I have gestational diabetes. Do I have to watch what I eat?
Yes. Eating well helps all women stay healthy during pregnancy. But if you have gestational diabetes, choosing the right food to eat is even more important. That’s because many women with gestational diabetes can manage their condition by following a healthy eating plan, monitoring their blood sugar, and exercising regularly.
Keeping your blood sugar stable by eating healthy food and exercising makes it less likely that you’ll need medication to control your condition. You and your baby are also less likely to have any complications from your condition.
Watching what you eat also helps you gain a healthy amount of weight during pregnancy. If you were overweight before becoming pregnant, your healthcare provider may recommend limiting calories so you don’t gain too much as your baby grows.
Do I need to monitor carbohydrates?
Yes. The amount and type of carbohydrates (natural starches and sugars) in food affects your blood sugar levels. And with gestational diabetes, you’ll need to track your carbohydrate intake in particular.
Setting a limit on the amount of carbohydrates you eat at each meal is the first step to managing your blood sugar. Your provider is likely to recommend reducing the total amount of carbohydrates to about 40 percent of your daily calories.
Try to eat carbohydrates that are high in fiber. Fibrous foods are harder to digest.
Whole grains are high in fiber, so choosing brown rice and whole grain bread instead of refined versions (white bread and rice) means that they take longer to digest and release sugar more slowly into your bloodstream. Vegetables, beans, lentils, and chickpeas are also high in fiber and release sugar into your blood slowly.
Avoid food and drinks that are high in added sugars, such as candy, cakes, and sodas. If you’re craving something sweet, artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal) and sucralose (Splenda) are fine in moderation.
Lean proteins should make up about 20 percent of what you eat each day. Fish, lean meat, and low-fat milk and dairy products are healthy protein choices.
The remainder of your calories should come from healthy (unsaturated) fats, such as olive oil. That’s about 40 percent of your daily calories.
Avoid unhealthy (saturated) fats, such as butter, and trans (hydrogenated) fats, like those found in processed foods. Foods like all-natural peanut butter are high in healthy fat and a good source of protein, but check labels because peanut butter can have trans fat.
If all this seems overwhelming, know that you don’t have to make these changes on your own. Your provider will give you plenty of information to guide you when making food choices. She can also refer you to a registered dietitian to help with meal planning.
How can I keep my blood sugar stable?
When you’re trying to control gestational diabetes, what you eat isn’t the only factor to consider. How and when you eat is important too.
The goal is to keep your blood sugar even and avoid the spikes that lead to blood sugar going up. This is even more critical if you do need to take medications to control your diabetes.
Having some protein at each meal can help balance blood sugar. For example, eating a small portion of whole grain cooked cereal (like oatmeal) with an egg or yogurt at breakfast can balance your meal and prevent blood sugar spikes. All-natural peanut butter on whole wheat toast is another good option.
Have three small meals, plus two to four healthy snacks, every day to keep your blood sugar level stable. Try to space these out evenly so you eat something every two to three hours. Having a snack before bedtime is especially important to keep your blood sugar levels from falling overnight.
Repeated blood sugar spikes mean gestational diabetes is uncontrolled, which can lead to health problems for you and your baby.
What are low glycemic index foods?
The glycemic index (GI) ranks foods that contain carbohydrates based on how quickly they release energy, in the form of glucose, into your blood.
Foods with a low glycemic index give a sustained release of energy. Because they take time to digest and turn to glucose gradually, foods low on the glycemic index are less likely to cause spikes in blood sugar and can help to control blood sugar levels.
On the other hand, foods high on the glycemic index are digested rapidly and turn to glucose more quickly. This can make your blood sugar rise soon after meals.
Knowing about the GI of some foods can help you plan meals when you’re pregnant. But the GI of foods can be affected by many things, such as manufacturing process, combination of ingredients, ripeness, or how much it’s cooked.
Generally speaking, foods that are highly processed or cooked are more likely to have a higher GI, and foods that are raw or high in fiber have a lower GI. Highly processed foods are the biggest concern because they tend to be loaded with starches and added sugar.
GI plans can be complicated to follow, and not everyone agrees that they are helpful if you have gestational diabetes. But if you’re interested in learning more, ask your provider for advice.
Low GI foods include:
most fruits, especially apples, oranges, pears, peaches, and mangoes
vegetables, such as broccoli, green beans, peas, yams, lettuce, cabbage, and carrots
legumes, such as beans, chickpeas, and lentils
whole oats, and whole-oat-based cereals, such as porridge, oat bran, muesli, and granola
multigrain and pumpernickel bread
High GI foods include:
short grain white rice
macaroni cheese from mix
I’ve been referred to a dietitian. What can I expect?
You’ll get medical nutrition therapy (MNT), which is a personalized eating plan you’ll work out with your dietitian. This will take into account your weight and how many calories you need each day. A dietitian will talk to you about:
how to count carbohydrates
how many carbohydrates to have daily
when to consume carbohydrates
timing insulin with food consumption
the impact of exercise on diet and insulin
getting the vitamins and minerals you need for a healthy pregnancy
As your pregnancy progresses, your dietitian may make changes to your MNT based on the results of blood sugar monitoring and how much weight you’ve gained. If you need to start taking insulin, you’ll still need to follow an eating plan, but a dietitian will likely make some changes to take your treatment into account.