Diet and exercise are important components of managing polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). In particular, people with PCOS must focus on how foods affect their blood sugar levels. That’s because insulin resistance occurs in many people with PCOS, which means their bodies don’t use insulin effectively.
People with PCOS are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In fact, more than half of those with PCOS will develop diabetes by the time they are 40.
A PCOS diet can help you manage your condition. Your doctor may help you develop an eating plan to help balance hormones and insulin. For example, a low-carb diet may help control insulin resistance.
Eating carbohydrates causes an immediate increase in blood sugar, but this does not mean all of them are off-limits. Fruits, for example, contain carbs but are a cornerstone of a healthy diet. Therefore, most people do not need to avoid them completely.
This article explains what kinds of carbohydrates are in fruits and how to choose fruits if you have PCOS and need to limit carbs.
Carbohydrates in Fruit
The sugar found naturally in fruits is not the same as the sugar you might add to your coffee or use in baking. The latter is sucrose—an easily digestible carbohydrate that enters the bloodstream quickly after you consume it. This leads to a sharp rise in blood sugar and insulin levels, both of which are a concern for people with PCOS.
There are two forms of carbohydrates found in fruits. They are:
- Fructose: This is a naturally occurring sugar that is not as easily digested as sucrose. Therefore, it has different effects on the body.
- Fiber: The body uses fiber to break down fructose for energy, so its effect on blood sugar and insulin levels is much slower.
Beyond fructose and fiber, fruit is also a rich source of a range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These nutrients can help improve PCOS and insulin resistance and lower your risk for chronic diseases like cancer.
That means for most people, balance is key when it comes to eating fruits.
Additionally, the longer digestion time means fruits are more filling and satisfying than sugary food and drink sources, which help reduce the risk of overconsumption.
As outlined in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, exact recommendations for daily fruit intake vary by age. Generally speaking, adults should aim for about two cups each day. At least half should come from whole fruits rather than 100% juice.
If you have PCOS and are on a lower-carb diet, this may be different for you. Talk to your doctor or nutritionist to determine what is right for your situation.
Choosing Which Fruits to Eat
Not all fruits react the same way in the body. So, when you manage PCOS and need to eat fewer carbs, some fruits are better choices than others.
Generally, fruits that you eat with the skin tend to have a lower glycemic index (GI). These fruits include:
A lower GI means that these foods get digested slower. This results in a slower rise in your glucose and insulin levels after eating. These are good choices.
Fruit doesn’t contain protein or fat, so you may want to add some to increase your satisfaction and help manage blood sugar levels. For example, try an apple with nut butter or paired with a hard-boiled egg or cheese.
Fruits to Choose Less Often
Fruits without edible skin tend to have lower levels of fiber. These include things like:
In turn, these fruits have a higher GI. These are still healthy, but the glycemic index is an important consideration when choosing which fruits to eat more or less often.
For example, bananas are in this group, but they have a medium GI. However, they are rich in potassium, which regulates blood pressure. In addition, they are a good source of B vitamins, which help maintain blood sugar levels.
So, while a banana could initially seem like a fruit to cut out, you might think about limiting portion size or frequency instead. For example, a large banana counts as two servings of fruit (like eating two apples at once). So instead of eating a whole banana, you might choose baby bananas or cut one regular-sized banana in half.
It is important to note that only whole fruits and 100% juice are considered good fruit sources. In addition, some foods, such as smoothies, may seem healthy but often contain other ingredients and added sugars.
Be sure to check the nutrition facts for anything you’re eating to fully understand what you’re consuming.
What Counts As a Serving of Fruit?
Each of the following are examples of a single serving of fruit:
- 1 small apple
- 1 cup of grapes
- 1 orange
- 1 large peach
- 1 cup strawberries
- 1 cup cherries
- 2 small plums
- 1/2 of a large banana
Eating too many carbohydrates at one time can cause glucose and insulin levels to spike. So enjoy a small a piece of fruit as a snack between meals, or include fruit alongside a protein-rich, low-carbohydrate meal, such as an omelet with strawberries on the side.
People with PCOS often also have insulin resistance. This places them at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
A low-carb diet is often beneficial for people with PCOS because it can help manage hormone and insulin levels. However, since fruit is nutritious but also high in carbohydrates, balance is key.
Some fruits are better choices than others. For example, fruits with edible skin, like apples, pears, and plums, have a lower GI. That means glucose and insulin levels rise more slowly after eating them.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best diet for PCOS?
A healthy eating plan can help manage PCOS symptoms. Start by choosing a variety of foods from all food groups, including fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy. Look for healthy fats to add to your diet, like olive oil, avocados, fish, almonds, and walnuts. Talk to your doctor or dietitian for help with creating a plan that works for you.Learn More:The Best Diet for Managing PCOS Symptoms
What foods should you avoid with PCOS?
Avoid sugary snacks and refined carbohydrates, which can cause an imbalance in insulin levels. These include processed foods like white bread and white rice. You can help improve PCOS symptoms by limiting these foods and replacing them with high fiber, low-sugar carbohydrates, like whole-grain bread and brown rice.