One of the most challenging parts about managing Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is learning how to nourish your body in a way that keeps your blood sugar stable and keeps you feeling good. After 20 years as a registered dietitian nutritionist, I've collected a variety of PCOS-friendly snack ideas that are yummy, easy to prepare, and pack a nutritional punch!
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A Quick Introduction to PCOS
Whether you've recently been diagnosed with PCOS or have been navigating the condition for years, you have likely heard over and over again about the importance of eating well and exercising. It's true that both nutrition and movement are the cornerstones of effective PCOS management - but you don’t have to go it alone. We're here to help!
Here's a brief recap of how this complex endocrine disorder works:
- PCOS is an endocrine disorder that causes hormonal imbalances in up to 15% of women.
- These imbalances spark an array of symptoms such as weight gain, acne, hirsutism (growth of hair you DON’T want), hair loss (thinning of hair you DO want), and insulin resistance.
- Long-term effects can include fertility issues, weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even heart disease.
- The #1 way to stave off those negative effects and manage PCOS symptoms? Making adjustments to your diet and lifestyle, increasing physical activity, and practicing good self care.
Understanding Insulin Resistance
Not all people with PCOS have insulin resistance, but many do struggle with it, so it's important to understand how it works and what you can do to manage it.
Insulin resistance (IR) is a condition where the pancreas still produces adequate levels of insulin, but the cells don’t respond to it properly. This results in the pancreas over-producing insulin called compensatory hyperinsulinemia in an attempt to lower circulating blood glucose levels.
Over time, the pancreas 'tires' of this excess secretion and doesn’t make enough insulin to keep blood glucose levels in the normal range. When this occurs, a person is diagnosed with diabetes.
How to avoid diabetes: Eating balanced meals and snacks and incorporating regular movement are two of the best ways to mitigate or manage insulin resistance and reduce your risk of developing diabetes.
Smaller, more frequent meals or snacks (and ideally, not skipping meals) can often be helpful for PCOS or anyone trying to optimize their nutritional balance. It helps keep hunger at bay and blood sugar stable, and can even help with Metformin tolerance (for those on this commonly used medication).
What makes the perfect PCOS snack?
The key to the perfect PCOS snack is making sure that it is well balanced. What does that really mean? Well, to put it simply, the best snacks for PCOS will include a complex carb (which generally means a high-fiber, less processed choice), a protein, and healthy fats.
For example, instead of just eating some fruit on its own, try pairing it with protein (like cheese or yogurt) and some nut butter!
PCOS Snack Prep Tips
When you're trying to eat healthier meals and snacks, planning ahead is the name of the game. Here are some of our best tips to make snack prep easier and more efficient:
- Choose 2-3 snacks for the week and alternate them for variety
- Be sure you have all needed ingredients on hand at the beginning of the week
- Prep your snacks ahead of time so they're ready to go each morning (right when you get home from the grocery store is a great time to jump on snack prep and cut all those fruits and veggies up!)
- Squeeze a little lemon juice on your apple slices to keep them from browning
- Store snacks in reusable silicone ziploc bags or glass containers
- Try new things frequently so you don't get bored
10 Easy & Healthy PCOS Snack Ideas
Here on the Illume Fertility Nutrition Team (that's Jennifer Walsh and I), we believe that consistency and simplicity are key to sustainable diet and lifestyle changes. So, you won't find any complicated, fancy, takes-an-hour-to-prep kind of snacks here.
Just easy, healthy ideas to help you up your PCOS snack game and nourish your body.
#1 Apple (or Any Fruit) or Celery + Nut Butter
The classic combo! Quick to prepare ahead of time, and great on the go, the healthy fats in the nut butter (think: almond, peanut, cashew, etc.) will keep you fuller longer and help balance out the crisp, delicious, fiber-rich apple slices or celery sticks.
#2 Whole Grain Cracker + Cheese
Another no-brainer snack idea that most people enjoy - crackers and cheese! Just make sure you're choosing whole grain crackers whenever possible, and pair with your favorite cheese for the perfect bite.
#3 Peanut Butter Energy Balls
For these delicious treats, use your choice of nut butter, oats and dark chocolate or dried fruit (like cherries). You can also add unsweetened coconut flakes for some added flavor. A sample recipe can be found here.
#4 Greek Yogurt + Berries
Nice and simple! Just scoop out some plain Greek yogurt (full fat will help keep you fuller longer) and top with your favorite strawberries, raspberries, blueberries or blackberries for a great snack that feels more like dessert.
#5 Roasted Chickpeas or Edamame
Another easy (fiber and protein-rich) on-the-go option! If you're using pre-packaged chickpeas or edamame, just be mindful of any added ingredients (especially sodium) in order to keep this snack as healthy as possible.
#6 Pretzels + Hummus (or Nut Butter)
Swap out pretzels for veggies like cucumber or carrots if you prefer!
#7 Cottage Cheese + Whole Wheat Crackers (or Fruit)
If you're a cottage cheese fan, try pairing a serving with some whole wheat crackers or fruit.
#8 Granola or Protein Bar
Sometimes you just need an easy-to-grab snack as you run out the door (or one you can keep in your purse or car for snack emergencies). Look for ones that are lower in added sugars and fillers, and higher in protein. Examples we love are Kind Bars and LÄRABAR.
#9 Veggies + Hummus + Pita
This filling option is perfect for those times when a light snack just isn't going to cut it! Choose your favorite vegetables (we love snap peas, carrots, or baby bell peppers for no-cutting-needed options) and pair them with your favorite hummus and some whole wheat pita bread to keep your energy up between meals.
#10 Mini Quinoa Kale Quiche
Looking for a nutritious snack you can eat served warm or cold? Try these mini quiches, which are packed with nutrient-dense quinoa, kale, eggs and other yummy ingredients.
Bonus snack SUGGESTIONS
- String cheese with fruit
- Hardboiled egg on slice of whole wheat toast
- Salmon paired with whole grain crackers (single-serving pouches are great on the go)
- Whole grain tortilla chips with guacamole
- Veggies and yogurt dip
- Trail mix (ex: nuts, raisins, cheerios, mini dark chocolate chips)
- Graham crackers with nut butter
- Popcorn (unsalted; no butter) and nuts
Practice Mindfulness & Listen to Your Body
Above all, tune into your body and ask it what it needs! Paying attention to your hunger cues (i.e. grumbling tummy, headaches, irritability, shakiness) is the most important thing you can do as you work towards your healthiest lifestyle.
And by preparing a few great snack options ahead of time, you'll be able to quickly give your body the nutrients it needs to stay energetic and feeling good throughout the day - before those dreaded blood sugar crashes strike.
We wish you all the best on your PCOS journey - you've got this!
Jill is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has been providing nutrition guidance to children and adults for over 20 years. She currently supports both PCOS and fertility patients at Illume Fertility with her broad experience and unique perspective. Jill is passionate about helping people work towards their healthiest selves by providing evidence-based, sustainable, personalized diet and lifestyle guidance.