Women affected by Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) have a tough time getting pregnant or carrying a baby to term. This is due to a hormonal imbalance that causes problems with the ovaries, disrupts their menstrual cycle, and make fertilization problematic.
Women with this syndrome are more likely to be obese or have problems maintaining their weight due to high levels of the hormone insulin in their blood. By following a healthy, balanced diet and an overall healthy lifestyle, women with PCOS may see improvement in their condition.
Knowing what foods to avoid when planning their diet is probably the most important piece of information in their armory, when it comes to naturally treating the symptoms of PCOS. This guide contains a list of foods that women with PCOS should avoid when planning their diet.
What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?
PCOS is a common hormonal imbalance disorder that affects one in 10 women of childbearing age. It occurs due to abnormal levels of androgen, a male hormone. Androgen increases the level of testosterone, another male hormone. The hormonal imbalance is often the underlying reason for infertility, miscarriages, and premature births among these women.
PCOS interferes with the proper development and monthly release of eggs from the ovary during ovulation. This results in disruption of the menstrual cycle causing heavy, irregular, or missed periods. It also causes acne and excess hair on the face, chest, or arms.
All women, regardless of their race or ethnicity, are at risk of developing PCOS. Those who are obese or have a family history of the syndrome are at a higher risk of being affected. A woman typically finds out she is affected by the condition after failed attempts to get pregnant or carry a baby to term.
A Healthy Diet Plan Can Relieve PCOS Symptoms
In addition to taking medication, exercising, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, a diet void of the foods that place your health at risk can be a good way to relieve symptoms of PCOS.
Being overweight or having trouble maintaining weight is a leading underlying cause of PCOS due to high levels of insulin in the body. Excessive weight gain is actually the first sign of the syndrome.
Insulin helps the body convert sugar to energy. If the body is not producing enough insulin or becomes resistant to it, this can cause blood sugar (glucose) to rise and make it difficult to lose weight. With the body being unable to control the levels of insulin, androgen starts to overproduce.
Being able to normalize insulin and lower androgen production may reduce the menstruation and fertility issues women with PCOS face. This is in addition to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Regulating their weight reduces the risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
These 13 Foods Can Make PCOS Worse
The following 13 foods can make PCOS symptoms worse. By limiting or avoiding them altogether, women suffering from this syndrome may be able to achieve hormonal balance and see improvement in other symptoms:
1. Foods made from white flour can easily raise blood sugar levels
Insulin and foods rich in simple carbohydrates are not friends. These are essentially refined grains and refined sugars that carry a high glycemic index. This means they raise the blood sugar to higher levels than complex carbs.
White flour is a simple or refined carbohydrate and should be avoided at all costs, because it is high in starch and easily raises blood sugar levels. This in turn affects the body’s ability to use insulin to convert the sugar into energy. If excess sugar is not removed from the body quickly, it gets stored as fat and lead to weight gain.
White flour-based foods are white bread, muffins, bagels, cupcakes, and cookies. Instead, opt for whole wheat, whole grain, and multi-grain foods. Whole wheat breads or pasta and brown rice are some examples. These are full of dietary fiber, keep you feeling full longer, provide good energy, and nourish the body without the risk of gaining weight easily.
2. Sugary foods that cause sudden surges in blood sugar
Sugary foods are typically made up of simple carbs or refined sugars, and you already know simple carbs are bad for business. They are low in fiber, digest quickly, and give a false sense of fullness that can lead to overeating.
Sugary foods include sugary desserts, sugary beverages, and syrup. They come in the forms of sugary-based cereals, cakes, candies, cookies, canned fruits in syrup, sodas, and sweetened juices, e.g., juice cocktails that are not 100% juice. Instead, choose fresh fruits or frozen or canned fruits without syrup.
You should note that some food labels use alternative names for sugar, such as sucrose (table sugar), dextrose, and high fructose corn syrup. Reading food labels can help you avoid foods made with these ingredients.
3. Ditch the milk to keep testosterone levels at bay
Milk is a dairy rich in calcium and protein, but it is a key problem food for women with PCOS. Milk has a protein content that interferes with normal testosterone metabolism. This in turn causes a rise in testosterone level which results in further hormonal imbalance.
Hair growth will likely increase, in addition to making menstrual irregularity, infertility and other PCOS symptoms worse. While avoiding milk, it is best to avoid dairy products such as yogurt, cheese, and butter.
You should try to get your protein from other sources such as fish, lean meats, beans, peas, legumes, and nuts. Your calcium may be taken from alternative sources such as vegetables. Spinach, collard greens, and broccoli are good options.
4. Lay off soy products to prevent issues with ovulation
Soy, a plant-based protein, is viewed as a good substitute for animal protein. But not for women troubled by PCOS. Soy is shown to affect cholesterol levels, insulin levels, thyroid functions, and ovulation.
Compounds, known as isoflavones, which are found in soy are largely responsible for interfering with the function of estrogen in the body. To promote ovulation and fertility, estrogen needs to be balanced against other hormones.
5. Foods rich in saturated or ‘bad’ fats—unless you want to raise your cholesterol levels
Greasy fast foods such as fried chicken, French fries, and beef burgers are high in saturated fats. So are snacks such as potato and tortilla chips. The saturated or trans fats in these foods increase the level of harmful LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream and lower the amount of good HDL cholesterol. Bad fats create inflammation and place you at risk for diabetes, stroke, heart disease or other chronic medical conditions.
Instead, replace fried foods with foods that are baked, grilled, steamed, or broiled. While you’re at it, make good use of lean meats, white meats, and skinless chicken. These methods of cooking do not require the use of kitchen oils and fats and, therefore, reduce fat intake. If necessary, cook with cooking oils that are rich in unsaturated fats, such as olive oil.
6. Goitrogenic vegetables that can impair thyroid functions
Goitrogens are natural substances found in certain foods. They can impair thyroid functions and cause goiter or enlargement of the thyroid gland. Goitrogens interfere with the thyroid by preventing the body from using iodine, a trace element, which is necessary for proper functioning of the thyroid gland.
Vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, watercress, and kale are rich in goitrogens. Fruits including strawberries and peaches are highly goitrogenic. Incidentally, these foods are rich in vitamins and nutrients.
However, eating them raw can aggravate PCOS symptoms. Cooking, steaming, or fermenting these foods can lower the concentration of goitrogens and make them safer for PCOS women to consume.
7. Red meat that lowers production of SHBG in the body
Red meat is rich in protein. However, it decreases the amount of SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin) the body produces. Incidentally, this same SHBG is needed to keep testosterone levels in check. Consequently, PCOS sufferers need to avoid red meat like the plague to maintain low levels of testosterone.
8. Artificial sweeteners to prevent elevating testosterone levels
While artificial sweeteners can satisfy that crave for sugar, they are highly inflammatory and are known to raise the levels of estrogen and testosterone. This triple whammy is something PCOS women should run from. Natural sweeteners, for example, Erythritol, Yacon syrup, Stevia, and Xylitol are recommended instead.
Speaking of sugar and sweet, while you opt for natural sweeteners, also avoid the so-called “sugar-free” foods. They are often loaded with added sugars and can raise your insulin levels the same way artificial sweeteners can.
9. Alcohol to avoid interfering with the metabolism of estrogen
Like testosterone, estrogen levels need to be kept in balance to promote ovulation, a regular menstrual cycle, and fertility. Estrogen metabolizes in the liver and so does alcohol. Drinking alcohol regularly can therefore interfere with the metabolism of estrogen and throw the hormones off balance.
10. Oils and saturated, trans, and hydrogenated fats to prevent diabetes
Oils and fats rich in bad fats, namely saturated fats, trans fats, and hydrogenated fats are highly inflammatory, heart-disease-causing culprits. Consuming a high volume of these foods regularly can lead to chronic health conditions such as diabetes and, of course, heart disease.
Diabetes creates problems for the body to produce or use insulin. With high levels of insulin already a problem for women with PCOS, developing diabetes will only exacerbate its symptoms. Instead of beef, pork, butter, margarine and vegetable oils, choose healthy fats which are found in avocados, nuts, fish, and olive oil.
11. Foods with a high glycemic index to prevent weight gain
Foods with a high glycemic index are essentially refined or ‘bad’ carbs. These are your highly starchy foods such as white rice and white flour that cause you to feel full but for shorter periods. The reason for this is these foods have a low fiber content, e.g., compared to whole wheat that is higher in dietary fiber. They are also lacking in micronutrients.
High-glycemic foods increase hunger pangs and make you overeat. Women with PCOS must stay away from these types of foods if they want to maintain a healthy weight and improve their chance at fertility.
Fruits and vegetables with a high glycemic index are tropical fruits such as mangoes, dried fruit, squash, potatoes, and corn. Your preferred choice should therefore be vegetables such asparagus, carrots, cucumber, green beans, and tomatoes. Fruits can include grapes, apples, oranges, and berries. These foods have a low glycemic index.
12. Pasta and noodles
High in simple carbohydrates and low in fiber is the definition of pasta and noodles. They are usually made from white flour which by now you know is a enemy to the body of women with PCOS.
It may be better to remove them from your diet and replace with whole wheat pasta and noodles or pastas made from lentils or beans. You can also trade them in for whole wheat or whole grain breads which provide more nutrients and are slowly absorbed by the body.
13. Caffeine that increases stress hormones and glucose levels
Caffeine, as is found in coffee, can have several effects on insulin in the body. This stimulant that commonly comes in your cup of morning waker-upper can increase stress hormones which can lead to increased insulin levels.
Caffeine addiction may also lower your body’s insulin sensitivity causing it to have trouble regulating glucose level. Not to mention, caffeine can cause anxiety, raise your blood pressure, and interfere with sleep.
Women with polycystic ovary syndrome are generally insulin resistant. This results in a rise of blood sugar and insulin levels that can become out of control for the body. When this happens, these women become overweight or have problems losing weight. In the meantime, women with PCOS are already troubled by hormonal imbalances which disrupt their ovulation and menstrual cycle.
Having issues with efficiently processing insulin expose them to developing diabetes. As these problems interplay, they have a tough time doing two things thought to be so natural for women to do—getting pregnant and having a baby. On the contrary, they struggle in different areas to increase their chance at fertility.
Sticking to natural or whole foods that have a low glycemic index is an excellent way to prevent a surge in blood sugar and insulin levels. Foods that interfere with hormonal balance should also stay off their diet plan. While they focus on foods less likely to trigger a rise in glucose and insulin levels, women with PCOS should also remember that a balanced diet is the way to go. Combining and balancing good carbs with healthy proteins and fats help to slow the absorption of carbs and keep insulin levels low.
Which of these foods are you going to try to help your pcos?
- A 7-step Plan to Lose Weight with Pcos
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- 6 Steps to Lower Your Risk for Type 2 Diabetes
- What’s the Difference Between Good and Bad Fats?
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