Oatmeal for PCOS: How This “Superfood” Improves Your Health

by | Apr 3, 2024

Balanced, nutritious meals and snacks are key in managing blood sugar and other symptoms of PCOS. With PCOS, you’re told you need to lower insulin and blood sugar, so you might think you need to limit carbs. Don’t they raise blood sugar? Shouldn’t I avoid them? Well, it’s not so simple. This article will explain why you do actually need carbs (and what kinds) with PCOS and why oatmeal is a great option. 

Should You Eat Oatmeal if You Have PCOS? 

Yes, absolutely yes! Oats are highly nutritious, great for your gut, affordable, gluten-free (which really only matters if you have Celiac disease or have been proven gluten-intolerant), and great for managing symptoms of PCOS. 

Mix them into your weekly breakfast routine, or even have them every day if you want. It is safe and healthy to have oatmeal as many mornings as you desire. It’s best to add some other fats to the meal (yes, oats actually have some fat in them!), and other ingredients for pleasure, crunch, and variety. But you don’t need to over think it. 

Oatmeal is great for PCOS for several reasons: gut health, insulin sensitivity, and metabolic disease prevention. Read on to learn more and scroll to the bottom for an overnight oats recipe.

PCOS and Gut Health

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects 5% to 10% of women of reproductive age worldwide, making it one of the most common endocrine disorders. Gut dysbiosis is a key factor in PCOS symptomology, although it is not entirely clear why women with PCOS have such disrupted microbiomes. One possibility is that a low diversity of gut bacteria could trigger the disorder to develop to begin with. 

Improving and maintaining good gut health and microbiota helps PCOS symptoms and underlying triggers. This can help your body’s insulin sensitivity, lower testosterone levels, improve unwanted hair growth (hirsutism), improve menstrual cycle regularity, and improve cholesterol. That’s a ton of benefit! 

All of that considered, it’s worthwhile to use nutrition and lifestyle to improve your gut health with PCOS, eating oatmeal regularly can help with that.  You do not need to cut things out of your diet to improve your gut health, adding things is a much better strategy.

Oats & Blood Sugar

Because oats have soluble fiber and prebiotics, they form a viscous gel in the digestive tract, which can slow down digestion and the absorption of nutrients. This process can help in regulating blood sugar levels and reducing cholesterol.

Because oatmeal can improve insulin sensitivity, it can help you maintain balanced blood sugar throughout the day. It’s actually been shown that oatmeal can lower blood sugar levels, particularly in folks who are “overweight”. (Per usual, I use air quotes because I don’t believe the BMI or any words created from it are useful.) 

The Many Health Benefits of Oatmeal

Oats are rich in beta-glucans, which are polysaccharides made of multiple sugar units bonded together. Beta-glucans are a type of soluble dietary fiber found naturally in various foods, including cereals (such as oats and barley), certain types of mushrooms (like reishi, shiitake, and maitake), yeasts, and seaweeds. 

Eating oatmeal can improve your microbiome due to short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) production and slowing of digestion. Short-chained fatty acids also have LDL cholesterol and blood sugar-lowering effects

Oats have a surprising amount of protein and fat for a grain, which is fantastic. This makes them a great part of a balanced breakfast, which is important in a PCOS diet plan. The more healthy fat and protein you eat with carbohydrate-rich meals, the better.  

Oats are an excellent source of manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, and B vitamins, particularly thiamin (vitamin B1) and pantothenic acid (vitamin B5).

Oats are high in antioxidants, with avenanthramides being the most notable. Avenanthramides are almost exclusively found in oats and can help lower blood pressure levels by increasing the production of nitric oxide, which aids in dilating blood vessels.

And of course fiber. Oats are rich in soluble fiber, which directly impacts the microbiome. 

Quick? Rolled? Steel cut? What Type of Oatmeal is Best?

Quick oats or microwavable oats have a slightly higher glycemic index than old-fashioned oats, and old-fashioned (or rolled) oats have a slightly higher GI than steel-cut oats. This is due to how they’re processed and cut up smaller. As you get smaller, they can raise your blood sugar slightly faster. 

But the difference is small, and all three types are considered low to medium glycemic index foods. So if all you can manage is quick oats, it’s still better than no oats. Otherwise, they are very similar nutritionally.

The main difference between quick oats and old-fashioned oats is going to be texture, cooking time, and to some extent, flavor. Rolled oats are meatier, thicker, chewier, and produce a thicker cereal as compared with quick oats, which are a bit more… shall we say… liquidy? 

Fun, Quick Oatmeal Ideas

You can have a bowl of regular, old-fashioned oatmeal in the morning, my personal favorite. I like to top my oatmeal with whatever fruit is *most* in season. Pears are my absolute favorite. I like to add almond slivers or pecans, a dash of maple syrup and ginger to this breakfast. If I’m not using pears, I also like blueberries (for added blood sugar support), apples, bananas, blackberries, or if I’m feeling wild – persimmon.

More fiber, more anti-oxidants, more crunch, more satisfaction.

They’re also great in a savory way, believe it or not. I personally like steel-cut oats if I’m making a savory batch. My friend Kankshi and I love to stew some tomatoes with garlic and then top the oats with the tomato mixture, toasted pumpkin seeds, olive oil, and a fried egg. It’s fantastic. 

savory oatmeal with tomatoes for PCOS
Oatmeal with tomatoes and herbs

Overnight Oats Recipe for PCOS

A warm bowl of oatmeal is fantastic in the winter months, but that might not sound as good when it’s warm out, or when you’re in a hurry. If you leave the house first thing in the morning and need breakfast on the go, overnight oats are perfect. If you want, you can heat them up once you get to the office, you just eat them cold. (If heating them up, I’d add a little more liquid like milk or water.)

INGREDIENTS (double, triple, or quadruple for multiple days) 

  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 tablespoons slivered almonds, or other chopped nuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon and/or 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • a pinch salt 
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey or maple syrup
  • 1 cup unsweetened soy milk, oat milk, almond milk, or other milk of your choice

ADD-INS: PICK ONE OR TWO

  • 2 tablespoons shredded, unsweetened coconut
  • 1-2 tablespoons dried fruit –  cherries, cranberries, raisins
  • 1/4 cup frozen fruit – (berries work well)
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds, sesame seeds, or ground flax seeds

INSTRUCTIONS

Combine all in a jar and shake or stir well. Refrigerate overnight. Eat for breakfast at home or on the go with a piece of sliced fresh fruit on top – banana, strawberries, raspberries, peach, plum, pear – you get it. 

Notes: To make a large batch, double or triple (or more!) the ingredients and store dry in a large glass jar until the night before. Shake up the ingredients, dish out 1 cup and add 1 cup milk to the single batch the night before you want to eat it. It will also stay good in the fridge a couple days if you want to make a couple days worth. 

As you see, oatmeal is a super nutritious and satisfying way to nourish yourself and your hormones well with PCOS. Remember – cutting carbs is not the answer. You want to eat a moderate carbohydrate diet with lots of protein, antioxidants, fiber, healthy fats.

You don’t need a strict diet to manage your PCOS symptoms. Read more here about how to use intuitive eating to manage PCOS. And if you struggle with binge eating with PCOS, there are some things I want you to know, too!

Oh, and check out this post on how to use meal planning with Intuitive Eating. You can fit these overnight oats into your PCOS-meal plan FOR SURE.

If you’re ready for some hand-held help on getting your PCOS under control and balance with diet and lifestyle (without restriction, dieting, or any bogus, nonsensical fads), get in touch. I’d love to work with you.

About Emily

Emily Van Eck, MS, RDN specializes in Intuitive Eating, eating disorders, body image, women’s reproductive health, and healing from years of weight-bias and disordered eating. She helps people find balance, consistency, and peace with their eating habits so they can feel confident to get outta their heads and into their bodies. Emily is a registered dietitian and certified Intuitive Eating counselor with a master’s degree in nutrition science. Read more about her practice, values, and experience here.

Emily Van Eck on couch with cereal bowl

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Hey there, I´m Emily

A non-diet and weight-inclusive dietitian, intuitive eating coach, and body image healer. Here on the blog, I focuses on exploring intuitive eating, gentle nutrition, the complex arena of body image and feminism, anti-oppression, and all the ways these things intersect. I want us all to be free to own our appetites, and our desires, and eat really, really well. 

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