Is gluten and dairy-free good for PCOS? What’s the best diet for me? Maybe you’ve had these same 2 questions swirling around in your head and you are struggling with the right choice. Wellspring Nutrition is here to help clear the confusion!
Is dairy free better for PCOS?
The answer is “Not, exactly”. If you struggle with PCOS and are also trying to get pregnant, full-fat dairy such as Greek yogurt or milk is a better option for you.
These two foods provide healthy carbs and a good amount of protein. Here’s a study showing how the intake of full fat dairy may decrease risk of infertility. On the other hand foods like ice-cream or processed cheese (like American cheese) should be limited because they provide less nutrition.
Women with PCOS can eat moderate amounts of dairy products while also including a balanced diet of other nutrient-rich foods and still see improvement in symptoms. If you choose to eliminate dairy, it is best to discuss this with a dietitian to make sure you are still getting calcium and vitamin D. Non-dairy sources of calcium include tofu, canned sardines or salmon, tahini, dark leafy greens and some non-dairy beverages that state calcium is included.
Does gluten make PCOS worse?
There is a lack of scientific evidence that supports a gluten free diet for PCOS. It’s important to know that there can be a downside to following a gluten free diet if you don’t need to. As a Registered Dietitian and Fertility Expert I want to help make things easier for you. So if you don’t have a gluten allergy or intolerance then it likely isn’t necessary for you to follow a gluten free diet for PCOS.
Removing gluten means not eating nutritious whole grains and possibly missing out on getting enough fiber, iron and B vitamins. Eating whole grains has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. So let’s make this easy! Keep on reading for how I can help you.
What should I eat if I have PCOS?
Let’s review some very important foods that’ll help decrease your symptoms.
Choose a variety of fresh, whole fruit to enjoy. Frozen fruit is a great option! Fruit (and dairy) contain natural sugars that also come with important nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Added sugars such as white sugar, brown sugar, syrup or agave nectar have no additional nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Added sugars are what we want to limit in our daily food choices.
Some women with PCOS are told they can’t eat fruit because of the sugar content – but that’s simply not true! Fruit has important phytonutrients and antioxidants that help decrease inflammation.
It’s just important to pair your fruit (and carbs) with a source of protein or fat.
Apple + Peanut Butter
Banana + Almond Butter
Nectarine + Cottage Cheese
These small changes will help you balance out your blood sugar, which will then help balance your hormones.
Here are the daily recommendations for added sugars. Keep total added sugars under 25 grams per day for women and under 36 grams per day for men.
Choose a variety of vegetables and eat them daily. There is no one vegetable that’s better than another. Just like fruit, vegetables have important nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Both fruit and vegetables also have fiber, which is important for managing PCOS. A symptom of PCOS can be insulin resistance. In the simplest of terms this means we want to increase the amount of fiber we eat to improve blood sugar control. This in turn helps with insulin resistance and managing PCOS.
It’s recommended that women up to 50 years of age eat 25g of fiber per day. But, more than 90% of women fall short of meeting the recommendations for fiber.
Try tracking your fiber intake for a few days to see how you stack up compared to the daily recommendations!
Protein & Healthy Fats
Including protein with every meal and snack can be very beneficial for PCOS. Protein helps us to feel full and satisfied between meals. This is important so that we avoid overeating and mindless snacking throughout the day. Both of these two things can help maintain a healthy weight.
Examples of good protein choices include lean meats (fish, poultry, lean beef or pork), tofu, beans, lentils, nut butters, eggs, nuts and seeds.
Healthy fats such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are also important in helping us to feel full and give us energy. We can get some of these healthy fats from fish such as salmon, sardines, avocado, nuts (walnuts, pistachios) and seeds (for example chia and ground flaxseeds).
Whole grains & starchy vegetables
Whole grains and starchy vegetables are considered healthy carbs. They can also be a significant source of fiber. Fiber helps us to feel fuller longer and so it is a great weight management tool. It’s recommended to eat the skin of white potatoes whenever you have them because that’s where a lot of the fiber comes from. White potatoes also have potassium which is important for our blood pressure.
Examples of whole grains: brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, whole grain bread products
Examples of starchy vegetables: potatoes (sweet and white potatoes), green peas, plantains, yucca, and corn.
Are there foods I should limit?
While there are many foods you can eat, you also want to be aware of foods to limit. This simply means we should enjoy them occasionally. We don’t necessarily want to make them daily food choices.
The number one culprit of added sugars in the American diet is still sugar sweetened beverages like soda, energy drinks and even sports drinks. As previously mentioned, keep total added sugars under 25 grams per day for women. Instead try adding fruit, sliced cucumber and/or mint leaves to water.
Major sources of saturated fat are fried foods, ice cream and desserts. These foods are more like a treat and should be limited.
Processed foods contain very little nutritional value. You’ll also want to watch for eating too many low-fiber foods like white bread, white rice. It’s not that you can never eat them, but if it’s all you eat then we want to think about expanding our food choices. To best manage PCOS we want a healthy diet full of fruit, vegetables, healthy fats, protein and fiber from healthy carbs (whole grains/starchy vegetables).
Other considerations for managing PCOS
Some of our best non-food tools for managing PCOS include exercise, adequate sleep and stress management. We know how hard it can be to exercise throughout the week! You might be thinking, “it’s impossible”, but even small spurts throughout the day add up. For example, if you are able to walk 15 minutes twice per day that’s already 30 minutes!
The recommendations for exercising are 30 minutes 4-5 days out of the week and can help manage symptoms. You can also incorporate strength training two days out of the week.
There is a possible link between stress and higher BMI in women with PCOS. If you are having a hard time managing stress, consider stress reduction strategies like deep breathing, yoga, journaling and yes even exercise. For more, check out this article on “10 Ways You Can Relieve Stress Right Now”.
Research shows that sleep helps to regulate our cardiovascular, immune system and metabolism. Sleep is an important part of being and staying healthy. According to the Sleep Foundation, 7-9 hours of sleep is recommended for ages 18 and up.
Looking for more Support?
Be sure to check out our free live masterclass all about the top 3 ways to naturally enhance your fertility (perfect for those struggling with PCOS and hormone imbalances!)
- Chavarro JE, Rich-Edwards JW, Rosner B, Willett WC. “A prospective study of dairy foods intake and anovulatory infertility.” Hum Reprod. 2007 May;22(5):1340-7. doi: 10.1093/humrep/dem019. Epub 2007 Feb 28. PMID: 17329264.
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/food-sources-calcium
- “Gluten-Free Diet: Is It Right for Me?”
- “Added Sugars” https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/added-sugars
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans-2020-2025.pdf
- The Sugary 6 Infographic, https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/sugary-six
- “Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome”, https://www.eatright.org/health/pregnancy/fertility-and-reproduction/polycystic-ovarian-syndrome
- “Basu BR, Chowdhury O, Saha SK. Possible Link Between Stress-related Factors and Altered Body Composition in Women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.” J Hum Reprod Sci. 2018 Jan-Mar;11(1):10-18. doi: 10.4103/jhrs.JHRS_78_17. PMID: 29681710; PMCID: PMC5892097.
- “10 Ways You Can Relieve Stress Right Now”, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-relieve-stress/
- “How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?”, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need