This post was updated on December 20th, 2021
There’s no denying that avoiding all sources of sugar is one of the most effective ways to overcome PCOS. But let’s get real… who wants to live in a world without dessert?
What most people don’t realize is that with the right knowledge and support it’s actually possible to have your cake and eat it too.
During the nutrition lesson videos included in my free 30 Day PCOS Diet Challenge, I go through all the ways in which sugar consumption makes our PCOS symptoms worse. It’s common for many women to find this news absolutely devastating and for good reason too!
As a former sugarholic I totally understand the pleasure and dependency that comes from our favorite indulgences, but as a passionate PCOS health coach, I want nothing more than for people to find a way to avoid the foods that make their symptoms worse. The challenge for me is to show people how, without them feeling completely deprived.
This is why I created my PCOS Dessert Cookbook. Because you can continue to enjoy the odd dessert, even if you are battling with PCOS. You just need to do it smarter.
For those of you who love dessert as much as I do, here are my top five sugar-eating hacks to get you started.
1. PCOS and Sugar – Know Your Sugars
The first and most important thing that every woman with PCOS must know, is that glucose and fructose are metabolized differently in the body. Just to make sure that we’re on the same page here, these two “simple” sugars are the basic building blocks of all sweet tasting foods. Artificial sweeteners (and Stevia) aside, if something tastes sweet, it’s because it contains either glucose or fructose.
Fructose is metabolized via the liver and is essentially poison for women with PCOS. A diet rich in fructose is known to cause your body to store fat and negatively affects your fertility in several ways. Eating fructose also makes excess facial and body hair, acne, and male pattern baldness a whole lot worse so need I say more?
Glucose on the other hand is also associated with many of these issues but does so using a different mechanism – glucose disrupts our hormone regulation by causing our blood sugar levels to spike suddenly.
Once we understand these important differences, we are now ready to make the smarter food choices that let us continue to enjoy dessert using the next two PCOS sugar hacks.
2. Use Glucose Based Sweeteners
In a head to head comparison of these two sweet tasting compounds, glucose is clearly the lesser of two evils. While too much glucose all at once can totally mess with our hormone regulation, at least our bodies are well adapted to process this essential source of energy. The same can’t be said for fructose of course…
With this knowledge in mind, when making desserts it’s smarter to use glucose based sweeteners like brown rice syrup (aka rice malt syrup), corn syrup (not to be confused with high fructose corn syrup of course), and dextrose. Brown rice syrup is often my go to sweetener for many of the recipes in my PCOS Dessert Cookbook but this can be directly substituted for corn syrup since they’re so similar.
One of the things that really catches women by surprise during my free 30 Day PCOS Diet Challenge is that unlike many other “healthy eating” proponents, I recommend women with PCOS completely avoid even the most “natural” sources of sugar like maple syrup and coconut sugar, because they all contain a lot of fructose. There are a couple of caveats to this which I explain here.
And in case you’re ever wondering, agave syrup is the absolute worst coming in at a whopping 85% fructose so don’t be fooled by clever marketing!
3. Add In Plenty of Healthy Fats and Protein
One of the big benefits of using glucose based sweeteners is that we can reduce the potentially harmful effects they can cause by mixing them with plenty of healthy fats and protein.
The way this works is that in the presence of fat and protein, glucose is more slowly absorbed by the body meaning we get more of a steady blood sugar rise, rather than a spike. In other words, fat and protein reduces the glycemic index of glucose based sweeteners.
Some of my favorite sources of healthy fat and protein that I use in my PCOS Dessert Cookbook recipes include almonds, cashews, coconut cream, and coconut oil. This trick works especially well in recipes like my PCOS friendly alternative to Reese’s peanut butter cups which includes many of these delicious ingredients… yummmm…
4. Use a Little Stevia
Stevia is one of the only other sweeteners that I feel comfortable recommending. This plant-based sweetener is 250 – 300 times the sweetness of sugar and is completely glucose and fructose free. This means we only ever need to use a really small amount of it to get a big boost in the sweetness of our foods.
For example, in my entirely sugar free PCOS friendly chocolate ice cream recipe, just 1/32 of a teaspoon of Stevia makes it taste really sweet.
The trick to buying Stevia is to get the purest form of it you can. Many Stevia products contain additives in order to bulk up the product and create a more free-flowing powder. While none of these additives are likely to do you much harm, I’m also yet to be convinced of the advantages of having them. Pure Stevia extract in either liquid or powder form is pretty pricey, but remember you only need a tiny amount of it to really sweeten up your baking, so for me it’s worth the investment.
5. Become a Super-Taster
Our taste buds are amazing instruments that have been tuned by evolution to be hypersensitive to sweetness. The problem is that many of us have chronically overloaded these sensors with sugary foods to the point that we need a lot of sweetness to experience the full taste sensation.
By completely quitting sugar for 8-10 weeks, our taste preference for sweet foods is dramatically reduced as our natural super-taster abilities are restored.
If you’re now thinking that this is easy to say but hard to do then trust me, I totally hear ya! Guiding people through this process is not an academic exercise for me.
In a previous life, I used to consume sugar constantly both when I was up, when I was down, and when I was in between the two. I know better than anybody how big a step quitting sugar can be which is why my Beat PCOS 10 Week Program includes both an emotional eating as well as a sugar rehab module. Once women have punched through the initial rough-patch of sugar withdrawals, the positive effects on both mind and body can be truly remarkable. Even carrots can begin to taste super sweet!
Make Smart PCOS Sugar Choices
The truth is, you can completely overcome PCOS by nourishing your body with the right nutrition, and you can also enjoy a little sweetness along the way. You just need to be smart about how you do it.
And don’t forget that if you’re ever looking for some additional support as you work towards beating your PCOS for good, then you can always join me and my inspirational community of women in the next free 30 Day PCOS Diet Challenge. Everyone is welcome!
Since 2010, Kym Campbell has used evidence-based diet and lifestyle interventions to manage her PCOS. After getting her symptoms under control and falling pregnant naturally, Kym now advocates for dietary change as part of any PCOS treatment plan. Combining rigorous science and clinical advice with a pragmatic approach to habit change, Kym is on a mission to show other women how to take back control of their health and fertility. Read more about Kym and her team here.