut health which may be helpful for PCOS and other aspects of our health.
Does that mean you should never eat white rice?
Absolutely not! We believe in a food freedom approach at The PCOS Collective. Adding guilt, stress and anxiety via your food decisions is actually probably more detrimental to PCOS symptoms than just eating the food. We believe in enjoying all foods, and being curious about how certain foods make you feel. Some days white rice may feel good and satisfying to you, and some days brown rice may feel more satisfying. You get to choose!
PCOS and dairy: can I have dairy?
Yes! There is a lot of misinformation about being able to consume dairy if you have PCOS. But, despite what you may have been told, the evidence is not strong enough to support going dairy free for PCOS. Unless you have an allergy or intolerance, you can consume dairy with PCOS.
Key takeaways: foods for PCOS
We can be curious to see how different foods can affect our PCOS symptoms. It’s important to remember everyone is unique and everyone’s symptoms are different. Therefore, taking a holistic, non-judgemental and food-freedom approach to foods for PCOS is key. Learn more about eating intuitively for PCOS here.