What Is a Gestational Diabetes Diet?
A diet specifically for patients with gestational diabetes is a set of guidelines to follow when preparing meals that takes into account the health of both the mother and her developing baby. It may include eating certain foods, avoiding other foods or eating at specific times during the day.
The goal of a gestational diabetes diet is to keep your blood sugar within the normal range as much as possible while also providing all the nutrients that you and your developing fetus need. You should design it in consultation with your healthcare team to ensure that it is safe and healthy for you.
Can Diet Prevent Gestational Diabetes?
Eating a healthy diet before and during pregnancy may reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes. However, this strategy is controversial and does not completely prevent you from developing the condition.
Gestational diabetes is a very common problem that is difficult to predict. Some risk factors for the condition include:
- Being older than 25 years old
- A history of diabetes in the family
- Having a high body mass index
- A history of gestational diabetes during past pregnancies
Anyone can develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy. This is why screenings for the condition were incorporated into routine prenatal care. Your obstetrician or midwife will give you a diabetes test somewhere between the 24th and 28th weeks of your pregnancy to see if your blood sugar is abnormally high.
Some researchers believe that eating a healthy diet may decrease the risk of developing gestational diabetes, although this link is unconfirmed. More study is required to determine how this relationship works and whether dietary changes pose any risk to the fetus’ overall health. Scientists also warn that it is important for women not to try to lose weight intentionally during pregnancy, making many diet regimens inappropriate for pregnant women.
How to Manage Gestational Diabetes with Diet
Managing gestational diabetes through medically advised approaches that can include a nutritionally appropriate diet, can help minimize the risk of severe birth complications. This is a serious health problem that should always be taken seriously, even when you do not experience any noticeable gestational diabetes symptoms.
Commonly recommended gestational diets may not provide all the nutrients you and your baby need. You and your healthcare provider may consider assembling a team of professionals that includes:
- A maternal-fetal medicine specialist
- A registered dietitian
- A diabetes specialist
- A certified diabetes educator
Tell your obstetrician or midwife about any dietary changes. Following a gestational diabetes diet during your pregnancy may help you regulate your blood sugar and prevent it from rising too high.
Gestational Diabetes Meal Plan
Remember that everyone’s nutritional needs are different. What worked for someone else may not work for you. Your gestational diabetes diet should be designed in consultation with your medical team.
A comprehensive gestational diabetes diet should typically include:
- Non-starchy vegetables
Let your team know if you are already taking insulin or undergoing diabetes treatment. Most gestational diabetes diets are not designed for people with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes and will need to be adapted to account for your unique needs.
Women eating a gestational diabetes diet should get around 20% of their daily calories from protein. Most of your protein intake should come from lean, low-fat sources, such as:
- Nutritional yeast
- Beans and lentils
- Chicken or turkey
Be sure to include some protein in each of your meals. This will help down your body’s absorption of slow carbohydrates, moderate your energy levels and keep you feeling full between meals.
Starches are a type of complex carbohydrate. They provide important vitamins and minerals and help keep your blood sugar stable.
Non-starchy vegetables provide the nutrients and fiber you need, and are particularly good choices if your medical team recommends limiting starch. Some of the best options include:
- Dark leafy greens like kale, arugula and spinach
- Brussels sprouts
Balancing your intake of starchy foods can be difficult because of confusion surrounding the term. Many sources offer conflicting information on which foods are starchy and which are not.
Examples of starchy vegetables you may be advised to limit include:
- Sweet potatoes
- Winter squash
- Lima beans
Some diabetes diet recommendations for those with various types of diabetes call for a strict elimination of foods with starch or carbohydrates for lowering blood sugar. But most medical experts advise a balanced approach, creating a diverse diet that includes some starches and complex carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are your body’s major source of energy during the day. There are two types of carbohydrates: Simple and complex.
Simple carbohydrates are found in foods like white bread and pasta, candy, fries, baked goods and crackers. They break down quickly into sugars.
Complex carbohydrates take longer to break down and offer more nutritional benefits. Around 40% of your daily calories should come from complex carbohydrates and you should eat most of these at lunchtime.
There are two types of complex carbohydrates: starches and fiber. Fiber is an important part of a gestational diabetes diet. It helps to regulate your blood sugar and keep your digestive system running smoothly. Aim to consume at least 30g of fiber per day. The following foods are good choices that are high in fiber:
- Whole grain bread
- Whole grain pasta
- Chia seeds
- Oatmeal and oat bran
- Corn tortillas
- Beans and legumes
- Fresh fruit and vegetables
Try to include some of these foods (especially fresh vegetables) in every meal or snack you eat.
It is important to note that low-carbohydrate keto diets are not suitable for pregnant women. This diet puts you at risk for several serious health problems, including low blood pressure, kidney stones and nutrient deficiencies. Always consult your healthcare team for advice on your diet during pregnancy to ensure you are eating safely and meeting all your nutritional needs.
Fats are an important part of a healthy diet, helping you to absorb the vitamins and nutrients in the food you eat. However, too much fat in your diet can also make gestational diabetes harder to control.
The key is to choose unsaturated fats and omega-3 fats. Find them in:
The key to consuming fats is to balance foods with healthy fats with low-fat and nonfat foods. Switching to dairy alternatives, skim milk or low-fat cheese, for example, is an easy way to reduce your intake of saturated fats.
Foods to Avoid with Gestational Diabetes
While most foods are healthy in balance and when portions are controlled, there are some foods that are typically discouraged. Foods and drinks that are high in sugar and low in nutrients are generally not recommended.
Some specific items your medical team may suggest you limit include:
- Fast food meals
- Highly processed foods
- Baked goods
- Water flavored with sweeteners
Thinking of these foods as occasional treats and not part of your regular diet can help. Limit the number of times you eat them each week and keep your portion sizes small.
Managing symptoms of diabetes and even preventing diabetes may be possible through a healthy diet plan. Diabetes statistics suggest that a balance of diverse fruits, vegetables and grains can help manage blood sugar and offer the nutrients you and your baby need.
Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.
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