Gestational diabetes is high blood sugar that starts or is first diagnosed during pregnancy. It develops when your body’s changing hormones affect your ability to use or produce insulin, the hormone responsible for turning glucose, the sugar in your blood, into usable fuel.

When you have high blood sugar, it means your cells aren’t getting the fuel they need to produce energy. This can be harmful to you and your baby, so it’s important that you control blood sugar by maintaining a healthy diet throughout your pregnancy.

One way to keep your blood sugar levels under control during pregnancy is to see a registered dietitian who can help you create a meal plan that is made specifically for you. The amount of carbs, proteins and healthy fats you need will vary depending on your weight, height, physical activity, glucose intolerance and, of course, the needs of your growing baby.

Your dietitian will determine how many calories you need based on these factors. She will also teach you how to determine the right portion sizes.

Recommendations for a gestational diabetes diet

The best way to manage gestational diabetes through your diet is to eat a variety of healthy foods. Get the right amount of fruits, vegetables, meats as well as carbohydrates to provide all the nutrients you and your baby need for a safe and healthy pregnancy.

When shopping at the grocery store, make a habit of reading food labels so that you know the nutrients you’re taking in through your diet. This will help you make better decisions when it comes to the food you and your baby eat.

In general, a mom on a gestational diabetes diet should:

  • Have as many vegetables as possible
  • Limit fruit intake
  • Limit foods and drinks with lots of sugar in them, such as fruit juices, soft drinks and generally all kinds of sweets and desserts
  • Provide controlled portions of complex carbohydrates from a variety of sources
  • Provide moderate levels of fat and protein

Sticking to these guidelines will help you manage your blood sugar level while still providing adequate nutrition for your baby and achieving the appropriate weight changes during pregnancy. Let’s take a closer at how to apply these guidelines to your own diet

1. Limit your sugar intake.  Foods and drinks that are rich in simple sugars, such as soda, fruit juice and flavored teas and all sorts of candies and desserts, will spike your blood sugar and insulin levels right after eating. You should limit intake of these foods or avoid them altogether.

2. Provide controlled carbohydrates. Your meal plan should contain lower carbohydrates than what you ate before your pregnancy. Keep your carb intake to less than half of the total calories you eat.

It is best to stick to complex carbs such as whole-grain cereals, such as oatmeal , bran, brown rice, and red kidney beans. Limit the amount of bread, tortillas and crackers that you eat.

Vegetables rich in fiber, such as carrots, broccoli and spinach are also good sources of complex carbs.

Eat fruits in moderation. Limit your fruit consumption to roughly two servings per day.

Complex carbs are broken down and absorbed more slowly than simple carbs, such as those in refined pasta and white rice, which can elevate your blood sugar levels quickly. Reaching for complex carbs instead helps you keep your glucose under control after a meal.

It is important that you don’t eat all your carb recommendations in one sitting. Spread them over three small meals and perhaps two to three snacks instead.

3. Pair carbs with protein. Proteins make you feel fuller, sustain energy throughout the day and give you better blood sugar control. Protein is made up of amino acids, the building blocks of life, making them crucial to your baby’s growth.

The best sources of protein are lean meat, skinless chicken, fish and eggs. Milk, and yogurt are also good protein sources if you tolerate dairy. Keep in mind that diary is also rich in rich in calories and carbohydrates. They also contain lactose, a natural sugar. Eat sparingly to keep calories and sugar in check.

4. Eat healthy fats.  Most fats will not directly affect your blood sugar levels, but increased levels of unhealthy fat in the body causes weight gain, which makes it more difficult to control your sugar levels.

This doesn’t mean you should cut out all fats and oils from your diet. Fat is essential for your baby’s brain development and provides long-term energy growth.

The best fat sources are foods rich in monounsaturated fats, such as almonds, cashews, peanuts and avocados. Olive oil is another healthy oil, rich in monounsaturated fats.

Canola oil and soybean oil also fall into this category, but often are produced from genetically modified crops and are over processed. Avoid cooking with these oils whenever possible.

Polyunsaturated fats are also good fats because they are replete with omega-6 fatty acids that provide a myriad of health benefits. You can find polyunsaturated fats in fish, nuts and tahini.

Coconut oil, although a saturated fat, is a heart healthy oil. Recent research has shown that consumption of coconut oil can positively impact blood sugar levels, making it an ideal cooking oil for women on a gestational diabetes diet.

You should, however, avoid trans-fats, which is the type of  fat you find in  fast-food hamburgers and French fries.  Basically, any food cooked in hydrogenated oil falls into this category.

5. Eat as many vegetables as you want. Most experts recommend at least five to seven servings of vegetables every day. One serving equals one cup of raw or cooked green, leafy vegetables, 3/4 cup vegetable juice or 1/2 cup raw or cooked chopped vegetables.

Vegetables with deep and dark colors such as spinach, broccoli, romaine, carrots and peppers are richer in antioxidants that help keep you and your baby healthy.

For fruits, you should eat up to two servings per day but probably no more. Fruits contain a natural sugar called fructose. Eating too many fruits can raise your sugar levels and spoil your efforts at lowering your blood glucose. Still, fruits are healthy and, when taken in small amounts, can help combat gestational diabetes.

One serving of fruit equals one medium whole fruit or 1/2 cup chopped, frozen, cooked or canned fruit.

A sample meal plan for women with gestational diabetes

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Snack

1/2 cup muesli OR 1/2 cup rolled oats OR 1 cup branOR 2 slices of whole-grain toast topped with avocados OR a natural nut butter (no sugar added) choose from almond, cashew or peanut butterOR1/2 cup cooked beansOR1 whole grain English muffin with 1 egg OR cheddar cheeseOR1/2 cup steamed brown riceWITH250 ml low-fat milk OR 1 cup low-fat yogurtWITH

1/2 banana OR 1 tbsp sultanas OR 1 orange

Lean meat OR tuna OR chicken breast OR salmon OR roast beef WITH Plenty of salad (except corn and potato)OR1/2 cup brown rice with 1/2 cup lentilsWITH1 cup salad or cooked vegetablesWITH1 serving of fruit 2/3 cup cooked brown rice  OR 1/2 cup sweet potatoOR1 cup chickpeas, lentils or red kidney beansWITH1 serving of lean meat, fish, chicken or tofuWITHAt least 2 cups of fresh or cooked vegetables 1/2 English muffin spread with your choice of nut butters (almond, cashew, peanut)OR1 serving natural beef jerkyoror 1 serving of string cheeseOR1 handful of unsalted nutsOR1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt with nuts (a small amount of stevia powder may be added as a sweetener).

In addition to the meal guidelines we’ve listed above we recommend a quality prenatal vitamin that supplies the right blend of nutrients (including extra folate) for mothers to be. One of our favorite choices is Douglas Lab’s Prenatal. This professional grade supplement is produced to exacting standards and is only sold through licensed health care practitioners. You can purchase it here.

Follow these guidelines an you’ll be on your way to a healthy pregnancy!

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