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PCOS Nutrition Myths Debunked: I have PCOS, should I avoid carbohydrates completely?

Updated: Jul 10


Working out what you should be eating can be confusing with the many myths and misconceptions that surround PCOS. So, in this blog post I'll be debunking a common one I hear in my clinic.


Carbohydrates and PCOS


There's a common misconception that avoiding carbohydrates entirely is the best strategy for managing PCOS. You might think you need to avoid carbs to control your insulin resistance and PCOS symptoms.


Let's explore why completely avoiding carbohydrates isn't the answer and how to make smarter carb choices to manage PCOS effectively.


Why Avoiding Carbs Can Be Harmful


Overly restricting your intake of carbohydrates can lead to:


  • Nutrient deficiencies: carbohydrates, especially wholegrains, are rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and fibre. Completely avoiding them can lead to nutrient deficiencies, which can make your PCOS symptoms worse.


  • Dips in energy levels: carbohydrates provide a steady source of energy and can balance out your meals. Cutting them out can make your cravings worse and can make you feel tired.


  • Changes in your gut health: Fibre from carbohydrate rich foods aids in digestion and helps maintain a healthy gut. Avoiding these foods can lead to digestive issues, such as constipation.


  • An unsustainable way of eating: Completely avoiding carbohydrates is difficult to maintain long-term. Sustainable dietary changes are more effective in managing PCOS in the long run .


Insulin Resistance and Blood Sugar Control


A significant number of women with PCOS experience insulin resistance, meaning their bodies struggle to use insulin effectively, leading to elevated blood sugar levels.


What exactly is insulin resistance?


Whenever you eat, insulin is released (by your pancreas) into your blood. Insulin transports glucose from carbohydrates out of your blood into the muscles, liver, fat, and organ cells where it’s used as energy.


With insulin resistance, your body’s cells don’t respond properly to the insulin and they block the uptake of insulin into the cells. Your pancreas then responds by releasing more insulin to try and fix this block and allow glucose to be transported. This results in high levels of insulin in your blood which can lead to a range of hormonal imbalances that create the symptoms of PCOS. If excess glucose remains in your blood, the extra insulin moves it to be stored as fat and increases hunger, and this can often lead to food cravings for sugary foods.


But won't eating carbohydrates make my insulin resistance worse?


All carbohydrate foods have an effect on your blood glucose levels, but it's all about making sure you're choosing the right type of carbohydrate, and the right amount for you, so that your level of insulin sensitivity is increased and your blood sugar levels are better controlled.


Low Glycaemic Index Carbohydrates


Low glycaemic (low GI) carbohydrates demand much less insulin and cause less of a rise on your blood glucose levels.The glycaemic index is a ranking system for carbohydrates based on their immediate effect on blood glucose levels.


Choosing good quality, low GI, high fibre foods such as wholegrain bread, wholemeal rice and pasta, beans, lentils, chickpeas with each meal, along with some protein and healthy fats, (which slow down the release of glucose), will help you to:


  • Reduce insulin resistance and help control your blood sugar levels.


  • Regulate your menstrual cycle, reduce testosterone levels and improve your symptoms.

  • Increase your sense of feeling full and satisfied after eating meals.


  • Provide your body with fibre and many nutrients for optimum health and function.


  • Optimise your sleep, mood, and energy.


How much carbohydrate can I eat?


The amount of carbohydrate foods varys from person to person and will depend on your individual symptoms, level of insulin resistance, nutritional requirements and health goals.

The key is finding a sustainable approach that is right for you and your unique needs.


Key Takeaways


You don't need to avoid carbohydrates if you have PCOS. Instead, focus on choosing low GI, high fibre carbohydrates that can increase your insulin sensitivity, and improve your PCOS symptoms. Remember, the goal is to nourish your body and maintain a healthy lifestyle that works for you and your individual needs.


If you're looking for some personalised support and guidance about what nutrition choices are best for you, book your FREE 20-minute Discovery Call here.


References


  1. Diamanti-Kandarakis E, Dunaif A. Insulin resistance and the polycystic ovary syndrome revisited: An update on mechanisms and implications. Endocr Rev. 2012;33(6):981–1030.

  2. Moran LJ, Misso ML, Wild RA, Norman RJ. Impaired glucose tolerance, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome in polycystic ovary syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Hum Reprod Update. 2010;16(4):347–63.

  3. British Dietetic Association (2022) Food Fact Sheet: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.

  4. Chavarro, J. E., Rich-Edwards, J. W., Rosner, B. A., & Willett, W. C. (2009). A prospective study of dietary carbohydrate quantity and quality in relation to risk of ovulatory infertility. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 63(1), 78-86.

  5. Marsh, K. A., Steinbeck, K. S., Atkinson, F. S., Petocz, P., & Brand-Miller, J. C. (2010). Effect of a low glycemic index compared with a conventional healthy diet on polycystic ovary syndrome. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 92(1), 83-92.

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