A 2014 analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the prevalence of gestational diabetes to be as high as 9.2%. That’s almost 1 in 10 pregnant women. Before adding this stat to your list of things to keep you up at night, rest assured that there are dietary changes you can make today to take control and prevent the development of gestational diabetes. The Gestational Diabetes Diet I’ve outlined here will clear up the confusion, quell fears, and help you decide what’s for dinner tonight!
The American Diabetes Association defines gestational diabetes as the presence of high blood glucose (sugar) levels in pregnant women who did not previously have diabetes. It’s unknown what exactly causes the development of gestational diabetes, but it’s believed to have something to do with hormones from the placenta that block the action of the mother’s insulin in her body. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows cells to turn blood glucose into usable fuel. The aforementioned insulin resistance results in an accumulation of glucose in the mother’s blood and consequential deprivation of necessary fuel to her cells.
Left untreated, gestational diabetes can be harmful to the developing baby. Via the placenta, baby shares in the mother’s high blood glucose levels. Unfortunately, this doesn’t just make them extra sweet, but instead causes the baby’s pancreas to produce excess insulin to get rid of the blood glucose. Since the baby is getting more energy than it needs to grow and develop, the extra energy is stored as fat. We all love a chubby baby, but this overly fat baby condition (macrosomia) can threaten them with health problems such as very low blood glucose levels at birth, an increased risk for breathing problems, childhood obesity, and adult-onset type 2 diabetes. Additionally, their increased birthweight and inflated size may very well make a vaginal birth impossible leave the mother no choice but to have a c-section.
Okay, that’s all the bad news. The good news: Dietary changes and exercise are often enough to keep your blood sugar levels under control and gestational diabetes at bay. If you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, take comfort in the fact that most women who develop gestational diabetes go on to have healthy babies. You’re neither doomed nor helpless. You can make adjustments to your diet from this moment on that will absolutely make a difference.
Being of a healthy weight is the first step to warding off the development of gestational diabetes. If you didn’t eat very well before becoming pregnant, now’s the best time to start. If you previously ate healthfully, continue to do so. Pregnancy is not an excuse to throw your good habits out the window (much to my husband’s dismay…he was really hoping for late night runs to Del Taco and daily hot fudge sundaes). Not only is eating poorly a disservice to you and your developing baby, but you’ll also feel like crap!
Many people have said to me things like, “Now’s the time to indulge; you’re eating for two!” I’m not buying it. Sure, there’s an extra person in the picture, but your baby weighs mere ounces for a large portion of your pregnancy and doesn’t require an additional adult-sized serving. Yes, you definitely need to increase your caloric intake while you’re pregnant (assuming you weren’t overeating before), but this increase is minimal, and it shouldn’t be in the form of cake, soda, or french fries. You only need about 300 extra calories per day during your pregnancy. That’s equivalent to a single slice of cake, 24 oz soda, small serving of french fries, OR an additional 1/2 sprouted grain english muffin with peanut butter and medium apple. Choose your extra calories wisely, opting for foods that provide your baby the most nutrients and useful fuel per bite.
So what should you eat? Low-sugar, high-protein, high-fiber foods. These are foods that have a low glycemic index (GI), meaning the glucose in them is released more slowly into your bloodstream than foods with a higher GI rating. Examples of low-GI foods include complex carbohydrates like whole grains (rolled oats, quinoa, farro, brown rice, sprouted grain breads), vegetables (get used to eating lots of ’em), protein in the form of lentils, beans, and nuts (if you follow a vegan diet) and/or eggs, fish, and lean meats (if you eat animal products). Dairy products contain lactose, which is a sugar, so limit your intake of dairy. Fruit is nutritious but can be high in sugar, so enjoy it sparingly as a treat or include a little in your diet as a garnish. Opt for lower-sugar, higher-fiber fruits like berries and apples over fruits like mangos and bananas.
Consider, too, the ways in which you’re combining foods whenever you eat. For example, if you’re eating something carb-y like oatmeal for breakfast, don’t eat it on it’s own, but rather pair it with walnuts, flaxseeds, maybe a spoonful of almond butter, and blueberries for added protein and fiber to create a complete, balanced meal. This combining of higher GI foods with lower GI foods lowers the rate at which glucose is released into your bloodstream.
Another thing to keep in mind is when you eat. You should eat small meals spaced evenly throughout the day to keep your blood sugar stable. Don’t skip meals, don’t binge when you do eat, and now more than ever make sure you start your day with a healthy breakfast.
Feeling overwhelmed, like you’ve just been doled out a lot of do’s and don’ts, and are at a loss for what you can eat. Well, here’s one last don’t: Don’t despair! There are lots of flavorful foods you can eat. A plant-based, gestational diabetes-friendly diet put into practice looks something like this:
1/3 c rolled oats
1/2 c unsweetened vanilla almond milk
dash cinnamon and any other spices (I like pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice — no shortage of flavor here!)
1 Tbs ground flaxseeds
1 Tbs all-natural almond butter (Ingredient list should include only almonds, and maybe salt, no sugar, partially hydrogenated oil, or anything else weird.)
1/8 c chopped raw walnuts
1/4 c blueberries
Snack: Apple & Nuts
1 small apple
small handful of pistachios
Lunch: Soup & Salad
1 1/2 c lentil soup
salad made of dark leafy greens and any other veggies you’d like (tomato, bell peppers, cucumber, but not corn — it’s all sugar), topped with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar
Snack: Hard Boiled Eggs
2 hard boiled eggs
Dinner: Fish, Veggies, and Quinoa
4 oz grilled salmon
steamed broccoli or spinach sautéed with garlic and a little olive oil
1/2 c cooked quinoa (I like to cook our grains with a teaspoon of Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Base for added flavor.)
In addition to adopting a diet like this, move your body every day. Exercise is an important component to managing your blood glucose levels, as it uses up glucose to provide your body energy. This doesn’t have to be powerlifting and marathon-running, but rather general activity throughout the day every day and 20-30 minutes specifically carved out for exercise on most days. This can be in the form of a resistance training gym session, a walk instead of a drive to the grocery store, a prenatal yoga class, swimming, playing tag with your toddler, or anything else you enjoy that also elevates your heart rate a bit.
Making these adjustments to your diet and increasing your physical activity will decrease your risk of developing gestational diabetes. If you’ve already been diagnosed, these tips will help you manage the condition and diminish the amount of medicinal intervention needed.
If you’re at a loss for what to eat or how to combine foods, feel free to contact me for help with meal-planning. I’ll devise customized menu options to fit your preferences and lifestyle that also promise variety and flavor!