Last week I asked on my Instagram stories what were your questions about eating healthy for PCOS. It’s a topic I’ve discussed over and over here on the blog and Instagram, but I felt there were still a lot of misconceptions and unanswered questions. And it turns out I was right. Most questions referred to gluten, dairy, and sugar. Are they OK? Are they not OK? A few questions were referring to common comfort foods like French fries, chocolate, and more. But I think over 60% of them were all about gluten and dairy.
Eating healthy for PCOS – let’s talk about gluten and dairy
The one thing gluten and dairy have in common is that they are highly inflammatory. There’s also some mixed evidence that dairy might increase your risk of cysts. Both inflammation and cysts are common (but not mandatory) with PCOS. So is it safer to quit them? Sadly, there’s no straight answer.
If you’re just starting your journey to manage your PCOS, the best thing to do is look at your lifestyle as a whole. Do you eat a lot of junk food? A lot of processed foods? If yes, that’s where you start cutting first. Go for foods with ingredients you can read and you know how they look. Essentially, cut out processed things with loads of chemicals. Eat foods found in nature.
Now, let’s go one step further. How are the foods you eat cooked? Fried? Let’s bake, grill, and boil a little more instead.
If all these are out and you’re eating a healthy diet but still battling annoying symptoms, including inflammation, then go and take out the gluten and dairy.
Inflammation symptoms include (but are not limited to): achy joints, unexplained fatigue, sluggishness, getting sick a lot (usually minor things, like a common cold that seems to come back, again and again, no matter how many immunity-friendly vitamins you take).
Bloating after a meal, abdominal cramps, IBS symptoms could also be signs you’re not tolerating gluten and/or dairy very well.
Progress, not perfection
One thing to keep in mind when going any type of elimination is that it takes time to see results. This isn’t a quick fix. So if you start by eliminating junk foods, don’t expect to see results within 1 week. Give yourself at least 4 weeks of healthy eating. And even at this point, don’t expect a miracle.
You might see improvement, but you’re most likely not going to see a complete remission of your symptoms. If you do see improvements, you can try to go on to the next step, or be patient and keep doing what you’re doing. As long as you see progress, you’re on the right track.
If you get to eliminating gluten and dairy, your patience must be even stronger. If your PCOS was of the inflammatory type, and these are the foods causing your inflammation, it could take 6-9 months to start seeing results.
This is something I can tell you from personal experience as I have this type of PCOS. I eliminated gluten in July 2019 (I’m allergic to cow’s dairy, so that was out for a long time). My cycles first became somewhat regular at 60 days. It wasn’t until April 2020 that I had my first cycle shorter than 40 days!
Progress doesn’t always mean weight loss or a regular period
My progress was quantified by the fact that my symptoms lessened with each cycle. My acne started disappearing, my hair loss stopped and my hair started growing back, I wasn’t getting such bad mood swings anymore and my periods, when they came, were almost painless.
The point is, everything counts. I see many women who start these diet changes expecting to get their periods every 28 days immediately and to see their pounds melt away. This most likely won’t happen. You will begin seeing weight loss when you find the right diet for you. And it shouldn’t happen overnight. It should be slow and steady.
Sugar and other carbs. Can you have them with PCOS?
French fries, chocolate, and other delicious things that technically are “natural”, gluten-free, dairy-free are another category of foods that has a lot of women perplexed. They don’t seem to go hand in hand with eating healthy for PCOS. Yet, if you look hard enough, you’ll find women who claim to eat them and be fine, while others, including doctors, swear against them. So what’s the truth?
My approach is “see how you feel” and if everything seems fine, then the keyword becomes MODERATION.
Recently, we have a new factor to consider. More and more studies are coming up showing that the glycemic index of foods might not be as important. If you’re not familiar with the topic, foods with a high glycemic index, spike your blood sugar quickly and lower it just as fast, leaving you hungry, craving more and more of the same foods. It is essentially what happens when we eat a lot of sugar, but sweets aren’t the only foods in this category. Potatoes, for instance, are there too.
You may want to consider how satiated you feel after a meal…
Why does this matter? Because studies are finally recognizing what many people have been saying for a while: not all foods qualified as bad due to their high glycemic index make you feel as bad. Some can keep you full for a long time and you won’t have a sugar crash afterward. For instance, baked potatoes have a fullness factor of 2.5 which is higher than that of butter (0.5) or brown rice (2.3).
While I believe there’s still a bit of research to be done for patients with diabetes, who are sensitive to high glycemic foods, these new studies have the potential to be revolutionary for everyone. Coupled with eating a balanced diet from a macro and micronutrient point of view, these studies could end a lot of struggles people feel when trying to eat healthier, such as quitting foods that never made them feel bad.
So…what’s the actual answer? Are potatoes, chocolate, and other carbs ok with PCOS?
They are. But they might also not be. I’m sorry, but I can’t give a straight answer, because there is none.
If you are severely insulin resistant, getting closer and closer to diabetes, you may need to accept that cutting all high glycemic foods is the best.
But if your PCOS is triggered by other factors, such as inflammation, or if you have the adrenal type, these carbs, in moderation, could be fine.
I’ll give you my example. I have inflammatory PCOS. When I embarked on this journey to manage my symptoms naturally, I cut out most simple carbs. I replaced white potatoes with sweet ones, I only had fruits as sweets and usually only in the morning or around my workouts. I used to suffer from an eating disorder, so I had to be very mindful of what I was cutting to not trigger my ED again.
After a couple of months, I started playing with reintroducing these foods again. I was traveling, so not cooking my foods. Naturally, sometimes I indulged. This allowed me to see what was harming me and what was not. I soon learned that store-bought cookies and pastry, even gluten-free, were a complete NO.
But I also learned gluten-free bread and pasta, and baked potatoes were fine. And so was dark chocolate.
Bottom line. Does eating healthy for PCOS have any room for gluten, dairy, or sugar?
As much as I’d like to give you a clear yes or no answer, there’s no such thing when it comes to eating healthy for PCOS. Because we’re all different people with different needs. What I can tell is you most likely DO NOT need to cut out all the foods you love.
It may be beneficial to start by doing a short “cleanse”. Not so much for its “detox” properties, but more so to allow yourself to find the foods your body doesn’t love.
While some foods, like gluten, cow’s dairy, or white sugar are highly inflammatory for many women with PCOS, they aren’t for everyone. I know this feels confusing now and you’d prefer a clear and simple answer. But in the long run, this will help you find a sustainable lifestyle. Because PCOS is a condition we’re stuck with for life. So we need to find a lifestyle we can maintain for just as long!
Don’t forget I offer 1-1 coaching, so if you need help figuring out what foods you should eat and what you shouldn’t, reach out now!
Starting in July I will be doing a monthly giveaway for the members of the PCOS Warriors Club. Each month, one subscriber will receive a free 60-minute one-hour coaching session with me. Join now to have a chance to win!
- Fiona McCulloch, “8 steps to reverse your PCOS”.