I have found that PCOS friendly snacks can be a key to improving PCOS symptoms. Let me explain why…
- PCOS friendly snacks help you balance your blood sugars, improve your insulin sensitivity and provide energy throughout the day
- Healthy PCOS snacks can prevent cravings or binging later in the day
- Aim for 20g carbohydrates or less at a snack
- If your going more 3-5 hours between meals (accept when sleeping), you may need a snack
Table of contents
Quick Intro to PCOS
PCOS is the most common endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age. Researchers are estimating that over 21% of women of reproductive age have PCOS, worldwide (1).
To learn how to effectively manage PCOS, you need to understand that PCOS is not a reproductive condition but instead an endocrine and metabolic disorder that can have reproductive consequences.
It’s estimated that 75-95% of women with PCOS are insulin resistant. This explains why it can be so difficult to lose weight with PCOS when trying “traditional diets”.
In order to improve symptoms of PCOS like weight gain, infertility and carb cravings, we have to address the root issues of the symptoms you’re experiencing. So it is critical to improve insulin resistance, inflammation and gut health.
This is why nutrition has a significant impact on PCOS symptoms. Nutrition and lifestyle changes are considered the first line intervention for PCOS.
Why are snacks important for PCOS?
PCOS friendly snacks help you balance your blood sugars throughout the day to help improve your insulin sensitivity. They also give you energy to help you power through those busy afternoons.
I have also found that they help prevent my clients from overeating at their next meal.
PCOS friendly snacks keep your blood sugar from dropping too low. When your blood sugar drops and you are hangry, its nearly impossible to make a healthy choice. In my own experience it usually results in wanting to eat an entire loaf of bread. Seriously.
When snacks are not well balanced (more on that in sec) or non-existent, then you are setting yourself up to more cravings and overeating later in the day.
Both of which are not going to help you on your PCOS journey. My clients see a huge improvement in their PCOS symptoms when they learn how to plan, prep and eat PCOS friendly snacks.
According to research, “Insulin resistance (IR) is a prominent feature of PCOS with a prevalence of 35%-80%” (2). PCOS is associated with increased risks of type 2 diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance and gestational diabetes as well (2).
But what exactly is insulin resistance? This is how I like to explain it to my clients.
Picture this: your body is like a lock, and insulin is the key that helps sugar (glucose) enter your cells, giving you energy. In PCOS, sometimes the lock gets a little stubborn. This means even when insulin comes knocking, the cells don’t open up as easily. This is called insulin resistance.
Because the cells aren’t letting sugar in as they should, your body thinks it needs to make more insulin to get the job done. But too much insulin isn’t great for your hormones. It can make your ovaries produce more of the male hormone, which can lead to PCOS symptoms like irregular periods, unwanted hair, and breakouts.
It can also promote weight gain and make it extremely hard to lose weight.
The good news is that you don’t have to eliminate all sugar from your diet but instead focus on complex carbs like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and pair them with protein and healthy fats at meals.
Lifestyle factors like exercise and sleep, medications/supplements and weight can all have an impact on improving insulin resistance.
What makes a good PCOS snack?
A good PCOS friendly snack is a combination of complex carbs (preferably with fiber), protein and healthy fats.
Why? This combination ensures you get energy from the carbs (Yes! We need carbs for energy!). Protein and healthy fat will fill you up and help to stabilize blood sugars, so you don’t have crazy high spikes in blood sugar.
So repeat after me, Complex Carb (fiber) + Protein + Healthy Fat= PCOS Friendly Snack
Check out my PCOS Snack Cheat Sheet below!
How many carbs should you have in a snack?
I recommend to keep carbohydrates around 15-30g per snack, ideally 20g or less. Individual needs for carbohydrates need to be taken into account, so speak with a Registered Dietitian about your specific nutrition needs.
If you are interested in learning more about one-on-one PCOS nutrition coaching, you can check out my services here.
When should you snack?
I recommend that my clients eat every 3-5 hours to help stabilize blood sugar and so they don’t get TOO hungry before their next meal.
We need to prevent ourselves from getting hangry, so we can make the best choices at the next meal.
Most individuals eat lunch around 12-1pm then don’t eat dinner till 5-7pm. This usually leads to feeling way too hungry to cook, increased likelihood of ordering takeout or feeling extremely fatigued in the afternoon.
If you experience this, then you might want to add in an afternoon snack and see how it changes the rest of your day.
Some individuals need a snack before bed, which is okay to do. But I recommend you really think about if you are actually hungry or if it is just a habit. If you just had dinner at 7pm, and you’re snacking at 9pm, most likely your dinner wasn’t balanced.
If you need a snack before bed, you should still stick to my formula of complex carbs, protein and healthy fat so you don’t over do it in carbs right before bed.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding to have a snack:
- How balanced was your prior meal?
- How long ago did you eat?
- Did you eat consistently throughout the day?
- Are you really hungry or just bored?
Your answers can give you insights into how to structure your meals and snacks. If you need more personal help planning meals and snacks, check out my nutrition coaching services here.
Planning and prepping tips for snacks
- Add 2-3 snacks (that actually excite you!) each week to your meal plan
- Use the complex carb (fiber), protein and health fat formula to plan satisfying snacks
- Be realistic with your time and ability to make and prepare snacks
- Purchase store bought snacks as needed
- Keep shelf stable snacks with you in a bag, car or desk
- Spend a few minutes each week prepping snacks
- Making dips and energy bites, cutting veggies, portioning into containers
- Find ways to keep snacks accessible where you spend most of your day
- In the fridge at work
- In a drawer at your desk
- In a cooler bag you bring or in your purse
- If weight loss is a goal, then be mindful of keeping snacks to 200 calories or less.
PCOS friendly snack recipes
- Greek Yogurt Parfait: Grab a cup of Greek yogurt, full fat or 2%, (look for ones with little to no added sugars), add some fresh berries or a sprinkle of low sugar granola, and top with a drizzle of honey or a handful of nuts for a satisfying and protein-packed snack.
- Hummus and Veggies: Dip baby carrots, cucumber slices, bell pepper strips, or celery into a small container of hummus. Hummus is a great source of fiber, protein and healthy fats.
- String Cheese and Whole Grain Crackers: Pair a stick of string cheese with a handful of whole grain crackers. This combo gives you a good balance of protein and complex carbs.
- Mixed Nuts and Dried Fruit: Create your own trail mix by mixing a variety of nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews) with dried fruits like cranberries, apricots, or raisins. Portion control is key, as nuts are calorie-dense.
- Apple Slices with Nut Butter: Slice up an apple and dip the slices in your favorite nut butter, like almond, cashew or peanut butter. This combo offers a mix of fiber, healthy fats, and natural sweetness.
Bonus antioxidant boost! Sprinkle it with cinnamon or ground ginger!
- Chia Pudding: Mix chia seeds with almond milk (or any milk of your choice) and a touch of honey or vanilla extract. Let it sit in the fridge for a few hours or overnight until it thickens. Top with berries or sliced almonds.
- Cottage Cheese and Berries: Scoop some cottage cheese into a bowl and add a handful of fresh berries on top. Cottage cheese is rich in protein and calcium, while the berries add natural sweetness and antioxidants.
Or try a savoy version with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, hemp seeds and a drizzle of olive oil!
- Guacamole (2-3 TBSP) with 1 cup raw veggies (radishes, carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers) OR with corn chips.
- Tuna salad cups– Mix tuna (hard boiled eggs or chicken) with mayo or plain yogurt, celery and scallions. Then use bibb lettuce or pieces of romaine lettuce to serve.
Tip: This is a great make ahead, high protein snack for the week!
- Sargento Balanced Breaks Natural Cheddar Cheese with Almonds and Dried Cranberries: Sometimes you just need simple snacks you can grab and go with.
- Roasted Chickpea snacks (¼ cup): This is a great simple, shelf stable snack to keep in your bag.
- Nuts and Dark Chocolate (1oz each): This might just be my favorite.
- Hard boiled eggs and fruit: Recommend around 1-2 eggs and ½-1 cup of fruit depending on how hungry you are.
- Sprouted grain toast + nut butter (1-2 tablespoons) + sliced strawberries: This simple “PB+J” is high in fiber and protein.
You can have a variety of snacks (see list above) when you have PCOS but it is best to stay away from highly processed and packaged snack foods like chips, cookies, candy bars, cheese crackers, snack cakes, ect.
The best bedtime snacks for PCOS are going to a combination of complex carbs with protein and/or healthy fats. You don’t want to spike blood sugar and insulin levels right before bed.
Foods that are high in magnesium also make great bedtime snacks for PCOS as magnesium has a calming effect. Cherries have also been shown to help with sleep.
Foods high in magnesium:
Pumpkin seeds, 1 oz: 168 mg
Almonds, 1 oz (or about 24): 80mg
Peanuts, 1 oz (or ¼ cup): 63mg
1 oz dark chocolate: 64 mg
½ cup black beans: 60 mg
1 cup raw spinach (in a smoothie or salad): 80mg
Yes, you can eat chips when you have PCOS (no food is totally off limits) but it’s recommended to eat chips made with legumes, lentils and whole grains. It’s a bonus if they have flaxseeds, chia seeds or hemp seeds.
Incorporating PCOS-friendly snacks into your daily routine can be a game-changer when it comes to managing your PCOS symptoms, increasing energy levels, preventing overeating at meals and overall well-being. Remember these key takeaways as you embark on your journey to snack smarter:
- Balancing Blood Sugars: PCOS-friendly snacks play a crucial role in keeping your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day. By opting for snacks that combine complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats, you can avoid energy crashes and maintain steady energy levels.
- Curbing Cravings and Binging: These snacks can be your secret weapon against those intense cravings and binging episodes. When you provide your body with balanced and nourishing snacks, you’re less likely to experience sudden hunger pangs that lead to unhealthy food choices.
- Portion and Carb Control: Aim for around 20g of carbohydrates or less in each snack. This approach ensures that you’re getting the right amount of energy without causing drastic spikes in insulin levels.
- Consistent Snacking: Eating every 3-5 hours can work wonders in stabilizing your blood sugar levels and preventing extreme hunger before your next meal. Snacks act as your allies in maintaining a sense of control over your food choices.
- Mindful Choices: Remember, not all snacks are created equal. Opt for whole, nutrient-dense options over highly processed and sugary treats. Keep a mindful eye on the ingredients and choose snacks that support your PCOS journey.
- Don’t overcomplicate things!
Remember, you don’t have to navigate this journey alone. If you’re looking for personalized guidance, meal planning support, and expert advice tailored to your specific needs, consider reaching out to a registered dietitian who specializes in PCOS.
Together, you can create a snack strategy that empowers you to thrive on your PCOS journey. Your body deserves the best, and these PCOS-friendly snacks are a delicious way to provide it with the nourishment it needs.