What’s the Deal With Dairy and PCOS?

Is yoghurt good for PCOS? Should you go dairy free if you have PCOS? How about insulin resistance and PCOS, does dairy improve symptoms or worsen them? This article answers these types of questions and offers advice on the best diet for PCOS.

Is Yoghurt Good for PCOS? Should I Go Diary Free if I have PCOS?

Dairy seems to be a hot topic right now and so these are the types of questions I hear ladies with PCOS ask a lot. With so much conflicting information out there about dairy, knowing whether to include it in your diet can be confusing. 

There’s the argument from the dairy industry and conventional medicine that, if you don’t eat dairy, you’re putting your bone health at risk.

Other health professionals (often in what we used to call ‘alternative medicine’) have long argued that consuming dairy products causes low-grade inflammation in the body, drains your energy and gives you spots.

Vegans also argue that eating dairy isn’t natural for humans, and that dairy farming involves cruelty to animals many of us are unaware of, plus it significantly contributes to global warming. 

So here I’ll be sharing with you the answers to the questions ‘Is yoghurt good for PCOS?’ and ‘Should I go dairy free?’. I’ll give you all the details on what’s good and not so good about dairy for PCOS and the positive benefits of giving up milk-based products. If you’re even considering ditching dairy, there is one really important thing you need to do. I’ll tell you about that, too.

Why should I eat dairy? Is Yoghurt Good for PCOS?

Dairy products contain a range of beneficial nutrients. Of course, there’s calcium, but it’s also a good source of protein, vitamins D and B12 and phosphorus. Higher protein and lower carbohydrate diets such as Low GL have been shown to be really helpful for PCOS and many ladies diagnosed with the condition are low in vitamin D so at face value, you might think dairy products including natural yoghurt is good for PCOS.

Let’s talk about the calcium in dairy, because this is the thing you are told you will miss most if you stop consuming milk-based products.

When you get past 30, your process of bone breakdown is a bit speedier than new bone being made, so you need to make sure you’re getting good levels of this important mineral to fortify your frame. Although you can get calcium from other foods, the reason why dairy is touted as being the best source, is that the calcium from milk-based foods are more readily absorbed by the body*. 

Cow’s milk also contains the omega 6 fatty acid conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is considered to have health benefits. It is also contained in grass-fed beef. Studies suggest CLA can help with weight loss, and that people who have a lot of foods containing CLA have a lower risk of diabetes **. As ladies with PCOS can struggle with weight loss and may have insulin resistance, which is a key feature of diabetes, again you may think that dairy products such as milk and yoghurt are good for PCOS.

 

So What’s the downside to dairy if you have PCOS?

The bottom line is that human beings weren’t designed to drink milk of any kind after the weaning period (around two years old). Not human milk, and certainly not milk from cows, sheep or goats. Some cultures have embraced drinking dairy products, and people in those cultures have genetically adapted to tolerate it. Others haven’t and for those people in particular, eating dairy can cause problems. Two of the biggest problems associated with dairy are digestive and skin issues. 

One of the most problematic symptoms of PCOS can be acne, which can leave those that suffer feeling incredibly self-conscious of it. Diary makes acne even worse leading to increased flare ups. The research stacks up that that’s the case, but scientists aren’t 100% sure of the reason dairy triggers acne, though it’s likely to be something to do with the hormones present in milk. 

Another theory is that dairy products disrupt insulin levels and make skin more prone to acne. Any disruption to insulin levels isn’t going to be a good thing for ladies with PCOS as many suffer from insulin resistance.

Let’s have a look at the bad stuff in dairy products…

They contain growth hormones, which may be linked to increased risk of disease.

And other hormones like oestrogen. This isn’t great for PCOS because there is already a hormonal imbalance present with the condition, so adding others to the mix probably won’t help!

Dairy products also have more naturally occurring sugar than you’d think. Ladies with PCOS are much better off with a low sugar diet, but a cup of milk has about three teaspoons. Sugar, I hear you say. Where? The type of sugar in milk is called lactose. You might be tempted to say, ‘I’ll have lactose-free milk then’. Lactose-free milk has had the milk sugars broken into galactose and glucose. Same amount of sugars, different currency. However, the milk sugar is often the ingredient people do not tolerate, so a lactose-free milk can provide the benefits of regular milk without the dodgy tummy. 

Non-organic dairy products contain antibiotic residues, so if you are going to continue eating dairy, make sure it’s organic. 

So my answer to the questions ‘Is yoghurt good for PCOS?’ or ‘Should I go dairy free?’ is that dairy probably isn’t the best for PCOS, but if you’re considering going dairy free make sure you’re getting your calcium elsewhere (more on that shortly). As a nutritionist, I know everyone is different and there is no one size fits all when it comes to PCOS.  So see what works best for you. I’d advise trying to cut back or avoid dairy for a couple of weeks to see whether your symptoms improve.

If I’m going to give up dairy, how will I feel?

Everyone will be a little different but these are some of the reported benefits of ditching dairy:

  • Less nasal congestion and stuffiness.
  • Better sleep
  • Clearer skin.
  • More energy.
  • Weight loss.
  • Reduction in bloating/ other digestive symptoms.
  • Fewer headaches.

I’m not going to go into the impact on the environment of consuming less dairy, and the animal welfare argument. Too many variables. I’ll leave you to just ponder that. 

What are the alternatives if I don’t want to eat dairy?

Use these in porridge, overnight oats smoothies and the like.

My favourite non-dairy milks are almond, coconut, oat, rice – pretty much in that order and largely based on levels of sugars (naturally occurring). You’ll want to choose the unsweetened varieties if there is an option. 

The foods you need to eat when you’re giving up dairy

You’ll be missing out on calcium for bones, so you’ll need to find it somewhere else. That means letting more of these foods into your diet on a daily basis: cabbage, spring greens, bok choy, kale, broccoli, okra, almonds, edamame beans, and fish where you eat the bones (like tinned sardines).

The RDA (recommended daily allowance or how much a healthy person needs to eat to not get sick) is 700mg a day. 

Small can of sardines has 351mg.

2tbsp sesame seeds have 280mg.

2tbsp chia seeds has 179mg.

A cup-ful of cooked kale has 177mg. Raw (because less fits in the cup), it’s 53mg.

A small handful (about 35g) almonds has nearly 100mg.

A cup of broccoli has 43mg.

Should I eat more spinach to increase calcium?

Some – like spinach or chard – contain oxalic acid, which binds to calcium and can mess with your body’s ability to absorb it properly. Turns out Popeye was eating the wrong sort of greens because, even though spinach technically has a lot of calcium, it’s only a tenth as bioavailable as that from milk due to the oxalic acid.

But, wait, I couldn’t give up…

You don’t have to. If you love pizza, try giving up dairy but having an exception for pizza. Although going completely dairy-free would be the goal, even taking most of the dairy out of your diet can still bring benefits. For most dairy products, there is an excellent dairy alternative. Some are most surprising. I wonder whether you have experienced the delicious creaminess a handful of cashews can bring to a soup, for example. However, there are some groups of people who really should give it a miss; those who have an intolerance to dairy would do well to remove it entirely for at least three months to heal the gut. And, if you have a true allergy to dairy (IgE), you will want to steer clear forever. 

For more information on how changing your diet can improve your symptoms of PCOS, join my Facebook group today! 

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* https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17160208 OR https://www.researchgate.net/publication/261044065_Calcium_bioavailability_from_dairy_products_and_its_release_from_food_by_in_vitro_digestion 

**  https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/conjugated-linoleic-acid#benefits

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