Taking Control Over Sugar When You Have PCOS

Christopher Hope-Fitch/Gettty

One of the most common complaints we hear at the PCOS Nutrition Center is the frequent, almost urgent cravings for carb foods and sweets. There is a reason why women with PCOS crave more sweet: It’s due to the influence of insulin. Insulin, a powerful growth hormone, works as an appetite stimulant. It also causes weight gain easily and makes it difficult to lose weight.

Insulin creates a vicious cycle in women with PCOS: it makes you crave carbs. Once you eat those carbs, it increases your blood sugar resulting in more insulin needed to be secreted. Too much insulin causes weight gain, making you more insulin resistant, and secreting more insulin.

There’s no question that sugar wreaks havoc on the health of women with PCOS. Not only does sugar spike insulin levels but it also contributes to high blood pressure, high levels of triglycerides, and high levels of C-reactive protein, all of which has been linked to oxidative stress and inflammation. These are also serious risk factors for heart disease which have caused The American Heart Association (AHA) to take a stance on added sugar.

So are women with PCOS powerless when it comes to sugar? They can be unless they take action to control their sugar amount. Here’s how to do it.

How Much Is Ok?

For most women with PCOS who struggle daily with cravings for sweets, eliminating sugar entirely can seem impossible to do. But women with PCOS don’t have to completely eliminate all sugar from their diets (how fun is that?). Let’s take a look at what the new recommendations are for sugar.

The US Dietary Guidelines recommend our sugar intake be no more than 10% of our total calories.

Here’s an example using a 1,800 calorie/day eating plan:

To determine the daily number of sugar calories allowed: 1,800 calories daily multiplied by .10 (10%) of calories as sugar daily = 180 calories of sugar daily

To determine that amount in daily grams: 180 divided by 4 (there are 4 calories in each gram of sugar) equals 45 grams of sugar daily you should stay under if you eat 1,800 calories each day.

45 grams of sugar is the equivalent of 12 teaspoons of table sugar. That’s about the amount in one 16-ounce bottle of soda.

The AHA has stricter guidelines, stating sugar intake should be limited to 100 calories (25 grams, or 6 teaspoons) per day for women, and to 150 calories (about 37 grams, or 9 teaspoons) per day for men.

Currently, the average sugar intake in America is 88 grams, or 22 teaspoons of added sugars each day – a 20% increase over the past three decades.

How to Recognize Added Sugars

Added versus natural sugars are not distinguished on a food label but you can easily spot them by reading the ingredient list. If sugar or any of the following are listed as one of the first three ingredients on an ingredient list, the food item is high in sugar and should be avoided:
· brown sugar
· corn sweetener
· corn syrup
· sugar (dextrose, fructose, glucose, sucrose)
· high-fructose corn syrup
· honey
· invert sugar
· malt sugar
· molasses
· any syrup (brown rice syrup, malt syrup)

Tips to Cut Back On Sugar

Most women with PCOS crave sugary foods, even after eating meals. This is due to surges in insulin. To best manage insulin levels and cut down the amount of sugar in your diet follow these tips:

Skip sugary drinks

A recent report showed that soda and sugary beverages account for 33% of the total added sugar intake! Sugary drinks are harmful to women with PCOS because they quickly enter the blood stream causing a big surge in insulin to deal with it.

Limit sweets

Be picky. Eat only those desserts and bake goods that you truly love. Don’t make eye-contact with that office candy bowl. When you do eat a sweet treat you love, sit down and really taste every delicious bite. Don’t eat it while doing other activities like watching tv or driving, you’ll miss out on the wonderful experience of eating it.

Choose whole fruit to tame a sweet tooth

Fruit is nature’s candy. When you are having strong cravings, try a piece of juicy fruit like a clementine and see if it does the trick.

Pay Attention to Food Labels

If sugar or a sugar word is one of the first three ingredients, that food is high in sugar. Try and find a lower sugar replacement.

Beat Cravings With These Tips

In general, limiting the amount of sugar in your diet will result in less cravings for sugar overall. Here’s some tips to beat those cravings:

  • Be sure to eat often, such as every three to five hours to keep blood sugar levels stable.
  • Have sufficient protein and fat with meals and snacks.
  • Avoid high sugar foods such as the ones listed above.
  • Take ovaistol which may reduce cravings and regulate blood sugar and insulin levels.

Not only will reducing the amount of added sugar improve your health by lowering your risk for cardiovascular disease, but it can also help you to manage your weight (and please your dentist).

What has helped you reduce sugar or take control over your cravings? Leave us a comment below.

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Comments (6)
  • Brooke

    September 5, 2017 at 11:11 pm

    I have yet to find help for my cravings with my PCOS. I am still searching. 🙁 thank you so much for the valuable information!

  • Angela Grassi

    September 22, 2017 at 9:20 am

    Brooke, here is a great article we have on dealing with cravings when you have PCOS: http://www.pcosnutrition.com/cravings/

  • Rebecca Finberg

    April 16, 2018 at 12:16 pm

    Is sugar from whole fruits included in that total 10%???

  • Angela Grassi

    April 17, 2018 at 9:43 am

    No, just added sugars should be limited.

  • Sarah

    November 2, 2018 at 4:56 pm

    I started off giving up obvious sugary treats, chocolate , cakes etc . I decided not to give up fruit sugars so I didn’t feel too restrained. If you check every single label when you shop and make choices ie instead of buying sugary cereal make your own combinations . I’m not always perfect and try not to give myself a hard time when I do have a treat. I also find friends encourage us to have a treat to make themselves feel less guilty I just say I’m allerhic to sugar – that seems to do the trick! You honestly will feel the benefit , more energy, better skin , feel healthier . Give it a go.

  • Lindsey

    October 3, 2021 at 12:20 pm

    The only thing that has eliminated my insane sugar cravings has been to eliminate sugar completely in the form of added sugar (including syrup, honey, etc), dried fruit, and artificial sweetener. I follow Bright Line Eating. The only sugar I have is in two to three servings of fruit each day.

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