Is Fruit Bad for Women With PCOS?

Plate of fruit

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Diet and exercise are important components of managing polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and women with PCOS must particularly focus on how foods affect their blood sugar levels. Eating foods with carbohydrates causes an immediate increase in blood sugar, but this does not mean all foods containing carbohydrates are bad. Fruits, for example, do contain carbohydrates but are a cornerstone of a healthy diet and do not need to be avoided for most. Not all carbohydrates are the same.

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 consuming. 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 carbohydrate found in fruits - the naturally-occurring sugar (called fructose) and fiber. Although fructose is a sugar, it is not as easily digested as sucrose and therefore has different effects on the body. The body uses fiber to break down fructose for energy - meaning the effect of this sugar on blood sugar and insulin levels are much slower.

Beyond fructose and fiber, fruits are also a rich source of a range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can help improve PCOS and insulin resistance and lower your risk for chronic diseases like cancer.

Additionally, the longer digestion time means fruits are more filling and satisfying than sugary food and drink sources - which help reduce the risk of overconsuming.

Exact recommendations for daily fruit intake in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines vary by age, but adults should aim for about two cups each day - with at least half coming from whole fruits rather than 100% juice.

What Counts As a Serving of Fruit?

These measures are 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

It is important to note that only whole fruits and 100% juice are best sources of fruit. Some foods, such as smoothies, may seem healthy but often contain other ingredients and added sugars. Be sure to check the nutrition facts label to have a full understanding of what you're consuming.

Eating too many carbohydrates at one time will cause glucose and insulin levels to spike. Enjoy a small a piece of fruit as a snack between meals or include fruit in a protein-rich, low-carbohydrate meal, such as an omelet with strawberries on the side.

Fruit doesn’t contain protein or fat so you may want to add some to increase your satisfaction and help manage blood sugar levels. One example is to have an apple with nut butter, hard-boiled egg, or cheese.

Generally, fruit that you eat along with its skin (apples, peaches, berries) tend to have a lower glycemic index. This means that it gets digested slower, and thus results in a slower rise in your glucose and insulin levels after eating.

Fruits without edible skin, including pineapple and melon, tend to have lower levels of fiber and therefore a higher glycemic index. These fruits are still healthy, but glycemic index is an important consideration when choosing which fruits to eat in moderation and which can be enjoyed on a more limited basis.

And what about bananas you may ask? A large banana counts as two servings of fruit (like eating two apples at once). Buy baby bananas or cut one regular-sized banana in half. Bananas are rich in potassium, which regulates blood pressure, and are a good source of B vitamins, which help maintain blood sugar levels.

Tips to Help You Eat More Fruit

Follow this advice for ideas on adding more fruit to your day:

  • Keep a bowl of whole fruit on the table or counter. You’ll be more likely to see it if it’s in sight rather than hidden away in a refrigerator.
  • Buy fresh fruit in season to maximize the nutrients from different types.
  • Refrigerate cut-up fruit to store for later for easy access.
  • Freeze fresh fruit or buy frozen to blend in smoothies.
  • Enjoy for snacks.
  • Add to meals. For example, top oatmeal with blueberries or add grapes or apples to a salad.
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Article Sources
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  1. Boston Children's Hospital. PCOS: Nutrition Basics. Published December 12, 2020.

  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020.