Can you eat carbs if you have PCOS?
Updated: Jul 19
If you were diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), your doctor may have given advice like this:
"Eat low or no carb"
"Lose weight and eat low or no carb"
But here is the thing- this is terribly unhelpful and harmful advice. There are no carbs you have to avoid and you absolutely, positively don't have to restrict yourself with a super low carb diet.
Isn't that fantastic news?! Because honestly. Who wants to go forever fighting the natural urge to eat most foods?
Because carbs are totally in most foods! It's like your doc said, "See you at our next appointment. Don't forget to avoid most food!". Hrrumph.
Foods that have carbs:
Grains and pseudograins (cereals, crackers, breads, pasta, rice, farro, quinoa, rye, spelt, buckwheat, ect)
Legumes and beans
Nuts and seeds
Starchy vegetables (potato, corn, peas, squash, beets)
Restricting these foods creates cravings for sugar as our body is SCREAMING for fuel.
And get this, there are no studies in the PCOS population showing that a diet manipulating macronutrient composition (i.e low or no carb) has any justifiable impact on long term outcomes. We just don't have that data.
What we do know is low carb diets are difficult to follow, will cause increased body distrust, and make it harder to poo (yes, fiber is a carb!).
The reason doctors tell those with PCOS to "avoid carbs" is because 75-95% of persons with PCOS exhibit insulin resistance.
This is where the misunderstanding occurs: insulin resistance is not caused by carbs. It is caused by inflammation and cellular dysfunction. Gut health plays an important role as well as quality of the diet, the food relationship, genetics, environment, stress, sleep, hormones, and movement. Complicated, right?
The advice to "eat low carb" is not only unhelpful and harmful, but really- it's lazy. We need to take the time to really deep dive into lifestyle to determine what may be impacting the insulin resistance which thereby impacts our hormones.
What should we do instead?
Many carb-rich foods are full of antioxidants and fiber which slow the inflammatory burn that leads to our body's hormonal and metabolic dysregulation (yes, I said carb rich!). With Intuitive Eating, the food relationship can become peaceful. Through a gentle nutrition lens, we include anti-inflammatory foods (and all desired foods!) in a way that is both satisfying and sustainable, and we move away from a focus on weight loss and instead lean into behavioral changes that increase well-being.
See? We can have our carbs and eat them too!
Interested in learning more? I'd love to chat with you.