Mar 23, 2022

What should I eat for my PCOS: a conversation with Dr. Faris

Dr. Basma Faris is a Board-Certified Obstetrician and Gynecologist, Nutritionist and Culinary Medicine Specialist based out of New York City.

Dr. Basma Faris

Dr. Basma Faris is a Board-Certified Obstetrician and Gynecologist, Nutritionist and Culinary Medicine Specialist based out of New York City. She is affiliated with several leading medical facilities including New York-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital and New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Her two nutrition degrees and her Culinary Medicine certification allow her to teach nutrition at a high level.

We caught up with Dr. Faris last weekend to discuss a topic very close to our hearts — “What should I eat for my PCOS?” PCOS is a complex, chronic condition that affects anywhere between 5-20% women worldwide. With long-term health implications and no definite “cure”, PCOS can be difficult to deal with not only physically but also emotionally. The conversation below is a window into the 20+ years of experience that Dr. Faris has in treating women with PCOS. It is also a reminder that if you have PCOS, you can improve your symptoms through the right lifestyle and science-backed interventions. Dr. Faris is also the proud creator of “Adopt a Mediterranean Diet for PCOS” — a special 7 day program debuting on March 26th. (To sign up for Dr. Faris’ special 7 day PCOS Program, head to this link)

A conversation with Dr. Basma Faris

Tussle: Tell us a little bit about your background and your experience treating PCOS.

Dr. Faris: I started my career as a Registered Dietitian. My earliest work as a dietitian was in obesity and diabetes prevention and management. Many of my patients had PCOS and prediabetes. I conducted individual counseling and developed several group counseling curriculums. As a GYN patients come to me either with a prior diagnosis of PCOS or with a complaint of irregular periods. Once confirming the diagnosis I spent my time educating about the disease as a whole and combining nutrition with medication to manage the disease. I find most of my patients don’t know that their food intake can have an impact and few have received nutrition counseling.

Tussle: So, your PCOS patients not only get the perspective of a Ob/Gyn but also that of a nutritionist? That’s quite something.

Dr. Faris: I am fortunate with my background to be able to do that in addition to managing their symptoms. PCOS is the most rewarding condition for me to treat because of all the women’s health conditions, there is the most evidence regarding the impact of nutrition on PCOS.

Tussle: on that note, can you elaborate more on the link between nutrition and PCOS? Can one's diet really help prevent or manage symptoms?

Dr. Faris: The short answer is, Yes. At least 70% of people with PCOS have insulin resistance. Nutrition is incredibly impactful in managing and improving insulin resistance. Chronic inflammation also plays a large role and that can be modified by diet.

Tussle: That’s a relief to hear. In your expert opinion, which diets are most effective for managing PCOS?

Dr. Faris: Diets that are low in refined sugar, high in fiber, rich in anti-oxidants and providing adequate healthy fat are ideal for managing PCOS. If I had to name them, diets like the Mediterranean Diet, New Nordic Diet, Traditional Japanese and Flexitarian diets all have the characteristics I described above.

Tussle: What makes these diets — the Mediterranean Diet or the New Nordic Diet — great for PCOS?

Dr. Faris: They are not vegetarian diets but are plant based, are low in saturated fat but not low in fat as monounsaturated fats and omega 3 fats are there in adequate amounts. They are low in sugar and high in fiber. They are high in anti-oxidants and other anti-inflammatory nutrients. These qualities help to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation.

Tussle: While we’re on the topic of inflammation, are there particular anti-inflammatory foods that you’d recommend for PCOS?

Dr. Faris: Yes there are -

  • A wide variety of vegetables and fruits, the more pigmented the better.
  • Nuts and fish for omega-3
  • Whole grains like quinoa, kamut, whole grain rice, and my new favorite fonio.
  • Fermented dairy is a great source of calcium and probiotics.
  • Fats used for cooking and flavoring should be high in mono-unsaturated fats. This does not need to be olive oil. It can be canola like used in the Nordic diet, peanut oil like in some Asian and African cuisines, avocados and other nut and seeds.

💥 The Tussle Rapid Fire with Dr. Faris

Tussle: What is a piece of nutrition advice given to PCOS patients that you call bullsht?

Dr. Faris: That everyone with PCOS should go gluten and dairy free.

Tussle: What are your 3 golden rules of eating for PCOS?

Dr. Faris: Reduce sugar, increase fiber, adapt your diet to maintain your cultural foods and flavors.

Tussle: What is one grocery item that you think every Cyster should swear by?

Dr. Faris: Frozen vegetables

Tussle: What’s your favorite PCOS-friendly dessert to make/eat?

Dr. Faris: Fruit crisp, dark chocolate.

Tussle: What’s one no-go food for PCOS in your opinion?

Dr. Faris: Heavily processed foods.

Tussle: Got it. Aside from regular food sources, are there any PCOS supplements worth looking into?

Dr. Faris: There are supplements that can improve insulin sensitivity like inositol and berberine if present. Certain minerals can be helpful like Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc and Selenium and vitamins like D, C, B12 and 6. If your diet is deficient, excludes any foods due to restriction, allergies or beliefs, supplementation may be necessary. It’s best to ask an expert as everyone has different needs. That being said a regular potency multivitamin is low risk and can ensure adequate intake.

Tussle: Given the fact that women’s health research is under-funded, how confident can we be about any “data-driven” claims?

Dr. Faris: There is a growing body of research regarding diet and PCOS as it is understood to be a manifestation of metabolic syndrome in reproductive aged females. The Mediterranean Diet has been studied for 70 years, much of the research is on other metabolic diseases, not just PCOS, and so the results are extrapolated to PCOS, but there are studies that support it specifically for PCOS. Those with a solid education in nutrition science can help you sift through the studies. One small study in an obscure journal should not be enough to make big recommendations. We will look to all the supporting data which usually is a combination of epidemiologic data, animal studies, cell studies, and human intervention trials. I can think of one supplement that I see in social media ads that has one published scientific article to back its claims and the authors own the supplement company.

Tussle: Exactly. There are so many people and digital therapeutic programs on the internet addressing PCOS. How should someone with PCOS choose who to trust?

There are many trustworthy professionals who have programs for PCOS. Look at their credentials. Do they have a degree relevant to their program? A certificate is not enough. For example I have two degrees in nutrition and am a board certified OBGYN. I also have a certificate in culinary medicine. A certificate only would NOT be adequate. A registered dietitian has at least one degree and a certification in nutrition.

More importantly if the person requires you to buy their supplement or diagnostic test this is suspect and is a conflict of interest. If a professional bashes another profession this is also poor form and predatory. If a person makes a claim or promise that is too good to be true it probably is. One example I can think of is a nutrition program that promises to get you pregnant. If there is another factor like an anatomic cause of infertility or male factor infertility this program will not help and can result in a delay of getting proper treatment.

💥 If you're struggling with PCOS, we highly recommend registering for Dr. Basma Faris' 7 Day PCOS Program starting Mar 26th. You'll get access to 3 live workshops, 5 healthy PCOS-friendly recipes, a Grocery list, Sample meal plan and more. Sign up here.

Tussle: Before we let you go, tell us. more about your 7 day PCOS Program? What is the goal and motivation behind it?

Dr. Faris: Sure! My 7 day program — what I call “Adopt a Mediterranean Diet for PCOS” —has been designed to educate people with PCOS first and foremost about their condition and how they can make easy changes in their nutrition. I focus on adding foods for better health, not subtracting. Through 3 live cook-a-longs and on-demand recipe tutorials, I will teach 5 easy and healthy home cooked meals that are affordable and culturally relevant. Participants will also get access to a sample meal plan, a verified grocery shopping list and personalized feedback. Enrollment is now open for March 26th.

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