If you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you might be wondering what foods you should eat, what foods you should avoid and what else you can do to have a healthy pregnancy.
According to a 2014 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 9.2 percent of women are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, a condition in which your body can’t produce enough insulin, which causes high blood glucose levels.
Gestational diabetes can lead to pregnancy complications and problems during labor and delivery, so managing it now is key.
What’s more, although gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that only occurs during pregnancy, it can still increase your risk for developing type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure down the line.
The good news is that through diet, exercise and an active lifestyle, you can manage the condition during pregnancy and create healthy habits that will benefit you and your children for years to come.
Here, learn what a healthy gestational diabetes diet looks like and how to stay healthy during pregnancy and beyond.
1. Talk to a nutrition expert
One of the most common pregnancy nutrition myths is that during pregnancy, you should eat for two.
During the first trimester of pregnancy however, you don’t need to eat extra calories.
And throughout your second and third trimesters, you only need an additional 300 to 450 calories a day, which can be spread across two healthy snacks.
If you’re overweight or obese and you have gestational diabetes however, the amount of pregnancy weight gain varies depending on your body mass index (BMI).
To get a better idea of how many calories you need each day, how much weight you should gain and what foods to eat, ask your OB/GYN or midwife to make a referral to a medical nutrition therapist or a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN).
2. Eat regular meals
If you’re dealing with morning sickness, it can be tempting to avoid eating, but skipping meals can cause your blood sugar levels to drop.
Eating breakfast is particularly important and will also help you make healthy diet choices the rest of the day. Aim for a combination of protein and fiber, such as an egg with blueberries or Greek yogurt with berries and a low-sugar granola.
Try for 3 meals and 2 small snacks a day and be mindful of your portion sizes.
3. Pick protein
Foods high in protein help balance blood sugar so it’s a good idea to get some at every meal and snack.
Eggs, fish, meat, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh and edamame are all great sources of protein.
4. Be choosy about carbs
To avoid spikes in blood sugar, it’s important to pay attention to the types and amount of carbohydrates you eat.
Complex carbohydrates are typically high in fiber, which keep blood sugar levels steady and stave off hunger.
Complex carbohydrates such as whole grain bread, brown rice or quinoa (a seed) are best. Also, try to combine complex carbs with protein and a healthy fat like avocado to help you feel satisfied.
Avoid refined carbohydrates like white bread, white rice and potatoes as well as juice, soda, and sugar-sweetened beverages which lack nutrition and will spike your blood sugar.
5. Focus on foods with a low glycemic load (GL)
You’ve probably heard about eating foods that have a low glycemic index (GI), but glycemic load (GL) is a more accurate measurement of a particular food’s effect on blood sugar.
Glycemic load describes the quality (GI) and quantity of carbohydrate in a serving, meal or diet, according to this article.
Aim for foods with a glycemic load of less than 10 including:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Whole grain breads and cereals
Starchy vegetables likes peas, carrots, and butternut squash as well as some low-glycemic fruits are OK, but they should have less of a focus in your diet.
6. Choose healthy fats
Healthy fats give you energy, promote satiety and are important for your baby’s brain and eye development.
Focus on monounsaturated fats like avocado, olive oil, and almonds and polyunsaturated fats like those found in flaxseed and chia seeds.
Fish like salmon and herring are also excellent sources of healthy fats but because of mercury exposure, check the FDA and EPA’s chart for those with the lowest amount of mercury and how many portions are safe to eat.
7. Avoid foods that spike your blood sugar
It’s important avoid foods that will spike your blood sugar including processed foods, fast food and foods that are refined and high in sugar.
Be sure to read labels carefully because many foods like yogurt, salad dressings, marinades, and condiments are sneaky sources of sugar and should be avoided.