With 2015 underway, many women are looking for the best diets for PCOS so that they can turn a corner with regards to their reproductive health. There are scores of systems out there, but many are fads whose agendas are pushed by marketing savvy gurus looking to make a quick buck. Which dietary regimens will set you down the path to resolving your PCOS symptoms? Below, we profile five low carb diets that work to help reduce the metabolic stressors that drive the worst symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
1) Ketogenic Diet
Of all the low carb regimens out there today, the ketogenic diet does the best job in taming the unruly metabolic systems that drive the negative effects that make PCOS a massive nuisance in the lives of so many women (1). By imposing a spartan limit of only 20 grams of carbohydrates per day, this way of eating trains the body to burn fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates by inducing a biochemical state known as ketosis (2). By severely restricting the availability of its primary fuel, your body adapts to this shortage of glucose by creating it from fat and protein using a process known as gluconeogenesis. The primary product of this process is ketone bodies, which your brain and other tissues use to function in the absence of sufficient glucose being created from carbohydrates. While this diet contraindicates the consumption of grains, milk, sugary food and drink, starchy vegetables like potatoes and most fruits, allowances for eating any type of meat and green vegetables and the ever growing body of alternative recipes that replace favorite foods in the forbidden category make it a highly desirable diet to follow. The biggest hurdle involves getting over the so-called keto flu, where your body cries out loudly for the carbs that it is being deprived of before your body has a chance to adapt fully to the new diet you are feeding it, but most report their symptoms being alleviated within a few days to a week (3).
2) Paleo Diet
The paleo diet (or caveman diet as it is known by some) is a high-protein diet that emphasizes choosing whole foods over processed and grain-based foods. The decision matrix by how foods are deemed acceptable lies in how much glycemic load it has, which is a measure that determines how much a given item will raise a subject’s blood glucose level after its consumption. Taking this into consideration, not only should you drop foods with refined sugars like in the keto diet, but any food containing Omega 6 fats (like nuts and seeds) should be limited, due to the inflammation they cause as well (4). However, not all foods in the paleo diet are accessible to those suffering from PCOS, as many of the fruits that are green lighted for those that do not have this disorder can play havoc with the bodies of those that do. Therefore, low glycemic index carb consumption should not exceed 50 grams per day. In general, if PCOS symptoms get worse after taking up the paleo diet, cut back on fruit and starchy vegetables, and reduce your meat intake. With vigilant carb counting though, the paleo diet is one of the best diets for PCOS out there due to its emphasis on healthy foods.
3) Atkins Diet
Of the mass marketed diets of the past twenty years, perhaps none is as well known as the Atkins Diet. The Atkins Diet is a multi-stage process that emphasize the consumption of foods high in protein and/or fat over those high in carbohydrates. The induction phase of Atkins mirrors the ketogenic diet, as it prescribes a tightly limited menu of foods that is designed to keep daily consumptions of net carbs below 20 grams per day. It also emphasizes protein consumption exceeding that of fat, as patients are advised to seek 150 grams per day of the former versus 100 grams of the latter (5). Atkins diverges from the keto diet starting with the ongoing weight loss phase, where 5 grams of net carbs per week are added to an individual’s diet in the form of nuts, seeds, or berries. After one comes within 10 pounds of their target weight, they switch to the pre-maintenance phase, where 10 grams of carbs are added per week to the limit until they stop losing weight (6). These two stages are meant to determine where ketosis shuts off for an individual dieter, as each person has metabolic functions that differ from other people. While it is more complex than the keto or paleo diets, its focus on helping an individual find out where ketosis kicks in for them allows it to join the list of the best diets for PCOS out there today.
4) Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Diet
Created by Richard Bernstein, a doctor that was born with Type I diabetes, this dietary regimen was originally created to help his fellow diabetics to cope with the arduous task of eating without risking a spike in their blood sugar that could put their health in serious jeopardy. In the ensuing years, he realized it had real benefits for those looking to shed pounds and thus, he began to promote his program to the masses. Since severely restricting foods that cause massive increases in blood sugar are a key plank of his diet, the lack of insulin response that comes from eating like this make it a great option (7). While the constant need to physically check one’s blood sugar levels makes the adoption of this strategy a hard sell for many, the learning experience of actively tracking biomarkers may make this diet a great one to try for some PCOS patients.
5) Protein Power Diet
Created by the husband and wife team of Michael and Mary Eades, the Protein Power Diet emphasizes the benefits of getting enough protein while limiting the amount of carbs that one consumes in their daily life. These married medical doctors advise that each person needs to determine the amount of protein that is required for them per day using a formula chart that analyzes their body size and level of daily physical activity. Carbohydrates are restricted to 7 to 10 grams per person per meal, keeping most people below the threshold where ketosis stops functioning (8). This diet mirrors the Atkins Diet through its three phases, Intervention (where severe carb restriction guarantees ketosis induction in all patients), Transition and Maintenance (where carb levels are slowly increased until one’s weight achieves an equilibrium). The main difference between Protein Power and Atkins is that it doesn’t restrict certain foods, so long as the dieter keeps their net carbs per meal within the acceptable range. For those unwilling to give up their berries and cream after dinner permanently, this can make a big difference for someone adhering to a low carb lifestyle and dropping it altogether, making it another one of the best diets for PCOS on the market today.