Do you have PCOS?
Have you been told you need to lose weight?
Are you unsure about what sort of food, and particularly snacks, are healthy for PCOS?
I get it!
There is so much confusing and often contradicting information out there!
That’s why, as a registered dietitian nutritionist, I’ve decided to answer one of my clients’ most common nutrition questions: Can I eat snacks with PCOS, and if so, which are the best snacks for me?
Read on to get the skinny on snacking, how to choose the healthiest snacks for PCOS, plus my ultimate PCOS-friendly snacks list.
PCOS + Its Symptoms
A short review for those of you who are newly diagnosed with PCOS:
PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is estimated to affect up to a whopping 20% of women of reproductive age worldwide. Women with PCOS have small fluid-filled sacs (cysts) in their ovaries.
Three hormones tend to be imbalanced in PCOS:
- Progesterone – Imbalanced progesterone levels can lead to irregular or missed periods.
- Androgens – This is a male hormone that everyone has, but in PCOS, it may be higher than it normally is in women. The result can be excess hair, acne, and irregular periods.
- Insulin – If you have PCOS, your blood sugar – which is normally regulated by insulin – may run high.
Common symptoms of PCOS include:
- Irregular periods (or no periods at all)
- Excessive hair growth, especially on the face, chest, arms, and stomach
- Acne and oily skin
- Weight gain and difficulty losing weight
- Infertility/difficulty getting pregnant
- Small pieces of excess skin (skin tags)
- Hair loss/thinning of hair on head
- Skin darkening in the neck, armpits, and/or groin
- Insulin resistance/diabetes
Importance of Healthy Snacking for Women with PCOS
First of all, as a woman with PCOS, should you even be snacking?
After all, you’ve probably been told that you should lose weight. Wouldn’t cutting out snacks help with that?
As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I wholeheartedly recommend eating healthy snacks for women with PCOS.
Fuel your body to feel your best.
First of all, it’s completely normal to get hungry every few hours throughout the day. Not eating when you’re hungry between meals can lead to unpleasant symptoms like:
- Irritability and crankiness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- Feeling shaky
Prevent obsessive food thoughts and overeating.
Research also shows that undereating leads to obsessive thoughts about food, which can lead to overeating later. Women with PCOS are particularly prone to food cravings, which are only exacerbated by choosing to ignore your body’s hunger signals.
Control your blood sugar.
Many women with PCOS have elevated blood sugar levels as well. Eating at regular intervals throughout the day can help you manage and stabilize your blood sugar.
The trick is choosing PCOS-friendly snacks that will work for you rather than against you.
How to Choose Healthy PCOS Snacks
1. Understand the Glycemic Index
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a ranking of food based on how high it will raise your blood sugar after you eat it. High GI foods (scored 70 or higher) will raise your blood sugar more than low GI foods (scored 55 or less).
Why is this important for choosing a healthy snack for PCOS?
It’s estimated that 35-80% of women with PCOS also have insulin resistance, meaning it’s difficult to control your blood sugar.
Insulin resistance can cause you to ovulate irregularly or not at all, in addition to negatively impacting your fertility in other ways. It can also lead to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems.
PCOS-friendly snacks will include low GI foods that won’t raise your blood sugar as much.
Examples of low GI foods:
- Grains – barley, bulgur, quinoa, spelt bread, bran flakes
- Vegetables – asparagus, celery, cucumber, lettuce, eggplant, spinach, mushrooms, cauliflower, avocado
- Fruits – apples, peaches, blueberries, pears, strawberries, pomegranate, plums, cherries, cranberries, grapefruit
Examples of medium GI foods:
- Grains – basmati rice, couscous, rice noodles, instant oats
- Vegetables – beets, sweet potato, corn, carrots, parsnip
- Fruit – banana (underripe), figs, mango, oranges, raisins, kiwi, pineapple
Examples of high GI foods:
- Grains – white bread, cornflakes, instant rice, tortilla chips, cookies, cakes, bagels
- Vegetables – potatoes (including french fries and chips), winter squashes
- Fruits – dates, watermelon, very ripe bananas
2. Know Which Foods to Avoid
There are certain foods you’ll want to limit or avoid when you’re choosing a healthy snack for PCOS.
In addition to the high glycemic index foods mentioned above, you’ll also want to avoid any inflammatory foods. Chronic inflammation is common in women with PCOS and can hurt your fertility, as well as make you more likely to develop other health problems.
Foods to avoid that cause inflammation:
- Red and processed meats (like hot dogs, sausage, and bacon)
- Refined carbohydrates like cookies, cake, pastries, and white bread
- Fried foods like chips, egg rolls, and doughnuts
- Foods high in added sugar like desserts, candy, sweet cereals, and sodas
- High-sodium (salt) foods like salted nuts, crackers, pretzels, and chips
3. Know Which Foods to Include
Choose PCOS snacks that include low glycemic index foods, which will help control your blood sugar. These foods also are usually high in fiber so they’ll keep you feeling satisfied for longer. Other foods that will promote satiety include protein foods and healthy fats like avocados, walnuts, and almonds.
A 2022 review found that an anti-inflammatory diet can improve fertility and increase the likelihood of successful pregnancies, both naturally and by assisted reproductive technology (ART) like IVF. Anti-inflammatory nutrients include antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and polyphenols, so you’ll want to include foods with these nutrients in your snacks.
Examples of anti-inflammatory foods to include:
- Leafy greens like spinach and kale
- Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and grapefruit
- Dark chocolate
- Flax and chia seeds
- Fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, and herring
<< Interested in eating an anti-inflammatory diet? Check out my Anti-Inflammatory Meal Plan >>
Healthy PCOS Snacks List
- Hard-boiled egg
- Edamame (unsalted)
- Plain Greek yogurt – top with fruit for sweetness
- Roasted chickpeas
- Canned tuna or salmon – alone or on spelt crackers
- Egg “muffins” — Combine eggs with vegetables and cheese (if desired), then bake in a muffin tin.
- Protein pancakes — Combine ¼ cup protein powder with 1 mashed ripe banana and 2 eggs – cook as you would normal pancakes.
- Chicken salad alone or in lettuce cups
- Cottage cheese – can top with fruit, cinnamon, and/or nuts
- Protein shake
- Hummus (dip vegetable sticks like cucumbers, carrots, and bell pepper into it)
- A handful of pumpkin seeds
- Cup of black bean soup
- Homemade protein balls
- Homemade kale chips
- Chia pudding with fresh berries
- Flax seed crackers with 1/2 mashed avocado
- Frozen yogurt bark — spread 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, raspberries, or blueberries, and freeze for at least 2 hours until hardened.
- Unsalted air-popped popcorn and freeze-dried strawberries
- Trail mix made up of walnuts, almonds, dried cherries, and dried blueberries
- Green hummus — Blend hummus with spinach. Serve with raw veggies or crackers.
- Smoothie with unsweetened almond milk, turmeric, ginger, and orange
- Pomegranate seeds with a square of dark chocolate
- Cherry tomato salad with red onion, garlic, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar
- Celery with almond butter
- Red bell pepper slices with homemade guacamole
- Steel-cut oatmeal with cinnamon
- Homemade protein bars
- Apple with peanut butter
- Green tea lemonade popsicles — Combine 2 cups brewed green tea, juice from 1 lemon, 1 tablespoon lemon zest, and 1 tablespoon raw honey. Divide into popsicle molds and freeze.
Is snacking bad for PCOS?
Not at all! Choosing the right snacks can help you satisfy cravings, prevent overeating later, keep you energized, stabilize your blood sugar, and even be anti-inflammatory.
Can I eat popcorn if I have PCOS?
Popcorn can be a great choice for PCOS since it’s a whole grain and full of fiber. Not all popcorn is created equal, however. Choose air-popped popcorn that isn’t full of added salt, sugar, or butter.
Can I have chips with PCOS?
It’s preferable to limit how many chips you eat if you have PCOS. Chips are almost always high in fat and sodium. Baked chips are lower in salt and fat, but they are still considered simple carbohydrates and are low in fiber.
What bedtime snacks are good for PCOS?
A good bedtime snack for someone with PCOS will include a complex carbohydrate with either a healthy fat or protein. Many women with PCOS also have insulin resistance, and this combination will help control glucose levels overnight. Some bedtime snack ideas for PCOS include whole grain crackers with natural peanut butter, a slice of spelt toast with mashed avocado, or an apple with a small handful of unsalted almonds.
Is banana a good snack for PCOS?
The answer is that it depends. The riper a banana is, the higher it is on the Glycemic Index, meaning it has a greater effect on your blood sugar. It’s estimated that up to 80% of women with PCOS also have insulin resistance, so you may not want to eat too many overly ripe bananas.
Can I eat bread if I have PCOS?
The short answer is yes, you can eat bread if you have PCOS. No food is off limits, but ideally you’ll choose whole grain bread which is less inflammatory and better for blood sugar control instead of bread made from refined white flour.
Yes, you can (and likely should) eat snacks as a woman with PCOS – the important thing is to choose a PCOS-friendly snack.
A good PCOS snack will help combat inflammation while preventing blood sugar spikes.
Of course, it should also satisfy your taste buds!
Want to save this article? Click here to get my list of Healthy PCOS Snacks sent straight to your inbox!