PCOS and nutrition is a very popular and sometimes controversial topic amongst nutritionists, doctors and women with PCOS.
Some women swear by certain diets. Others who have tried the same dietary guidelines found that their symptoms worsened and opted to follow another diet.
No matter the diet, women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome have the same common goal — avoid insulin spikes. Since most women with PCOS battle with insulin resistance, they opt for diets that are low in sugar, carbs and are absent of preservatives and other hormone-disrupting chemicals.
In the four years since I’ve been diagnosed, I’ve done extensive research on PCOS compatible diets. Ketogenic, Paleo, Low-Carb and Low GI are, by far, the most discussed and suggested diets for women with PCOS.
Keep reading for a breakdown of all four diets and my thoughts on them at the end of the post.
What is it?: The Ketogenic diet, also known as Keto, is a unique high-fat, low carbohydrate diet that has extremely strict daily allowances for carbs (typically 20g or lower) and a goal of literally no sugar consumption.
When the body goes without sugar or carbs for a time (length varies by person, but typically a week or two), it enters a state of Ketosis, believed to be a “fat-burning” state. Since women with PCOS often have trouble shedding weight, it’s thought to be doubly helpful by encouraging weight loss and minimizing symptoms.
What’s a typical meal on Keto?: With all grains and most carbs and sugars cut out, you’re limited to any meat, non-starchy vegetable and most fats.
For example, dinner might be a steak with broccoli for dinner, with a salad paired with high-fat dressing on the side.
Why is it popular with PCOS Women?: Since the diet greatly reduces the carb and sugar intake (the primary causes of insulin spikes), many women report a reduction in symptom inflammation and an easier time losing weight.
What is it?: The Paleo diet has become wildly popular in the past decade. It’s modeled after what’s thought to be the diet of cavemen, e.g. only things that could be hunted, fished and harvested. In other words, it’s a grain-free diet consisting of a wide variety of meats, fruits and vegetables. Some who follow the diet exclude dairy products like milk, eggs and cheese.
What’s a typical meal on Paleo?: Paleo meals provide a bit more wiggle room than Keto in that starchy vegetables are allowed sometimes.
An example of a Paleo dinner would be pork chops, mashed sweet potato and kale.
Why is it popular with PCOS women?: The paleo diet seems to borrow from the low-glycemic index list of foods, which offers a lot more wiggle room in what can and can’t be eaten when compared to keto.
What is it?: The low-carb diet is one of the most popular diets of the last three decades. The goal is to keep carb intake much lower than that of the Standard American Diet (about 300g carbs a day). Atkins, probably the most well-known low-carb diet, limits newcomers to about 25g. After a short length of time (it was a week last time I was on it), the carbs are increased to 50g, then 75g and so on. In other words, it’s a pretty dramatic removal of carbs from the diet, followed by gradually increasing them to a reasonable amount.
What’s a typical Low-Carb meal?: Low-carb diets are extremely flexible in what can be had and want can’t. Unlike Keto or Paleo, grains are not excluded.
A low-carb dinner may consist of a low-carb tortilla wrap filled with taco-seasoned ground turkey and lettuce, tomato, cheese, sour cream, etc.
Why is it popular with PCOS women?: It’s about one of the only diets that doesn’t seek to cut out particular food groups so much as it promotes carb intake in moderation. You can still enjoy the occasional snack or treat so long as you’re mindful of your intake.
Low Glycemic Index Diet
What is it?: The Low Glycemic Index Diet (or Low GI for short) is a list of foods ranked by how much the blood glucose level is raised upon consumption. It’s a go-to for people who are diabetic and pre-diabetic or insulin-resistant. The typical rule of thumb is that the starchier the food, the higher the blood glucose level.
What’s a typical Low GI meal?: Again, one of the positives about the Low GI diet is the variety of foods available.
A dinner on the Low GI diet could be grilled chicken breasts, brown rice and lima beans.
Why is it popular with PCOS women?: With the flexibility it offers and a very easy list of foods to remember at the grocery store, it’s a diet that aims to make managing insulin levels as easy as possible.
So What’s The BEST One?
There isn’t one.
But only because there’s no such thing as a one size fits all diet or nutrition plan.
I’ve tried all four of these diets with varying results. I do have preferences leaning towards a couple (which I’ll cover down the road in separate reviews). You really need to try them individually before you can make a definitive decision.
I wouldn’t suggest, say, sweeping your kitchen of all low-GI items to try Paleo. But next time you’re at the grocery store, write a small list with items from the diets you want to try. Make meals following those plans and see how you feel. If you like it, stick to it! If not, you can always move on and try something else.
Did I miss one? Please share it with me in the comments! (Honestly, I thought really long and hard about this topic and could only come up with the diets listed above).