PCOS and Gluten-Free Diets

PCOS BlogAre you wondering what all the hype is about the gluten-free diet? People with and without celiac disease have picked up on this trend, and, in some ways, it’s hard not to! Take one look at the magazine covers in the grocery store check-out aisle and you’ll see yet another celebrity eating gluten-free for weight loss. The #1 reason that more and more people choose gluten-free foods is they believe these foods are healthier. Sure enough, in a recent search for popular diets for PCOS, the gluten-free diet came up, multiple times—so I wanted you to have the facts.

First of all, it’s important to know that for people with celiac disease, following a gluten-free diet is the only known “treatment”. Eating gluten-free is less of a choice and more a necessity in order to manage celiac symptoms, and it’s a hard diet to follow! On top of switching to gluten-free foods (which are often quite costly), it requires learning the many hidden sources of gluten (such as potato or tortilla chips, french fries, and many soups, sauces, and gravies).

What does all this have to do with PCOS?

As you know, the recommendation for PCOS is to maintain a healthy weight; including gradually losing weight if you’re overweight. There are some claims that a gluten-free diet leads to weight loss, but there’s no research to support that this is true! We do know, however, that people who eat whole-grains (such as whole wheat products-which are loaded with gluten) are more likely to weigh less than people who don’t. So it’s hard to understand how cutting these foods out of your diet completely will help with weight loss, given what we know.

Bottom-line, if you have PCOS (and do not have celiac disease), it’s probably not helpful to follow the gluten-free diet. Many gluten-free products (such as gluten-free baked goods) are high in total calories and may be higher in unhealthy fats and sugar and lower in fiber than gluten-containing varieties. Since fiber helps to fill us up and keep us full longer, getting enough fiber can help with weight management. With PCOS, snacks containing refined carbohydrate and little to no fiber (such as many gluten-free products) typically lead to a larger spike in insulin levels than snacks containing protein, fiber, and complex carbs (e.g., whole-grain crackers with peanut butter).

While it’s definitely possible to have a balanced gluten-free diet with gluten-free whole-grains (such as buckwheat or millet), legumes, and many fruits and vegetables, it’s generally easier to consume enough fiber and avoid refined grains on a regular diet. Last but not least, whole-grain wheat products have been found to have other health benefits, including keeping your immune system (ability to fight infections) strong. As part of a balanced diet, the benefits of whole wheat and whole-grain foods are too good to give up… without good reason!

-Nutritionist Abigail