Is snacking good for PCOS? What are the best snacks for PCOS?
As a PCOS dietitian, these are some of the top questions I get, and honestly, I get it! I’m a snack lover too and love trying new snack ideas out!
This article will review if you should be snacking, when you should be snacking, and what are healthy snacks for PCOS.
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So the obvious first question is should you snack if you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?
Like most things PCOS-related, it depends! Some people can eat 3 meals per day without any snacks, while others feel their best when they’re incorporating snacks routinely.
I like to think of snacks as mini meals. Snacks provide an opportunity to get more nutrition in, increase energy levels to beat the afternoon slump, decrease cravings, and promote better blood sugar balance.
Before we talk about the scenarios where a snack is definitely a good idea, we need to first talk about insulin resistance and blood sugar balance.
Insulin resistance is very common in PCOS, occurring in approximately 70% of those with PCOS (1). It’s when your body’s cells are resistant to a hormone called insulin…which essentially means that your body has a harder time moving glucose (aka sugar) out of your bloodstream and into your cells to be used for energy (2).
Similar to the ocean’s tides, think of your blood sugar levels as rising and falling throughout the day.. After we eat food, our blood sugar level will rise and signal the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin then helps move the glucose in our bloodstream (aka blood sugar) into our cells for energy…resulting in our blood sugar levels falling back to a normal range.
Insulin resistance can cause more erratic blood sugar levels and ultimately make your PCOS symptoms worse.
One of the biggest goals when it comes to eating with PCOS, whether you have insulin resistance or not, is to balance your blood sugar levels. Healthy PCOS snacks can play a major role in doing that. Let’s dive into some scenarios when it’s a good idea to consider a snack.
This may seem like a no-brainer to some people when I say that if you’re feeling hungry, you should eat.
The truth is that many people don’t honor their hunger cues routinely. This could be for a variety or reasons such as a busy schedule and not prioritizing meal or snack times. Or it could be because diet culture has convinced you that you already ate enough at lunch so you shouldn’t be hungry again until dinnertime.
Whatever the reason, it’s not doing you any favors. When your body is sending you hunger cues, it’s telling you that your blood sugar level is falling. If it continues to fall too far, you can end up feeling ravenously hungry and with intense cravings…especially for carbs! This can frequently lead to overeating when you do finally eat.
If you’re feeling physically hungry in between your meals, you should probably have a snack.
PCOS and carb cravings often go hand in hand. It’s one of the major struggles I hear about from women with PCOS.
Have you ever walked by the donuts in the break room at work and been unable to control yourself? Or maybe it’s the chips in the vending machine that call your name every afternoon around 3:30pm.
These carb cravings, that seem to come on out of nowhere, are usually because of insulin resistance and your blood sugar level getting a little too low.
You see, when your blood sugar level gets too low, your body usually craves carbs. Why? Because your body understands that carbs will bring your blood sugar up the quickest…and that’s going to make you feel better.
If you’re frequently experiencing carb cravings between meals, you should probably consider including a snack.
Have you ever experienced that 2pm afternoon slump at work…what you’d give to be laying in bed for a nap right about now!
While fatigue can be caused by several different factors, a low blood sugar level is a common reason for fatigue. So this may be something to consider if you’re constantly feeling fatigue with PCOS.
In any of these scenarios, a strategic snack can help bridge the gap between your meals to regulate your blood sugar, decrease your cravings, and boost your energy levels. This will not only make you feel better in the moment, but in the long run, it may also help to reduce your PCOS symptoms.
PCOS-friendly snacks are nutrient-dense snacks that combine at least two of the following macronutrients together:
Macronutrients are like the big players when it comes to nutrition. They provide our bodies with energy (aka calories) that we need to be able to do all of our day-to-day tasks but also the basics of life such as breathing.
Macronutrients are the nutrients that will impact our blood sugar, which is something we want to be aware of when it comes to PCOS. By pairing at least two of these macronutrients together, your blood sugar level will rise slowly and promote more balanced blood sugar levels. This means you’ll feel full for a longer period of time and have more energy.
There’s a myth floating around out there that if you have PCOS, you need to avoid gluten. There’s currently no research to suggest that everyone with PCOS needs to or should avoid gluten. Many foods that contain gluten (such as a whole wheat bread) can actually be great sources of fiber and prebiotics, which are beneficial for PCOS.
At this time, there’s no research that everyone needs to or should avoid dairy. Dairy, particularly fat-free or low-fat dairy products and milk of any fat percentage, may exacerbate acne in some people (3) If you do include dairy in your diet, I generally recommend opting for full-fat, high protein, fermented options such as Greek yogurt, kefir, and cottage cheese most frequently.
Snacks can be a vital component of your eating pattern to promote better blood sugar control, increase your energy, and decrease the chances of overeating later on.
If you experience physical hunger, carb cravings, or fatigue between meals, it may be a good choice to incorporate a PCOS friendly snack.
When choosing your snack, be sure to combine complex carbohydrates with protein and/or fat for to keep blood sugar and insulin levels more balanced.
Learn the most common nutrition mistakes I see women with PCOS making and what to do instead!