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Understanding the Impact of Ultra-Processed Foods on PCOS

There’s a lot of talk about ultra processed foods at the moment. We’ve heard how the UK consumes vast amounts and how these foods are contributing large amounts of sugar, fats and calories to our diets with very little nutritional value. As PCOS is largely affected by the foods we eat, I think it’s important that we look at the impact of ultra processed foods on PCOS.

Ultra-processed foods (chocolates)

Let’s start off by looking at what ultra-processed foods are.

Unprocessed or minimally processed foods are whole foods where the food is in its natural state or as close to its natural state as possible These foods may have been altered very slightly to remove anything that’s inedible or to preserve it for a bit longer.

Examples include:

Dried fruit



Nuts (unsalted)

Fresh fruits and vegetables (both whole and pre-sliced)

Frozen vegetables and fruits

Processed foods are made by adding salt, oil, sugar or other substances which change the food from its natural state. Most processed foods have around two to three ingredients and include:

Tinned fish or vegetables

Fruits in syrup


Freshly baked breads

Plain yoghurts

Ultra-processed or highly processed foods will have multiple ingredients including sugar, oil, salt, preservatives, or artificial colours/flavours.

These include:

Frozen/ready meals

Soft drinks

Packaged cakes and biscuits




Mass-produced Bread

Fruit yoghurts

The impact of ultra-processed foods on PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) can be significant and detrimental. Ultra-processed foods are highly industrialized, convenience foods that are often high in calories, sugar, unhealthy fats, and additives while lacking essential nutrients. These foods can exacerbate the symptoms of PCOS and increase the risk of associated health issues in several ways:

Insulin Resistance: Ultra-processed foods are typically high in refined carbohydrates and added sugars, which can lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar levels. This can contribute to insulin resistance, a common feature of PCOS, where the body's cells do not respond effectively to insulin.

Inflammation: Ultra-processed foods often contain trans fats and high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which can promote inflammation in the body. Inflammation is associated with PCOS and can exacerbate its symptoms.

Hormonal Imbalance: PCOS is characterized by hormonal imbalances, particularly elevated androgens (male hormones). Ultra-processed foods can contribute to hormonal disruption due to their impact on insulin and inflammation.

Gut Health: These foods often lack fibre and can negatively affect gut health. An imbalanced gut microbiome may influence PCOS symptoms and insulin resistance.

Fertility Issues: PCOS can lead to fertility problems, and a diet high in ultra-processed foods may worsen these issues due to insulin resistance, inflammation, and hormonal imbalances.

Mood and Mental Health: The high sugar content in many ultra-processed foods can lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes, which can affect mood and energy levels. Managing mood and mental health is essential for overall well-being in individuals with PCOS.

Whilst this all sounds pretty doom and gloom, it’s important to remember that not all ultra-processed foods are bad. Mass produced breads (think Hovis) and breakfast cereals which are considered ultra-processed are fortified with vitamins and minerals and are great sources of fibre and slow-release carbohydrates (depending on the kind of bread and cereals you choose).

Our lifestyles are incredibly fast paced, and we don’t have time to bake our bread from scratch every day, we rely on the convenience of mass-produced bread and that’s okay, we don’t have to eliminate bread from our diets if we’re unable to make it from scratch.

In this day and age convenience is necessary, this means that we rely on ultra processed foods to a certain extent. We need food that is readily available and quick to prepare and that’s okay, if we balance this out with healthier/less processed options. For example, if you need to have a ready meal for dinner/lunch pair it with a side salad or some frozen vegetables.

To manage PCOS effectively, it's important to try and prioritize whole foods where and when possible, this includes:

Complex Carbohydrates: Opt for whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and oats, which have a lower glycaemic index and can help stabilize blood sugar levels.

Lean Proteins: Include lean sources of protein such as poultry, fish, tofu, and legumes to support hormone balance. If you are vegetarian/vegan try and have lentils, beans, legumes, tofu as your main protein source rather than plant-based meat/cheese alternatives which can be high in additives and highly processed.

Healthy Fats: Incorporate sources of healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, which can help reduce inflammation.

Fibre-Rich Foods: Aim to consume plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as foods high in fibre like beans and lentils to support gut health.

Practice mindful eating: Tune into natural hunger and satiety levels and let these dictate portion sizes and meal frequency.

Regular Exercise: Physical activity is crucial for managing PCOS and improving insulin sensitivity.

Overall, a balanced and whole-foods-based diet can positively impact PCOS by reducing insulin resistance, improving hormonal balance, and supporting overall health. Ultra-processed foods can feature as part of this diet if we focus on those that are not high in sugar, unhealthy fats or calorie dense.


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Uncover the 3 simple, highly-effective steps used by myself and all my clients to improve their PCOS symptoms, regain their confidence and live a life they love with PCOS (without dieting). 

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