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  • Writer's pictureAlison Rosenstock

Top 10 PCOS Snacks for Stable Blood Sugars

Is healthy snacking your key to keeping your blood sugars under control in PCOS?


With the right strategy, the answer can absolutely be YES!

 

Though PCOS can be very frustrating to deal with, focusing on balanced nutrition can make a major impact on symptoms and even reduce the risk of complications. As a registered dietitian, I’m here to help you do just that! I’m Alison and I provide do-able nutrition strategies to help women to minimize their PCOS symptoms.

 

By the time you’re done with this blog, you’ll learn: 

  • What PCOS is and how it impacts blood sugar levels

  • What nutrients are important for managing PCOS

  • The top PCOS snack ideas for keeping your blood sugars stable 

You’ll also get access to the (free) PCOS Nutrition Guide which has a detailed list of the foods and beverages that have health benefits in PCOS.


Click here to get the PCOS Nutrition Guide.


Let’s start things off by explaining what PCOS is.


What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome is better known by its acronym: PCOS.


PCOS is an endocrine disorder, which just means that some of your hormones are higher or lower than expected…and this imbalance is causing drama in your body. 


One common symptom of PCOS is having tiny follicles (which may or may not be actual cysts) surround your ovaries. These follicles are the result of hormonal imbalances, primarily higher levels of certain hormones, such as testosterone.

 

Other common symptoms of PCOS can include:

  • Hirsutism (excessive hair growth on the face and body)

  • Alopecia (hair loss from the head and eyebrows)

  • Acne and/or skin problems

  • Challenges with menstruation, such as irregular and/or heavy periods or amenorrhea (absence of menstrual periods)

  • Weight gain and difficulties losing weight


But having said that, everyone with PCOS is unique! PCOS is surprisingly common, impacting up to 18% of women in their reproductive years and can result in complications which increase the risk for infertility and/or Type 2 Diabetes. 


As a dietitian, I’d like to focus on one specific complication of PCOS: insulin sensitivity.

Insulin is the hormone that allows your body to move sugar (glucose) from your bloodstream into each of your body’s cells for fuel. 


Angela Grassi, Registered Dietitian and founder of the PCOS Nutrition Center explains that, “the majority of people with PCOS have insulin resistance. In this case, glucose isn’t getting into the cells when it’s needed for energy. This can cause fatigue, and it also means that glucose can be higher in the bloodstream which can increase the risk for Type 2 Diabetes.” 


Another challenge with insulin resistance is that when insulin levels get too high, this can actually cause blood sugars to drop too low (known medically as hypoglycemic episodes). This may explain why many folks with PCOS experience intense cravings for carbohydrate foods.


Grassi stresses that it is important for people with PCOS to balance their blood sugar levels to have more energy and reduce diabetes risk and that a balanced meal plan can help. Let’s explore how prioritizing certain nutrients makes a difference in PCOS.


Important Nutrients for PCOS Snacks

Because insulin resistance is so common with PCOS, you’re going to want to focus on foods that aren’t going to cause blood sugars to spike or drop too low afterward. It is also important to eat consistently during the day, as going too long between meals can make insulin resistance worse.


It turns out that there are many kinds of foods that you can choose from (including some carbs!) to support healthy blood sugar and insulin levels in PCOS. Here are the nutrients that I recommend you include in your PCOS-friendly snacks, most of the time:


Lean Proteins

Proteins are important for building and maintaining muscle. They also help keep you feeling full after eating a meal or snack.

 

Lean proteins are found in both animal and plant foods including eggs, fish, poultry, dairy products, nuts, nut butters (like peanut, almond, and cashew butter), seeds (like chia, sunflower, flax, and pumpkin seeds), and legumes like lentils, beans, and peas.


Healthy Fats

Fats help protect the inner organs and give your body a nice reserve of energy. Unsaturated fats take the body longer to break down, so they are less likely to cause blood fat or sugar levels to be too high.

 

Healthy fats include avocados, nuts, nut butters, seeds, fatty fish like salmon and tuna, and plant oils like olive, canola, and avocado oil.


High Fiber/Low Glycemic Index Carbs

Carbs often get a bad rap, particularly when discussing conditions like diabetes. However, they are important macronutrients and there are plenty of nutritious and delicious carbohydrate foods that can be part of a healthy diet in PCOS.


Carbohydrates that have a lower glycemic index take longer for the body to digest, so they don’t end up quickly rising in the bloodstream. Many low-glycemic carbs also contain fiber, which has many health benefits like lowering cholesterol and fueling the good bacteria in the gut. 


High-fiber/low-glycemic carbs include fruits like apples, berries, dates, oranges, and plums, non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and celery, legumes like beans and lentils, and grains like oats and quinoa. 


A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women with PCOS who followed a low glycemic index diet had significant improvements in their menstrual cycles and responsiveness to the insulin-sensitizing drug metformin.


*Note: Certain fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon and carrots, are higher on the glycemic index but have a lower glycemic load which makes them less likely to spike blood sugars. Glycemic index can also change when foods are mixed together, such as adding carrots to stir-fried tofu or chicken and other vegetables. 


Now that we’ve discussed how these nutrients help manage blood sugars in PCOS, let’s discuss how they can be incorporated into healthy and tasty snacks. 


Top 10 PCOS Snacks for Stable Blood Sugars

Grassi asserts that, “adding lean protein and unsaturated fats along with a fiber-rich food will add more stability to blood glucose and insulin levels in PCOS.” The snacks listed below (many of which are simple and fairly quick to prepare) combine these important nutrients and help keep up your energy throughout the day. 


1. Apples and Nut Butter

Apples are a low glycemic and high fiber fruit with tons of anti-inflammatory nutrients. Pairing apple slices with peanut, almond, or cashew butter adds plant-based lean proteins and healthy fats.

2. Oats and Nut Butter Bites

Another way to use your nutritious nut butter is to combine it with oats, a fiber-rich and naturally gluten-free grain (though you should always check the packaging on your oats for any language saying they were processed or made in a facility containing traces of wheat). Not only are these bites a balanced treat that supports healthy blood sugars, they’re also a simple, portable snack that freezes well! Get your snacking started with these delicious, no-bake Oatmeal Protein Bites recipes from RDN Kiran Campbell!

3. Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins

No need for packaged muffins when you can make these super delicious and nutritious ones at home! Adding antioxidant-rich blueberries to high-fiber oats and protein sources like eggs and plant-based milk makes for a snack the whole family will love! This Healthy Blueberry Banana Oatmeal Muffins recipe from dietitian Elysia Cartlidge of Haute and Healthy Living is dairy-free, gluten-free, vegetarian, and best of all- simple to make!

4. Broccoli and Hummus

Hummus is made from chickpeas, which are a protein-rich legume. Dipping a raw veggie like a broccoli or cauliflower floret into hummus can make for a nutrient-dense and satisfying snack.

5. Tuna on Flax Seed Crackers

While tuna is well known for being high in protein, it also contains omega-3 fatty acids which help promote the health of the brain and heart. Flax seeds are also a source of omega-3s, so flax-containing crackers are a great accompaniment to this protein snack.

6. Yogurt and Berries

Yogurt is a great source of protein and also contains probiotics, which have shown benefits in PCOS as well as gastrointestinal conditions like IBS. Adding berries like raspberries and strawberries promotes better stability of blood sugars and has other benefits like antioxidants.

7. Avocado or Sardine Avocado Toast 

Heart-healthy avocados can be the perfect addition to a low-glycemic/high-fiber bread like rye, pumpernickel, or oat-bran. If desired, you can top your toast with an egg, sunflower seeds, or sardines which are a great source of protein, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids. Try out this Avocado Toast recipe from RDN Kristi Ruth of Carrots and Cookies and/or the Sardine Avocado Toast recipe from RDN Jenny Shea Rawn of Coastal Kitchen!

8. Chia Seed Pudding with Cinnamon

Chia seeds are another great source of omega-3 fatty acids, while cinnamon has been shown to improve blood glucose, insulin, and cholesterol levels in people with PCOS. Add the chia seeds and cinnamon to milk or plant-based milk (such as soy, almond, or oat) and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before enjoying. RDN Kristi Ruth of Carrots and Cookies has an excellent recipe for Quick & Easy Chocolate Chia Pudding that you can use for inspiration!

9. Low-Fat Cottage Cheese and Plums

This yummy pairing of low-fat/high-protein dairy and high-fiber fruit hits both sweet and savory notes. In addition to being good for managing blood sugar, plums have many health-promoting compounds that may reduce the risk of cancer. 

10. Date Snickers

Satisfy your sweet tooth with homemade chocolate and nutty candy that just might be better than the original (shhh…) This Date Snickers recipe from healthy aging dietitian Kathryn Piper combines high-fiber Medjool dates, nutrient-dense and tasty nut butter and peanuts, and dark chocolate which is full of antioxidants, flavanols, and minerals like magnesium and zinc. 


If you’d like a beverage with any of these snacks, you can opt for fruit-infused water or a nice cup of green tea which may improve symptoms of PCOS.


While PCOS can be a difficult condition to manage, the good news is that there is a large  variety of foods, beverages, and even spices and seasonings that promote stable blood sugars in PCOS.


The Takeaway

PCOS is an endocrine disorder that is deeply impacted by hormonal imbalances. It can have many challenging symptoms and puts women at higher risk for fertility challenges and chronic diseases like diabetes.


As a woman with PCOS, you will likely experience insulin resistance which can negatively impact your blood sugar levels and lead to fatigue. Managing your intake of carbohydrates and eating consistently throughout the day can help keep your blood glucose and insulin levels in check and give you more energy.


If you have PCOS, a balanced diet with lean proteins, unsaturated fats, and high-fiber carbohydrates is a key component to keeping blood sugar levels stable. Snacks that incorporate nutrient-dense foods like fruits, veggies, low-fat dairy, fatty fish, nuts, nut butters, legumes, seeds, and whole grains, as well as seasonings and beverages like cinnamon and green tea, can promote healthy blood sugar levels in PCOS.


When you download the (free!) PCOS Nutrition Guide, you’ll get a full list of foods, beverages, and spices that have research-based support in PCOS. You’ll be empowered to take control of your blood sugars in PCOS and feel confident that you’re nourishing your body with all the nutritious and delicious foods it deserves!


Special thanks to Registered Dietitian Nutritionists Angela Grassi, Kiran Campbell, Elysia Cartlidge, Kathryn Piper, Kristi Ruth, and Jenny Shea Rawn for their contributions to this piece.

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