How to Eat When Diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes

Wondering how to eat for gestational diabetes? Learn about gestational diabetes and what foods to include for balanced blood sugars in pregnancy.

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Photo by: JGI/Jamie Grill

JGI/Jamie Grill

Gestational diabetes is one of the most common pregnancy complications, affecting nearly 10% of all pregnancies in the United States. It refers to elevated blood sugars during pregnancy and can have an impact on you and your baby. Your diet can be significant in helping you manage gestational diabetes. Below are nutrition tips to help you lower blood sugars during pregnancy.

What Is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) refers to elevated blood sugars that first develops or is first recognized in pregnancy due to insulin resistance from pregnancy hormones. All pregnant women are screened for GDM between weeks 24 and 28, which is when insulin resistance is the highest during pregnancy.

There are several risk factors for developing gestational diabetes. These include overweight/obesity, age greater than 25 years, polycystic ovarian syndrome, history of GDM, large macrosomic baby (>9 lb), sedentary lifestyle, high risk ethnicity (African American, Latin American, Native American, Asian American, Pacific Islander), or history of type 2 diabetes in the family. For most pregnant women gestational diabetes can be treated with lifestyle modifications, however some may also need medications. Nutrition and lifestyle can play a significant role in balancing blood sugars in pregnancy. A Mediterranean diet has been found to be especially helpful for gestational diabetes. Always consult with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for personalized recommendations.

How to Manage Gestational Diabetes Through Diet

Pair a protein and fat with your fiber-rich carbohydrate.

Build a blood sugar-friendly meal by adding a protein and fat source with your carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are found in grains, fruits, dairy, and starchy vegetables. The body breaks down carbohydrates into sugar (known as glucose), so add a protein and fat to help slow down the rise of blood sugars. A great example is whole grain toast with avocado and eggs or an apple with nut butter.

Avoid skipping meals.

Skipping meals can result in poor nutrition during pregnancy and blood sugar fluctuations with extreme highs and lows. Eating a balanced meal consisting of complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats every few hours ensures that you are nourished and your blood sugars are stable. Healthy snacks, including a bedtime snack, may be helpful with balancing blood sugars.

Hydrate.

Drink water throughout the day to help you stay hydrated, which can also help lower your blood sugars in pregnancy. Aim for 100 ounces a day from all fluid sources, such as tea, soup, and smoothies. The best way to ensure you’re hydrated is to check your urine color for a pale yellow color. Steer away from fluids with added sugars.

Be mindful of your added sugar intake.

Your pregnancy diet can include many of your favorite foods but remember to be mindful and reduce your added sugar intake found in refined carbohydrates. Sodas and juices can be especially high in sugars.

Skip the diets.

Restrictive diets (especially elimination diets) that unnecessarily limit food groups can be dangerous during pregnancy. Diets can lead to poor nutrition and a feeling of deprivation, which can result in binge eating episodes. Instead, embrace a positive nutrition approach that allows for a variety of foods in your diet.

Here are foods to incorporate in your gestational diabetes diet that include high protein foods, healthy fats, fiber rich carbohydrates, and vegetables.

  • Whole grains (examples: oats, brown rice, farro, whole grain bread)
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Nuts
  • Nut butters
  • Seeds
  • Fish
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Avocado
  • Eggs
  • Greek yogurt
  • Non-starchy vegetables (dark green leafy vegetables, green beans, cucumbers, peppers)
  • Berries
  • Sweet potatoes

Rahaf Al Bochi, RDN, LD is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and founder of Olive Tree Nutrition LLC. She is a media expert and has appeared in numerous national media outlets. She specializes in fertility, prenatal nutrition, and the Mediterranean Diet.

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