If you have been diagnosed with PCOS, you likely have a lot of questions about what you should be eating for meals and snacks. If you are like many of the women we work with, you have likely already consumed a lot of information on the internet or via podcasts about eating for PCOS. You might even be feeling MORE confused, the more you research, due to information overload and all of the conflicting advice out there. Today we are going to break things down for you and discuss appropriate snacks for PCOS, while keeping in mind the importance of individualization.
Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when meal and snack planning for PCOS:
- Insulin resistance is at the root of 70% of PCOS cases. Elevated insulin and blood sugar levels leads to food cravings, which can make it difficult to make good food choices. Your body wants sugar and it wants it now! Addressing this component with the right lifestyle changes is essential, and we help women with this in our personalized program.
- Women with adrenal and inflammatory PCOS should still pay attention to blood sugar balance. Elevated cortisol levels can lead to elevated blood sugar because this helps our body survive and have immediate energy when in “fight or flight” mode.
- Sometimes when we think “snack” we think foods with low nutrient density like chips & pretzels. We want to shift this mindset and think of snacks as being “mini meals” that are used to fill nutrient gaps via extra fiber, healthy fats, protein, and phytonutrients (from bright colored fruits & vegetables).
Do I need to snack?
Before reaching for a snack, ask yourself the following things:
- Are you actually hungry, or are you just eating out of habit? Think of a hunger scale that goes from 0 to 10, where 0 is ravenous hunger and 10 is so full you need to unbutton your pants. To avoid cravings and overeating, it is helpful to try and keep your hunger rating between 3-7 throughout the day. This is going to require some experimentation for you to find what combinations of foods work best for you (hint: it’s going to be hard to stay in this range without the proper balance of macronutrients).
- If you are hungry, is it because you didn’t eat enough protein and fat at breakfast or lunch? Eating pure carbohydrate (such as a breakfast of plain oatmeal + fruit + orange juice) is a sure way to be hungry and have food cravings throughout the day. Try experimenting with different food combinations and make note of how satisfied you feel afterwards. You can find a sample PCOS meal plan at the bottom of this post.
Should certain women avoid snacking?
You are the expert of your own body and are the only one who knows exactly what your body needs. Some women with severe insulin resistance might do better eating 3 balanced meals per day with no snacks in between because this will give their insulin levels more time to be lower throughout the day. Getting to a point where you only eat 3 meals per day with no snacks can be challenging and might take time (for reasons listed above as well as the food cravings that come along with insulin resistant PCOS). To comfortably avoid eating snacks when you have PCOS requires careful planning and inclusion of healthy fats, proteins, and bright colored plant foods at each meal. The goal certainly isn’t for you to eat a super low calorie diet and feel hungry all day. Eating adequate calories, fat, and vitamins/minerals is actually essential to proper hormone production.
Snacks to avoid.
Avoid snacking on simple “naked” carbohydrates. For example: plain crackers, chips, popcorn, and pretzels generally don’t contain much protein, fat, or fiber. These snacks aren’t going to fill you up so you will be more likely to overeat or start searching for another snack an hour later. You might also gravitate towards eating plain fruits or vegetables for a snack because it seems like the “healthy” thing to do, but even eating produce by itself likely won’t be a satisfying snack in the absence of protein and fat. Read below for a better way to handle this.
Best snacks for PCOS
The best snacks for PCOS will check a few different boxes:
- Complex carbohydrates (fiber)
- Healthy fat
- Bonus points for including a bright colored fruit or vegetable or Omega-3 fatty acids (such as walnuts, flax, chia, or sardines).
- They are filling enough to tide you over comfortably for 2-4 hours
Here are some PCOS snack ideas that fit the above criteria: (see graphic below).
In summary, snacks for women with PCOS:
- Shouldn’t include simple “naked” carbohydrates
- Should include a combination of complex carbohydrates (fiber), protein, and fat to keep blood sugar (and thus insulin) from spiking.
- Should help fill nutrient gaps and include anti-inflammatory and gut-health promoting foods like bright colored fruits/vegetables and nuts/seeds when possible
- Should be eaten after assessing hunger.
For more PCOS diet tips, download our free guide to PCOS power foods and subscribe to our PCOS newsletter: