Finding the best diet for PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) can feel difficult and confusing because of conflicting information on the internet and social media. How do you know which diet is best?
Let’s walk through some different diets, and why these may or may not be beneficial. Hint – no, you won’t have to cut out all carbs.
Diets and PCOS
PCOS is an inflammatory condition, and most individuals with PCOS have insulin resistance. If your mind jumps to nutrition when you hear these words – there are valid reasons why. Managing PCOS involves lowering inflammation and insulin levels. The foods that we eat regularly can impact these aspects of PCOS.
Common Diets Recommended for PCOS
A common recommendation for PCOS is to eat a low carb diet or more even more extreme, go on the Ketogenic (keto) diet. On the surface, this might seem like a great idea to treat insulin resistance because consuming less carbs will lessen a spike in insulin. If you’ve ever tried this in the short term then you may have seen an improvement in your PCOS symptoms.
However, PCOS is a life-long condition and you want to be adopting nutrition habits that feel good and are realistic for the rest of your life.
The keto diet has a VERY low compliance rate, and it’s not realistic to cut out carbs for the rest of your life either. Carbohydrates are also your brain’s most efficient source of energy, which is why you may have felt like you had difficulty concentrating, a headache, or low energy when you tried a low carb diet.
Carbs like fruit and whole grains are also loaded with nutrients, antioxidants and fiber, all of which are important for hormones and managing PCOS. Pairing carbs with protein and fat is a much better way to manage insulin resistance instead of cutting carbs out!
I have an entire blog post about gluten and PCOS (read it here), but here’s a summary:
There is a link between gluten and inflammation, and PCOS is an inflammatory condition. However, gluten is not inflammatory to all. There are no studies about PCOS and gluten, meaning there is not enough evidence to draw this conclusion that everyone with a PCOS diagnosis should eliminate gluten.
I have lots of clients who enjoy gluten and are still able to regulate their periods and improve labs.
PCOS and Dairy
I also have a blog post about dairy and PCOS (read it here), but in a nutshell:
Many people with PCOS do not need to cut out dairy, and this should be approached on an individualized basis. Studies are mixed and inconclusive. We do know based off of research that consuming full-fat dairy is more beneficial for hormones and insulin levels than consuming fat-free or low-fat.
Harms of Dieting
The goal of managing PCOS with nutrition should be to include as many foods as possible and create a maintainable way of eating.
Did you know that dieting can actually harm your health and hormones in the long-term? While diets tend to work in the short term, statistics show that over 90% of dieters regain the weight that they lost. In fact, more than ½ of dieters gain more weight in the long term.
When we diet, lose weight temporarily, stop dieting because it failed, then gain the weight back – this is weight cycling. Research shows that weight cycling can worsen insulin resistance & inflammation.
If you’ve been on a diet before and weren’t successful, you did not fail – the restrictive & unrealistic eating pattern failed you.
The Best Diet for PCOS
The Best diet for PCOS is one that is sustainable for you. Before you make any changes, ask yourself a few questions:
- Is this something that I can do forever? If it involves eliminating foods you love, the answer is probably no.
- Can I allow myself to eat the foods that I love without guilt?
- Will I be able to enjoy eating with my friends and family?
- WIll it make me feel better, or hungry and deprived?
- Prioritize nutrition by ADDING foods to your diet
- Make sure you’re eating regularly during the day to avoid excess hunger and overeating later
- Let go of guilt around food – this only makes certain foods sound more appealing.
- Ditch your scale
Your eating patterns should make you feel good – not deprived. In my practice, I do not recommend any specific diets and do not use weight loss as an indicator of your success. Instead, we focus on adding nutrition to help with Insulin Resistance, inflammation, along with other healthy behaviors.
Chavarro, J. E., Rich-Edwards, J. W., Rosner, B., & Willett, W. C. (2007). A prospective study of dairy foods intake and anovulatory infertility. Human reproduction (Oxford, England), 22(5), 1340–1347. https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dem019.