Being a Critical Reader of Nutrition Information for PCOS

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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrine disorder among women of reproductive age, even more common than diabetes. Diet and lifestyle are the primary treatment approaches for PCOS, yet, so many women find themselves confused by the nutrition recommendations for the syndrome and don’t know who to trust. Sometimes it seems as if every website out there for PCOS has conflicting nutrition information. Every doctor has a different opinion; every woman with the syndrome has her own views on what works or not and shares with others through social media outlets. Some individuals even try and make money off their unproven “theories” and try and sell products women with PCOS don’t need.

As registered dietitian nutritionists, sometimes we spend time in our nutrition counseling sessions for PCOS dispelling misinformation about diet for the syndrome and setting the record straight. These myths could be perceptions the client has acquired from health care providers, women with the syndrome themselves, family members or in most cases, the Internet. There’s no question that media and Internet are the main sources where people get their nutrition information today. Unfortunately, a lot of the information for PCOS is false, misleading and in some cases, dangerous.

If you are a woman with PCOS, it is important that you are doing the right thing for your body, and not making your health worse. You need to be a critical reader of the nutrition information you are flooded with before making changes to your health. Meeting with a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in PCOS (like us!) is strongly recommended to find out what works best for your body and lifestyle.

Below are 4 ways to trust if the information is reliable.

Check the Author’s Credentials

Find out the author’s credentials. While anyone can call themselves a nutritionist and give nutrition advise, only registered dietitians (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) have the most extensive training (much more than health coaches, nurses or physicians) on diet and nutrition. RDs are trained to give reliable and objective nutrition information. A lot of times articles online are written by writers who get their nutrition information from other websites whose information may or may not be accurate. Or, they may simply be women with PCOS themselves giving out nutrition information based on what worked for them.

Check to see their professional affiliations. Are they members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Androgen Excess and PCOS Society or the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, for example? Do they attend conferences or get continuing education regularly to stay up to date? RDs are required to have a minimum of 75 hours of continuing education every 5 years.

Is the Information Biased?

It’s also important to see the location of the information and what web page it’s being presented from. Is the site trying to sell you a product? If so, could they be biased with their information? Check to see if they have a statement of disclosure that shows their financial ties. You can read ours here.

Is it Backed by Science?

Make sure the source has sufficient information to back up their claim. For example, Shelia, a client with PCOS read on one website that fruit should only be eaten on an empty stomach. Why? Where is the research behind this statement? This is false information. Fruit can be eaten at any time of the day. Sometimes you may find yourself doing your own research to check the facts. Pubmed is a great place to start to look up reliable studies.

How Sufficient is the Research?

Another factor to consider is the quality of the research itself. One research report with its findings, just because its research doesn’t mean much. It’s important to look at the sample size, duration, and study design (blind and random is best) of the research and see if there has been similar findings.

Also, it’s important to apply research to women who have PCOS. If a study shows the benefit of something helping men, it may not do anything for women with PCOS. Likewise, research findings in women with different medical conditions such as celiac disease won’t apply to women with PCOS either.

When becoming a critical reader of nutrition information for PCOS, here are some final key points to remember:

  • Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s accurate
  • Check the author’s credentials, sources, and the references used to back up claims
  • Be mindful of clever marketing tactics used to sell you products you don’t need
  • Do your own research or seek the advice of a registered dietitian who specializes in PCOS before making any changes to your health
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Comments (2)
  • Jonni

    May 29, 2013 at 11:35 am

    I was just diagnosed with PCOS and it appears I’ve probably had it for a number of years. I wish I had known. It would have saved the years of untreated depression and menstrual craziness. Thankfully I found an ob-gyn that is more stubborn than I am. After years of not being diagnosed and someone finally putting it all together and not just seeing me as an obese woman, finally a way to make myself feel better. I am looking forward to using the workbook.

    I definitely agree the source of the information used for nutrition is very important. Hopefully the workbook will help me with that. Can’t wait to get my Kindle edition.

  • Charlotte Miburn, RDN

    January 29, 2016 at 11:36 am

    I recommend your books on PCOS specifically because they are evidence-based and just not make up recommendations.

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