There is so much advice on foods for PCOS across the internet. 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, and it is important to know that you can manage your PCOS without cutting out any of your favourite foods.
In this article we explore foods for PCOS, what are considered best foods for PCOS and answer your frequently asked questions about eating for PCOS.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is an endocrine condition that affects around 10% of people with ovaries in the UK. Symptoms of PCOS include oily skin, acne, irregular periods, hirsutism, alopecia and trouble getting pregnant. Although PCOS cannot be cured, symptoms can be managed via medication, supplements and lifestyle changes.
The likelihood of having PCOS is shaped by both genetic factors and environmental elements. While the exact cause of PCOS remains elusive, it does seem to have a familial pattern, yet, no distinct genes have been pinpointed in connection with the disorder.
In terms of diet, we do know that what we eat can impact our health. In regards to PCOS, studies have found that diet plays a role in symptom presentation and laboratory results. This is because foods can impact our hormones, cholesterol levels and even our gut health.
Diet may be linked to the onset of PCOS, and diet may help with symptom improvement. But, it is important to note that food isn’t the only factor that influences PCOS and its symptoms. Treatment of PCOS should be holistic and include food, as well as medication, supplements, movement, stress reduction, sleep improvements and more.
There are many diets that claim to be good for PCOS such as a keto diet, intermittent fasting or a low-GI diet. We recommend moving away from restrictive ways of eating for PCOS and embracing practices like intuitive eating for PCOS.
Speaking with a PCOS professional can help you to determine the correct course of action for you.
What foods can affect PCOS?
Certain foods can affect PCOS symptoms. But, more importantly, worrying about food and having anxiety around eating will probably do more harm than eating certain foods.
Foods that may improve symptoms of PCOS include unsaturated fats, protein and high-fibre foods. Foods that may worsen symptoms of PCOS include high GI foods, saturated fats and trans fats. It is important to mention that this doesn’t mean these foods are off-limit entirely. We just may need to be more conscious of consuming these foods or pair them with other food groups to limit their effect on PCOS.
Best foods for PCOS
As we’ve been discussing, there are some foods that have beneficial effects on PCOS symptoms but it is important not to put food on a pedestal and inject fear into eating. All foods fit. Certain foods may help with blood glucose stability, satiety levels, inflammation and more.
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.
Protein is one of the three macronutrients. Combining protein with carbohydrates and fats in snacks and meals can help to improve satiation (i.e. stay fuller for longer), and keep blood glucose levels stable and plant-based proteins may even improve fertility outcomes.
In people with PCOS, a study found that consuming a high-protein diet has been seen to improve blood glucose levels. More studies are required to understand the impact of protein on PCOS.
High fibre foods
Fibre is the component of plant-derived foods that remains undigested as it travels through the digestive tract. Fibre has been linked to many health benefits including improved gut health, improved insulin regulation, reduced incidence of constipation and potentially even a reduction in androgen levels.
You may want to consider swapping from white to wholegrains e.g. brown bread or pasta. By swapping to whole grain alternatives, you will benefit from an increased fibre intake. Fruits and vegetables are also good sources of fibre and also contain many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that may be beneficial for PCOS.
Worst foods for PCOS
This article does not intend to scaremonger. Instead of thinking of foods as “best” and “worst” it may be more beneficial to think of certain foods as more nourishing than others. You do not need to cut out foods completely to manage PCOS but being aware of certain foods and their impact on your symptoms of PCOS may be helpful.
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.
Trans and saturated fats
Trans fats, also known as trans fatty acids, are a type of fat that is uncommon in nature but became widely produced industrially from vegetable fats in the 20th century for use in margarine, snack food, and packaged baked goods. They are created by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid, a process called hydrogenation.
Consuming foods rich in trans fats increases the amount of LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream (often called “bad” cholesterol) and reduces the amount of beneficial HDL cholesterol. Trans fats can lead to heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, which is why many countries have put restrictions on their use.
In people with PCOS, reducing trans fat consumption has been linked to reduced measures of insulin resistance.
Saturated fats are a type of fat molecule that is typically solid at room temperature and are found naturally in many foods, primarily in animal products like meat and dairy. Some plant oils, such as coconut oil and palm oil, are also high in saturated fats. Consuming too much saturated fat can increase blood cholesterol levels, particularly LDL cholesterol, which can, in turn, increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
In people with PCOS, saturated fat consumption increases inflammation levels. Inflammation is considered a symptom and driver of PCOS. Reducing saturated fat intake may help reduce the inflammation associated with PCOS.
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 chicken good for PCOS?
Chicken is generally considered good for PCOS because it is a great source of protein. In terms of PCOS, pairing protein with carbohydrate-rich foods can help stabilise blood sugar levels.
Is corn good for PCOS?
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, 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, which can benefit PCOS by reducing blood sugar spikes and may reduce symptoms of insulin resistance.
>> Read more | Fruits for PCOS: myth busting good and bad fruits
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. 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.
Read more: Do I need to go dairy-free for 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.
Founder and Editor | Registered Associate Nutritionist
Founder of Be The Collective LTD [The PCOS Collective & The Endo Collective] Alex Okell ANutr is a London-based reproductive health nutritionist with experience in research, private practice and digital media. She holds a Master’s degree in Nutrition from King’s College London and has co-authored papers with the University of Cambridge, King’s College London, The Food Foundation and the Food Standards Agency. Alex offers 1:1 PCOS support in our virtual PCOS clinic.