is gluten free diet is must for PCOS?
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If you are struggling with PCOS/PCOD, you must have been advised to go gluten-free for weight loss and to manage the symptoms better. But is it necessary to go gluten-free for a PCOS diet? Let’s dig deep and clear all the confusion with evidence. This blog will help you to find an evidence-based answer on –

  • What is gluten?
  • What is PCOD/PCOD?
  • Can gluten cause PCOS?
  • How gluten and PCOS are connected?
  • How to know that you are gluten intolerant?
  • Why are you gluten intolerant?
  • Do you have to go gluten-free with PCOS?
  • Indian food list with gluten
  • What are the options for gluten-free flour for PCOS? Indian food list without gluten
gluten free diet for PCOS
Is wheat a villain in the PCOS diet?

What is gluten?

Gluten is a family of a particular type of protein. It is formally known as prolamins. Gluten is formed naturally in plants like wheat, barley, and rye.

It is glutenin and gliadin in wheat, secalin in the rye, and hordein in barley – are the type of gluten/ prolamin present in food. (1)

Don’t think gluten is all bad. In fact, gluten helps to keep your bread soft, fluffy and moist.

Gluten helps to form a kind of elastic network which helps to trap the gas, allow the bread to rise, and retain the moisture. This is why gluten is used in various processed food to improve the texture and keep the moisture intact. (2)

What is PCOS/PCOD?

Women have two ovaries that mature and release one egg every month. If the egg gets fertilized pregnancy starts or else women get menstruation. The ovaries produce a small amount of androgen (male hormone).

PCOD or Polycystic Ovarian Disease is a condition where ovaries release a lot of immature or partially matured eggs which eventually form cysts (small sacs filled with liquid). Women experience weight gain, irregular periods, male patterns of hair growth, etc. This condition occurs due to hormonal imbalance. PCOD creates an obstacle toward pregnancy but does not generally lead to infertility.

On the other hand, PCOS or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a condition where ovaries start producing a high amount of androgen. This interferes with the release of eggs during ovulation. These eggs turn into cysts and build up in the ovary. This makes the ovary enlarged. Women complain of getting irregular periods, weight gain, facial hair growth, hair fall, etc. PCOS is a disorder of the endocrinal system.

Can gluten cause PCOS?

The day you are diagnosed with PCOS, you may have been advised to go for a gluten-free diet. However, there is no evidence that you will get PCOS if you consume gluten.

It is true that many women do feel better once they eliminate gluten from their diet.

So what is the connection?

wheat, rye, barley are the gluten source
Its the genetic modification and post-harvest technique that makes wheat difficult to digest

How gluten and PCOS are connected?

Gluten and PCOS have no direct connection. Inflammation is common once you have PCOS. Gluten may cause inflammation if you are intolerant to gluten. Now if you have PCOS and gluten intolerance, then the situation gets worse with the persistently high level of inflammation.

Let me explain –

Inflammation and PCOS

As mentioned earlier, in PCOS ovary start producing more and more androgen (male hormone). Hypersecretion of androgen leads to chronic low-grade inflammation in the body.

 It is evident that when you have PCOS, inflammation markers (CRP, white blood cells, IL 18, MCP 1) in your body go up significantly. Oxidative stress and inflammation are correlated with circulating androgen. A higher androgen level means increased oxidative stress and inflammation. (3) (4)

Besides this, excess dietary glucose also triggers oxidative stress and inflammation associated with insulin resistance.

Inflammation and gluten

Gluten is a storage protein. Most people can digest gluten quite well.

However, there are about 1-3% of people find gluten hard to digest. The condition is called gluten intolerance or gluten allergy. The mild to moderate gluten intolerance is called non-celiac gluten sensitivity which creates inflammation affecting the digestive system.  The severe form of gluten intolerance is called celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder.

Is bread safe for PCOS patients?
Can you tolerate bread?

How to know that you are gluten intolerant?

There are a couple of symptoms that may cause due your gluten intolerance. If you are constantly suffering from the following issues, you may have some degree of gluten intolerance. Consult a gastroenterologist for a check-up.

Gluten intolerance symptoms are like –

  • constipation, diarrhea, smelly feces – altered bowel movement
  • bloating
  • stomach pain
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • body pain – bone, joint pain
  • brain fog
  • Anxiety & depression
  • Skin rash

Why are you gluten intolerant?

Constant research is going on to increase food production to cater increased population in the world. The genetically modified crop is a reality today to have more yields.

Research shows that the human intestinal tract is not fully evolved yet to deal with modern grain protein. Where gluten is concerned, the protein gliadin is suspected of causing an undesired immune response. (5)

gluten free diet does not mean only avoiding roti, it is much more
Gluten-free diet is not only avoiding roti, it is much more.

Do you have to go gluten-free with PCOS?

There is no evidence that going gluten-free will help you to fix PCOS. But if you are gluten intolerant then you must adopt a gluten-free diet to manage PCOS better.

However, the fact is many people without any gluten intolerance got good results avoiding gluten in their daily diet. Interesting right?

The principle of the PCOS diet is to avoid refined carbohydrates, and sugar and have more whole grain cereal, protein, and loads of vegetables and fruits. This helps to –

  • Manage the insulin resistance
  • Supply antioxidants to control the oxidative stress
  • Reduce abdominal fat (otherwise belly fat trigger further inflammation)
  • Reduce weight

Note that gluten is present in wheat, rye, and barley and in their products.

Now you pick any popular processed food or fast food like biscuits, cookies, instant pasta/ noodle, cake, donuts, muffins, pizza, burgers, bread, etc – all have refined flour or semolina as the primary ingredient along with loads of sugar, refined oil and preservatives. Going gluten-free means you must avoid all these products too. This automatically reduces the refined carbohydrate, refined sugar, refined oil, and preservative load in your body.

Thus going gluten-free also means going processed food free. That is the main secret to feeling good and energetic soon after avoiding gluten. Therefore if you are a junk addict and have too much-processed food in a day, going gluten-free might help you to fix PCOS.

gluten free diet for PCOS - is it necessary?
A gluten-free diet means leaving all your favorite confectionaries behind

Indian food list with gluten

If you are struggling with gluten intolerance or just planning to try a gluten-free diet to feel better with PCOS, avoiding only roti, or paratha won’t help you much. Follow the list below to identify foods with gluten in India. See, if going completely gluten-free helps to improve the situation.

CropProductsUltra Processed ProductsPreparation
WheatWhole flour – Atta Refined flour – Maida Suji/ Rawa/Semolina Dalia  Bread, Bun, Donut, Cake, Muffin, Brownie, Biscuits, Cookies, Rusk, Instant Noodles, Instant Pasta, Croissant, bhujia, namkeen, wheat puff etc  Pizza, Wrap, Roll, Croissant, Patty, Samosa, Chaat, Panipuri, Kachori, Paratha, Puri, Roti, Upma, kulcha, gujia, puran poli, sweet or savory item made with atta/ maida/ suji  
BarleyAlcoholic beverages like – Beer, Whisky, Vodka, Gin, Rum, etc, Health drinks, etc  Bread, bun, etc 
RyeAlcoholic beverages like – Beer, Whisky, Vodka, Gin, Rum, etc  Bread, bun, etc 
is it mandatory to go gluten free in PCOS?
Not only the gluten, but you must also control your sugar intake.

What are the options for gluten-free flour for PCOS?

Indian food list without gluten

It is fact that going gluten-free is not easy. It leaves you with very few food choices. Follow the list below to add more options to your gluten-free cereal list –

RiceSemi polished rice, hand pound rice, boiled rice, murmura, poha, khoi/kheel, rice flour  Rice, bhel (without papri), poha, roasted poha/ murmura/ khoi , dosa, idli, uttapam, fermented rice
CornBhutta, cornflakes, corn flour  Pop corn (avoid instant popcorn) , boiled corn, corn salad, roasted bhutta
Millets –  Jowar, bajra, ragi   Bajra flour, ragi flour, jowar flour, foxtail millet flourJowar/ bajra/ ragi roti, ragi chilla/ pancake, ragi drink, ragi porridge, ragi idli, ragi dosa,
Khapli wheat  Wheat flourRoti , paratha
OatsRolled oats, steel-cut oats (avoid instant oats)Oats porridge, oats chilla, oats pancake, oats smoothie, oats upma  
Quinoa Quinoa porridge, quionoa upma  
Sabudana Sabudana porridge, sabudana khichri, sabudana papad, sabudana wada  
Kuttu (Buckwheat), Rajgira (Amaranth), Singoda (water chestnut)Kuttu Flour, Rajgira flour, Singoda flourChilla, pancake, chikki, roti etc
Makhana Roasted makhana

Note: Remember avoiding ultra-processed food is always a smart choice in a PCOS diet. Therefore even if the food is gluten-free, avoid all processed food as much as possible. Products like instant oats, instant popcorn, ragi chips, etc are best to avoid.  Eat healthy Indian breakfast and snacks. Follow seed cycling, it may help you.

Bottom line

Educate yourself with correct food knowledge and practice smart eating.  Don’t follow just a diet trend without knowledge. If you are gluten intolerant go for a completely gluten-free diet for PCOS. Otherwise, consult a nutritionist and get the diet planned for best results.

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Dr. Soma Chakrabarty is based in Hyderabad. She has 15 yrs of working experience in nutrition. She guides people to modify eating behavior and achieve goals for wellness. She believes in a practical diet that helps people to live rather than survive.

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