10 Foods to avoid if you have PCOS

It’s difficult to manage your diet when dealing with the challenges of PCOS. Some foods can worsen your symptoms.

Here’s a list of the top 10 foods to avoid if you have PCOS. These include sugary drinks, processed foods, and high-carb snacks. But don’t worry; we’re not just leaving you with a list of what not to eat.

We’ve also got some great alternatives that you can try out, like whole grains, fruits, and veggies. You can help manage your PCOS symptoms and improve your overall health by making simple tweaks to your diet. Here’s how.

What is PCOS?

PCOS, or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, is caused by an imbalance of hormones, precisely an excess of androgens, that affects women of reproductive age.

Symptoms vary but can include irregular periods, acne, ovarian cysts, insulin resistance, infertility, mood disorders, weight gain, and excess hair growth [1]. Some symptoms may be mild or even nonexistent.

Therefore, women with this disorder need proper diagnosis and treatment from a healthcare provider to manage their symptoms and reduce their risk of developing related health problems [2].

Genetics and environmental factors are thought to contribute to the condition, even if the exact cause is unknown. A healthy diet and lifestyle changes can usually help manage most symptoms.

Why is diet important for PCOS?

If you have polycystic ovary syndrome, it’s essential to understand that your diet plays a crucial role in managing the condition. Poor eating habits can lead to hormone imbalances and weight gain, both common symptoms of the disease.

By controlling insulin levels, maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing inflammation, adopting a nutritious, well-balanced diet can help relieve PCOS symptoms [3].

Why is diet important for PCOS

A healthy diet for PCOS should include foods low in sugar and refined carbohydrates, high in fiber and protein, and rich in essential vitamins and minerals.

Additionally, regular exercise and stress-reducing activities can help further manage PCOS symptoms. By making these lifestyle changes, you can take control of your PCOS and live a healthier, happier life.

Top 10 foods women with PCOS need to avoid

Let’s face it, many of our favorite junk foods are often associated with PCOS or polycystic ovary syndrome.

While there’s no quick fix for this condition, a balanced diet can help relieve unpleasant symptoms. You may have heard of avoiding certain foods for PCOS, but which ones are these exactly [4]?

1. Sugary foods and beverages

If you have PCOS, you might be tempted to reach for a sugary snack to satisfy your sweet tooth. However, consuming high amounts of sugar can lead to high blood sugar levels, which can cause insulin resistance, a common symptom of PCOS.

Given their high glycemic index value, simple carbs such as candy, cookies, cakes, and soda should be avoided as much as possible.

2. Refined grains

Refined grains have undergone a process where the bran and germ are removed, leaving behind only the starchy endosperm.

Unfortunately, this process removes many essential nutrients from the grain, leaving behind refined carbohydrates that quickly convert to sugar after consumption. Examples of these include white bread, white rice and pasta.

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3. Processed foods

Processed foods contain high levels of sodium, added sugars and harmful fats, which are not a good choice for women with PCOS.

These foods are notorious for causing inflammation and increasing insulin resistance. As much as possible, increase your intake of whole and natural foods.

4. Red meat and poultry

Although lean meat may be a good source of protein, red meat and poultry, especially when consumed in large quantities, can raise inflammation levels in the body, worsening PCOS symptoms. Studies suggest choosing plant-based protein can be a healthier option for those with PCOS.

5. Dairy products

Consuming dairy products, specifically the ones that have high-fat content, can lead to an increase in insulin levels because they contain lactose. Subsequently, this spike in insulin can result in insulin resistance, a frequently occurring symptom of PCOS, as previously mentioned.

6. Saturated and trans-fats

Consumption of saturated and trans fats has been proven to elevate inflammation and insulin resistance within the body, making PCOS management a real challenge. It is recommended to steer clear of fried foods and processed snacks to decrease intake of these fats.

7. Soy products

Highly processed soy products can contain phytoestrogens, which may disrupt hormonal balance in the body. Avoid consuming large amounts of soy products if you have PCOS.

8. Alcohol and caffeine

While the occasional alcoholic drink or cup of coffee is not harmful, excessive alcohol and caffeine intake can lead to hormonal imbalances and aggravate PCOS symptoms. Alcohol should be avoided as much as possible, while caffeine should be moderately consumed.

9. High-carb foods

While carbohydrates in and of themselves are not harmful, women with PCOS should limit their intake because high-carbohydrate foods cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, which can lead to insulin resistance and exacerbate symptoms.

10. Gluten

Although no evidence suggests gluten is inherently bad for women with PCOS, going on a gluten-free diet may benefit some women. This may be because gluten-containing foods often also contain refined carbohydrates, which can contribute to insulin resistance, a common issue for women with PCOS.

By avoiding gluten-containing foods, some women may reduce their intake of refined carbohydrates and improve their insulin sensitivity.


However, it is essential to note that a gluten-free diet is not appropriate or necessary for all women with PCOS. It is essential to consult with a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to determine if a gluten-free diet is appropriate for your needs and health goals. 

You can manage your PCOS more effectively and enjoy better overall health by avoiding these foods. However, eating a balanced diet that includes whole, natural foods is still vital in managing PCOS symptoms.

Foods to include in your PCOS diet

We’ve talked about the foods to avoid if you have PCOS; it’s time to focus on the essential nourishment that should be in your diet. You can maintain a healthy weight, control insulin resistance and balance hormones with these foods [5].

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Complex carbohydrates

For women with PCOS, going low carb or including complex carbohydrates, like whole grains and legumes, are essential. They are digested more slowly, leading to a slower rise in blood sugar levels.

This helps regulate insulin levels, which ultimately reduces the risk of developing other health problems. A serving of brown rice, quinoa, or black beans will give your body the necessary carbohydrates to function well.

Fiber-rich foods

Eating vegetables, fruits and whole grains helps you maintain a healthy weight, promotes regular bowel movements and reduces inflammation. Chia seeds, flaxseeds and almonds are easily incorporated as additional sources of fiber.

Protein-rich foods

These are also a must-have in your PCOS diet. They help maintain muscle mass, reduce insulin resistance and keep you feeling fuller for longer. Chicken, fish, tofu and lentils are all examples of suitable proteins to incorporate into your meals.

Good and healthy fats

Healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids are essential for hormone production and overall health. Excellent sources of healthy fats include salmon, avocado, nuts, seeds and olive oil.

Vitamin-rich foods

Last but not least, vitamins and minerals are essential to help support your overall health. You can find vitamins B, D and E and essential minerals such as chromium and magnesium in various foods, including green leafy vegetables, nuts and fish.

Incorporating these essential foods into your diet can positively impact your overall health and help improve PCOS symptoms. Consider having a protein bowl for lunch or baked salmon for dinner for a healthy meal. Keep in mind that finding the right balance is vital to success.

It may also be helpful to consult with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian. They can assist you in determining your dietary needs and creating a personalized nutritional plan to manage your symptoms.

Lifestyle changes to improve your PCOS symptoms

Engaging in physical activity is a highly effective lifestyle change to relieve PCOS symptoms. Not only does it assist with managing weight gain, but it also enhances insulin sensitivity and lowers the likelihood of developing diabetes and cardiovascular diseases [6]. 

Maintaining hormonal balance related to PCOS requires attention to both sleep and stress management. Sufficient sleep and stress-reducing activities like yoga, meditation and deep breathing can regulate insulin and cortisol levels, reducing symptoms of PCOS. 

Incorporate these easy but powerful lifestyle habits into your daily routine and your dietary requirements for a healthier and better life.


Adopting a healthy and balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods can help improve PCOS symptoms and overall health. Sugary drinks, processed foods and red meat are some foods you eliminate for a better quality of life. 

Focusing on balanced meals that include complex carbohydrates, fiber-rich foods, protein, healthy fats and essential vitamins and minerals is necessary.

Lifestyle changes like regular exercise and managing stress levels can also play a significant role in managing PCOS. By incorporating these changes, you can improve your health and reduce the severity of your symptoms.

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[1] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos/
[2] https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/polycystic-ovary-syndrome
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8643565/
[4] https://bebodywise.com/blog/foods-to-avoid-in-pcos/
[5] https://smartfertilitychoices.com/foods-to-avoid-with-pcos/
[6] https://nyulangone.org/conditions/polycystic-ovary-syndrome/treatments/lifestyle-changes-for-polycystic-ovary-syndrome

Photograph: bublikhaus/Envato
The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.