As if expectant parents don’t have enough to worry about, add a type of diabetes that seems to be tailor-made for pregnancy. But if you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, take heart. Diabetes during pregnancy is very manageable — often without medication.
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“Many people can manage the condition with a gestational diabetes diet and lifestyle changes,” says diabetes educator and registered nurse Megan Asterino-McGeean, BSN, RN, CDCES. “But if you do need medication, it’s not a sign of failure or that you did something wrong. Each pregnancy is unique and has its own needs.”
Asterino-McGeean teams up with registered dietitian Tegan Bissell, LDN, CDCES, to share the best tips, tricks and insights about following — and sticking to — a gestational diabetes diet plan.
What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. It usually develops when you are 24 to 32 weeks pregnant and disappears after delivery. But it’s possible to develop gestational diabetes before or after this time frame.
“Insulin’s job is to keep our blood sugar levels on target. But during pregnancy, your placenta makes hormones that prevent insulin from working as well as it should,” explains Asterino-McGeean. “High blood sugar levels can be dangerous. There are possible risks and complications for you and your baby if sugar isn’t controlled.”
Having gestational diabetes also increases your risk of having it again during future pregnancies.
Who is at risk?
Asterino-McGeean says anyone can develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, but these factors increase your risk:
- Age (older than 25).
- Family history of gestational diabetes.
- Heart disease or high blood pressure.
- Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
- Previously birthing a baby that weighed nine pounds or more.
- Presence of gestational diabetes in past pregnancies.
- Race (being Asian American, Native American, Black or Hispanic).
How to manage gestational diabetes with a healthy diet
Consider a gestational diabetes diet plan your secret weapon to help prevent pregnancy and delivery complications. Even if you need diabetes medication, Asterino-McGeean says it’s still vital to follow a gestational diabetes diet.
“Help keep blood sugar levels in check with a well-balanced diet. It should include lean sources of protein, plenty of non-starchy vegetables and correctly portioned complex carbohydrates,” she says.
Bissell notes that working with a dietitian can take the guesswork out of eating with gestational diabetes. “Your dietitian can help you set up balanced meals with the right amount of carbs to keep your blood sugars within the range your doctor recommends.”
Gestational diabetes food list
Here’s a list of the best foods to eat on a gestational diabetes diet:
“These foods help you to feel full and are essential building blocks for your baby’s growth,” says Bissell. These include:
- Low-fat dairy.
“It’s especially important to eat proteins at breakfast for more stable hunger levels throughout the day. Proteins can even help lessen morning sickness.”
These provide important vitamins, minerals and fiber, and you can consider them ‘freebie’ foods as they are very low in carbs,” Bissell says. These include:
- Green beans.
- Salad greens.
Healthy fats help you feel full and are beneficial for heart health. They include:
- Olive oil.
- Nut butters (almond, peanut, cashew, etc.).
We need carbs for energy, fiber and certain nutrients. Complex carbohydrates include:
- Brown rice.
- Greek yogurt.
- Sweet potatoes.
- Whole-wheat bread.
Foods to avoid if you have gestational diabetes
If you are eating a gestational diabetes diet, avoid these foods:
- Sugary beverages.
- Simple carbohydrates such as breakfast cereals and processed foods or snacks.
Five tips to start eating better with gestational diabetes
Bissell recommends trying these five tips to get on the road to eating healthier:
- Plan ahead: Think about your upcoming week and jot down a simple meal plan and grocery list to prevent last-minute food decisions because they usually result in less healthy choices.
- Chop, chop: Pre-portion or chop up fruits and vegetables when you get home from the store to make them easier to grab when you need a snack.
- Buy frozen: Stock your freezer with frozen vegetables. Even if the fresh veggies you picked out for the week go bad, you always have options.
- Drink up: Carry a water bottle with you (and drink it throughout the day) to stay hydrated.
- Balance your meals: Eat protein and vegetables with each meal and snack. Aim for three meals a day with snacks in between as needed.
Other ways to keep you and your baby healthy with gestational diabetes
Asterino-McGeean recommends keeping your doctor in the know as your pregnancy progresses. “Continue with your scheduled appointments. Since your pregnancy is considered high risk if you have gestational diabetes, your obstetrician may also have you see a high-risk specialist for the remainder of your pregnancy,” she says.
Managing gestational diabetes is ultimately a team sport — and you are the quarterback. “Self-monitoring blood glucose levels at home is important for a healthy pregnancy and baby,” adds Asterino-McGeean.
Here’s how to do it:
- Monitor your sugar four times a day. After fasting (or when you wake up before breakfast) and one to two hours after each meal.
- Keep a written log of your blood sugar levels. Send it to your doctor every one to two weeks or as they recommend.
“The most important thing is preventing high blood sugar levels to keep you and your baby safe,” says Asterino-McGeean.