PCOS and fruit – can they mix? If you have PCOS, you’ve probably been told by someone that fruit isn’t good for you and that you need to avoid it…which contradicts everything you’ve ever heard about how fruit is good for you, right?
As a registered dietitian who specializes in PCOS, my goal is to make eating well for PCOS simple and delicious for you!
Let’s dive into the truth about eating fruit and which fruits are the best and worst choices for PCOS. Before we dive in though, let’s just recap what PCOS is.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder that affects approximately 1 in 10 women of childbearing age in the United States. This condition can present a range of symptoms for women with this condition.
Common symptoms of PCOS include irregular menstrual cycles, painful periods, fertility issues, weight gain, hair loss, hirsutism (unwanted and excessive hair growth), and fatigue.
Insulin resistance and chronic inflammation play an important role in the pathogenesis of this hormonal imbalance. If left unmanaged, having PCOS does put you at higher risk for developing other health conditions such as diabetes (both type 2 and gestational diabetes), cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and fatty liver disease.
The good news is that a PCOS-friendly diet along with lifestyle changes can make a significant difference in your PCOS symptoms and also decrease your risk for chronic diseases.
A common misconception is that you need to avoid fruit if you have PCOS and insulin resistance. The idea behind this myth is that fruit has sugar in it so it will increase your blood glucose levels (aka your blood sugar levels). The increase in your blood sugar levels will increase insulin levels – making insulin resistance and your PCOS symptoms worse.
While yes, fruit does have sugar in it, it’s mostly a naturally occurring sugar called fructose. Fructose is broken down by the liver and doesn’t have as much of an impact on blood sugar levels as other sugars, such as sucrose, which is commonly known as table sugar.
Fruit also contains a type of carbohydrate called fiber. Fiber slows down digestion, allowing you to feel full for longer periods of time. Fiber also slows down how quickly your blood sugar levels rise. Because of this, carbs that have fiber (such as whole grains, fruits, veggies, and beans) are typically recommended as part of any balanced diet, not just a PCOS diet.
When you combine fruit with protein and fat, it will help to slow down that blood sugar rise even more. This will increase insulin sensitivity and lower insulin resistance over time.
Most people with PCOS have chronic low-grade inflammation. Essentially, your body never turns off the inflammatory response even when there isn’t an imminent danger.
Anti-inflammatory diets, such as the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet, emphasize anti-inflammatory foods. Anti-inflammatory foods have antioxidants in them, which are compounds that help to reduce harmful free radicals that contribute to oxidative stress and inflammation (1).
Different colored fruits have different types of antioxidants in them. A variety of fruits in your diet is helpful to make sure you’re getting all kinds of potent antioxidants to lower inflammation.
For a complete list of anti-inflammatory foods, check out this post: Anti-Inflammatory Foods List PDF: Dietitian Approved.
Absolutely not! Fruit has fiber and antioxidants that can lower insulin resistance and inflammation…which is only going to help manage PCOS symptoms!
Fiber also helps to keep you feeling full for longer periods of time, which may help you maintain a healthy weight.
Some people will tell you to only eat fruits that have a lower glycemic index (GI), however, I’m not a fan of this approach. While there is validity to eating low GI foods as a general rule of thumb, fruit isn’t the battle you want to fight.
The glycemic index is a scoring system that measures how quickly a food can make your blood sugar rise. If you were to base your food choices on GI alone, it would tell you that watermelon has a higher GI than a cone of ice cream. This is largely due to the fact that watermelon is just carbs; while ice cream is carbs and fat, which helps to decrease the blood sugar rise (more on this below).
Instead of hyper fixating on the GI of certain fruits, It’s more important to include a variety of fruits that you actually enjoy. You should focus on other factors that can balance your blood sugar levels when you eat fruit, such as pairing it with foods from other food groups that provide protein and fat.
Protein and fat are two macronutrients that help to reduce the blood sugar rise. When you add these nutrients to your fruit, you’ll see much more balanced blood sugar levels.
Greek yogurt or a handful of sunflower seeds are great options to eat along with your fruit.
For more information on how to include fruit into your PCOS-friendly diet, check out: A Dietitian’s 7 Day PCOS Diet Plan (PDF Included)
Below, I’ll share a list of fruits for PCOS that may help to lower insulin levels, reduce inflammation, and keep you feeling more full!
Apples are packed with a phytochemical called quercetin which can help to reduce insulin resistance. One study even found that eating 3 apples per week was associated with more weight loss than pears or oats (2).
Avocados are unique because unlike most fruits, they’re an excellent source of both fiber and healthy fats, monounsaturated fats in particular. They also contain antioxidant compounds called carotenoids and tocopherols which have been shown to help reduce inflammation. Avocados are also a great source of potassium, folate, magnesium, and vitamin C to name a few.
Out of all the fruits, bananas probably have the worst reputation, but bananas are actually very nutrient dense. They’re a great source of resistant starch which improves digestive health and vitamin B6 which is necessary for healthy progesterone levels. Read more about bananas and PCOS here.
Blackberries really pack a fiber punch with one cup having 8g of fiber – which is almost ¼ of the 30g of fiber I recommend to aim for daily. They are also a great source of vitamin C, providing almost half of your daily vitamin C needs and ⅓ of your vitamin K needs. Research shows that vitamin K may reduce insulin resistance (3).
Blueberries are often referred to as a superfood because of their high antioxidant content – they’re particularly high in the antioxidant group anthocyanin. They’re also a great source of fiber: one cup of blueberries has 4g fiber to keep you feeling full and satisfied.
Cherries are a great source of the powerful antioxidants vitamin C and melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that improves egg quality and helps to regulate our sleep/wake cycles – so it may help you sleep better!
Grapefruit is high in two antioxidants: vitamin A & vitamin C. This fruit may also reduce blood sugar and insulin levels (4). Grapefruit isn’t recommended if you’re on certain medications so always seek medical advice from your doctor if you’re taking prescription medications.
Kiwis are packed with tons of antioxidants, especially vitamins C & E, and polyphenols, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Two kiwis have 4g of fiber and they contain an enzyme that helps prevent constipation.
Mangoes contain a good amount of copper, a mineral that also has antioxidant properties. They’re also a good source of folate, which helps to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in pregnancy.
Check out this Mango Kefir Smoothie for a nutritious way to get more mango in!
One small papaya has 3g of fiber and over 150% of your daily vitamin C needs. It also contains a type of antioxidant, carotenoids, that is more easily absorbed from papaya than some other food sources (5).
One medium peach contains 2g fiber and loads of antioxidants. Research shows they may also reduce blood sugar levels (6).
Pears are an excellent source of fiber with 1 medium pear containing 6g of fiber or 20% of the daily recommended 30g of fiber. They’re also a good source of prebiotics to help improve digestive health. Eating the peel also drastically increases the amount of antioxidants you get.
½ cup of pomegranate arils (aka pomegranate seeds) has 4g of fiber. They’re also rich in folate and an antioxidant compound called punicalagins that reduce inflammation.
Similar to blackberries, 1 cup of raspberries have 8g of fiber and over half of your daily vitamin C needs.
One cup of strawberries has 3g of fiber and antioxidants to lower inflammation. Research has shown that strawberries can reduce blood sugar levels and your risk for heart disease and certain cancers.
While it’s true that fruits are beneficial for PCOS, there are some fruit options that may have more additives, like sugar, or not as much fiber as the others listed above. It’s not to say that you should never eat these foods, but it’s good to be mindful of these types of fruit options.
Let’s take a look at which fruit options you should be more mindful of.
Many dried fruit options have added sugars in them, which will cause higher blood sugar levels.
The portion sizes of dried fruits is significantly smaller than eating whole fruit also. For example, one cup of grapes is the nutrition equivalent of 2 tablespoons of raisins.
Choose dried fruits without added sugars and be mindful of the portion size you use.
Canned fruits are often canned in high sugar syrups which will cause higher blood sugar levels. There are canned fruit options available now that are canned in 100% fruit juice or water.
One way to reduce the sugar content of canned fruits is to rinse them before eating.
Fresh fruit, frozen fruit, or canned fruits in 100% juice or water are the better choices.
Fruit juice is stripped of the beneficial fiber that’s important for blood sugar balance. You’re better off just eating the whole fruit to get the fiber.
If you’re a fan of fruit juice, smoothies may be a better option since you still get the fiber benefits.
Here are some of my favorite smoothie recipes:
Fruit is an important component of a healthy diet and should be included as part of your treatment approach for PCOS. Fruit contains fiber and essential nutrients that will help to balance blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation.
When you’re eating fruit, make sure there are other macronutrients like protein and fat, which will help to mitigate the blood sugar rise.
Dried fruit, canned fruits in syrup, and fruit juices may increase blood sugar levels more than whole fruits. If you want a done-for-you meal plan for managing PCOS symptoms without restrictive diets, check out the PCOS Meal Plan. This includes 3 weeks worth of meals and snacks, along with grocery lists and meal planning tips!
Learn the most common nutrition mistakes I see women with PCOS making and what to do instead!