PCOS – Must-have and Must-avoid Foods

By Foodism Team


PCOS – Must-have and Must-avoid Foods

Diet suggestions to relieve PCOS Symptoms


An informal recce reveals that an estimated one in five (that comes to 20 per cent) Indian women suffer from a hormonal disorder termed Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). If not monitored in time and controlled by a proper diet and lifestyle, the condition can have serious health impacts. 


Foodism brings to you a brief on PCOS along with foods to abstain from and foods to intake for women suffering from PCOS



About Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)


What is PCOS?

PCOS is a hormonal disorder causing enlarged ovaries with small cysts on the outer edges. It is typically earmarked by irregular periods or by no menstruation at all. Women with PCOS archetypically have multiple cysts in their ovaries, caused by an overproduction of hormones called androgens.



Albeit the exact cause of PCOS is yet not known; but few factors that may play a role include-

  • Excess insulin which may increase androgen production, causing difficulty with ovulation
  • Low-grade inflammation (white blood cells' production of substances to fight infection) which stimulates polycystic ovaries to produce androgens, which can lead to heart and blood vessel problems
  • Research suggests that certain genes might be linked to PCOS
  • Excess androgen produced by the ovaries resulting in hirsutism and acne



Common symptoms include:

  • Obesity
  • Menstrual irregularity
  • Excessive hair growth (hirsutism)
  • Acne
  • Male pattern baldness



Women with unmanageable PCOS may be at greater risk for:

  • Heart disease
  • Endometrial (uterine lining) cancer
  • High blood pressure
  • Infertility
  • Gestational diabetes or pregnancy-induced high blood pressure
  • Miscarriage or premature birth
  • Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (a chronic liver inflammation caused by fat accumulation in the liver)
  • Metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels that significantly increase risk of cardiovascular disease)
  • Type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes
  • Sleep apnea
  • Depression, anxiety and eating disorders
  • Abnormal uterine bleeding


Suggested Treatments 


  • Diet and lifestyle changes
  • Birth control pills to regularise periods
  • Metformin to prevent diabetes
  • Statins to control high cholesterol
  • Hormones to increase fertility 
  • Cosmetic procedures to remove excess hair



Must-have Foods for PCOS Patients


  • High-fibre vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts  et al
  • Lean protein like fish, tofu, chicken et al
  • Anti-inflammatory foods and spices like – turmeric; tomatoes; Kale; spinach; walnuts; olive oil; fruits, such as blueberries and strawberries; fatty fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and sardines etc.
  • High-fibre foods that can help combat insulin resistance by slowing down digestion and reducing the impact of sugar on the blood. Some options include – greens like red leaf lettuce and arugula; green and red peppers; beans and lentils; almonds; sweet potatoes; winter squash; pumpkin



Foods that PCOS Patients Must Limit or Avoid


The following foods that can spike blood sugar, increase inflammation, and cause weight gain need to be abstained from by those who are looking at mitigating PCOS symptoms -


Refined Carbohydrates 

As women with PCOS are challenged with processing carbohydrate, limiting the intake of refined carbs can lead to weight loss, which in turn decreases androgen levels responsible for acne, abnormal hair growth, and anovulation, or an irregular menstrual cycle.


Examples of carbohydrates to avoid include:

  • White bread
  • Pizza dough
  • Regular pasta
  • White rice


Sugary Beverages 

Women with PCOS need to abstain from concentrated sweets and sugars, like fruit juice


Examples of sugary beverages to avoid include:

  • Soda
  • Fruit juice
  • Bottled smoothies
  • Cold-pressed juices





Sugary, Processed Foods 

Sugary foods i.e. processed (packaged) foods too are a strict no-no for the PCOS diet as besides containing harmful chemicals they may also destroy the gut micro biome. Replace these with farm-to-table, whole foods.


Examples of processed foods to avoid include:

  • Cakes, candy, cookies, and other sweets
  • Sweetened cereals
  • Yogurts with added sugar
  • Ice cream with excess added sugar or sugar substitutes


Saturated and Trans-fats 

Saturated fats and trans-fats, found in foods like overly processed meats, aren’t beneficial for weight loss or a healthy balanced diet and can hence pose a problem for PCOS patients; moreover they are pro-inflammatory especially in the gut. 


Examples of fats to avoid include:

  • Saturated fats - Red and processed meats like fast food hamburgers
  • Trans-fats - Doughnuts, French fries, frozen pizza et al


Dairy Products 

Research claims that limiting dairy intake could not only enable certain women with PCOS to lose weight but also help alleviate some of their hormonal PCOS symptoms. Patients who suffer from gut issues linked to dairy intolerance can opt for a vegan diet; but those who do not suffer from intolerance to dairy products can opt for healthier options (say plain Greek yogurt vis-à-vis candy-topped yogurt) to ensure their calcium and Vitamin D intake. 


Examples of dairy products to restrict include:

  • Artificial or heavily processed cheeses
  • Yogurts with added sugar
  • Ice creams with sugar alcohols or tons of added sugar



Limiting alcohol intake is an absolute mandate for women with PCOS as they already have high rates of fatty liver; moreover alcohol is a direct toxin to the liver and gut micro biome. But yes an occasional glass of red wine with dinner won’t be harmful.


Examples of alcohol to avoid include:

  • Cocktails made with sugary mixers like juice or bottled mixers
  • Canned cocktails


It’s also a good idea to reduce or remove inflammation-causing foods, such as fries, margarine, and red or processed meats from the diet of women suffering from PCOS.



Lifestyle Changes to Explore


Alike many disorders, PCOS too responds positively to proactive lifestyle choices. Exercise (around 150 minutes a week) and daily physical movement can help to mitigate insulin resistance, especially when combined with low sugar intake, and a low-inflammation diet.


Moreover the symptoms associated with PCOS can cause stress so stress reduction techniques like yoga and meditation which calm the mind and let you connect with your body, can help. 

Consulting a therapist or other medical professional would also be beneficial.



Taking proactive steps regarding your health can improve your mood as well as reduce your PCOS symptoms.