About Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes is a condition in which glucose levels are elevated during pregnancy. Typically, the condition appears when the pregnancy is between 24 and 32 weeks, and it ends after the baby is delivered. With that said, gestational diabetes can be developed outside that time frame.
Blood sugar levels in the body remain stable because of insulin. However, pregnancy can interfere with insulin’s ability to do its job. There are hormones produced by the placenta that can lead to high blood sugar levels. If blood sugar isn’t properly controlled, it can lead to increased risks and complications for both mother and baby. Women are also more likely to develop gestational diabetes if they have developed it in previous pregnancies.
The Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes
It can be difficult for women to notice the symptoms of gestational diabetes. Some women don’t experience any symptoms at all, while others assume that they’re experiencing symptoms related to pregnancy. In many cases, women only learn they have this condition because they are screened for it. Symptoms that have been linked to this condition include:
- An increase in thirst
- An increase in appetite
- An increase in urination
The Causes of Gestational Diabetes
The pancreas releases a hormone called insulin every time you eat. This hormone enables glucose, a type of sugar, to move from the blood to the cells. This gives your body the energy it needs.
When you’re pregnant, hormones that are produced by the placenta can increase glucose levels in the blood. In most cases, the pancreas is able to produce enough insulin to manage this. However, if your body is unable to produce sufficient insulin, or if it’s no longer able to use insulin effectively, it can cause blood sugar to rise. This can lead to the development of gestational diabetes.
What Increases the Risk of Developing Gestational Diabetes?
While gestational diabetes can be developed by any pregnant woman, there are certain factors that may lead to an increased risk such as:
- Pregnancy in women over the age of 25
- High blood pressure or heart disease
- Sedentary lifestyles
- Family history
- Development of gestational diabetes in previous pregnancies
- History of birthing babies with a weight of more than nine pounds
- Being of Asian, Hispanic, Black, or Native American descent
Testing for and Diagnosing Gestational Diabetes
In the majority of cases, gestational diabetes develops during the latter half of a pregnancy. It’s normal for doctors to test for GD between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy. For women who are high risk, however, testing may occur earlier.
To check for GD, you’ll need to undergo a glucose tolerance test. You’ll be asked to consume a beverage that contains 50 grams of glucose. This will cause your blood sugar to rise. After an hour has passed, your blood glucose levels will be tested. If your results are above a certain level, you’ll be asked to take a 3-hour glucose tolerance test. For this test, you’ll be given a drink containing 100 grams of glucose and will have your blood glucose levels tested three hours later. Alternatively, your doctor may request that you complete a 12-hour fast. Afterwards, you’ll be asked to consume a beverage containing 75 grams of glucose. Your blood glucose levels will be tested two hours later.
Even if you have normal test results, you may be asked to submit to future tests if you are high risk.
The Ideal Blood Sugar Levels for Pregnant Women
According to the American Diabetes Association, women should be within these target blood sugar levels during pregnancy:
- Before eating: 95 mg/dL or lower
- One hour after eating: 140 mg/dL or lower
- Two hours after eating: 120 mg/dL or lower
Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Diet
- Include protein in all of your meals
- Eat fruits and vegetables every day
- Reduce your intake of processed foods
- Avoid overeating by monitoring your portion sizes
Sticking to a healthy diet may make it possible to manage the symptoms of gestational diabetes without the use of medication.
Ideally, you should eat a balanced diet that includes proteins and a suitable amount of healthy fats and carbohydrates. If your carbohydrate intake is too high, it could cause your blood sugar to spike. You should focus on feeding your body healthy, complex carbohydrates. Whole grains, legumes, and starch-rich vegetables, such as butternut squash and sweet potatoes, are all excellent options.
If you’ve received a gestational diabetes diagnosis, or if you’ve been informed that you are at risk for developing this condition, you should speak with your doctor about working with a nutritionist that specialises in this area.
By working with a dietician, you can develop a healthy and enjoyable meal plan that will help you and your baby stay healthy throughout your pregnancy.
The Nutrients Your Body Needs
Proteins, fibre, and healthy fats should be the basis of all your meals. You should avoid processed foods and opt for fresh food as much as possible. It’s a good idea to keep healthy, easy-to-prepare foods around your home so that you won’t be tempted to reach for junk food when you’re hit with a pregnancy craving. Foods that are high in protein and fiber also tend to be very filling. When you eat satiating meals, you’re less likely to have unhealthy cravings later on.
The ability to tolerate carbohydrates when you have gestational diabetes may vary. According to recent studies, it is easier to maintain healthy blood sugar levels if less than 40% of your calories come from carbohydrates.
With that said, you should be aware that there are a number of factors that can impact your need and tolerance for carbohydrates. This could include your weight, medications, and ability to control blood sugar.
That’s why it’s best to work alongside a healthcare team that includes both your primary care provider and a nutritionist. They can help you to develop a customised meal plan that will help you to maintain optimal blood sugar levels throughout your pregnancy.
Healthy Options for Snacking and Meals
Eating a snack can be a way to maintain stable blood sugar levels. It can also be a great option when you feel hungry near the end of the day. If you’re concerned about gestational diabetes, and you’re looking for healthy snack and meal options, nutritious options include:
Vegetables: You can prepare fresh or frozen veggies in all kinds of ways. You could roast them, steam them, or even eat them raw. You may want to pair vegetables with some sort of protein, such as cheese or hummus.
Egg white omelets: Eggs are packed with protein and nutrients. Add in some vegetables to make your omelet even more nutritious.
Steel cut oatmeal: Steel-cut oats have a low glycemic index and are high in fiber. You can sweeten your oatmeal with all kinds of healthy ingredients, including berries, nut butter, nuts, or pumpkin seeds.
Chicken breast: Make sure you don’t remove the nutrient-rich skin!
Fish: Fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and trout, are a particularly smart choice.
Sweet potato toast: For more calories and nutrients, try adding cherry tomatoes or mashed avocado.
Greek yogurt: You can mix fruit or seeds into this protein-rich yogurt. Cinnamon is also a great way to add extra flavor.
Is It Okay to Eat Fruit?
You don’t have to give up fruit if you’ve developed gestational diabetes. However, you will need to make sure that you don’t eat too much of it. Fruits that are low in sugar, such as berries, are a solid choice. You can eat them in oatmeal, yogurt, or in a smoothie. If you like crunchy foods, you can even try freezing them. Remember, different people have different levels of tolerance for carbs. If you need assistance with tracking how many carbohydrates are in your favorite foods, or if you have questions, take the time to talk with a nutritionist.
Keeping Track of Carb Intakes
While you don’t have to avoid foods that contain carbs, you should try to space out the carbs you eat throughout the day. This can help to keep your blood sugar from spiking.
According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, women that have gestational diabetes should consume approximately three meals and two to four snacks each day.
Additional ways you can properly regulate your blood sugar levels include:
- Limiting the amount of carbs you eat per sitting
- Opting for complex carbs
- Pairing carbs with healthy fats or protein
- Not skipping meals
- Eating a breakfast that’s high in both fiber and protein
- Staying away from sugary foods
It’s normal for blood sugar levels to rise after eating foods that are high in sugar. This is especially true for processed foods and foods that contain refined sugar. Because of this, any woman that’s been diagnosed with gestational diabetes should strictly limit the amount of sugary food that they eat.
Foods to stay away from include:
- Ice cream
- Fruit juices w/added sugar
Fruit and milk can be enjoyed by women that have gestational diabetes, but they should be eaten in moderation
Selecting Unsaturated Fats
All healthy diets should include unsaturated fats. Some of the best examples include:
- Peanut oil
- Olive oil
- Many seeds and nuts
- Tuna fish
Foods to Stay Away From
It’s also important to stay away from foods that could cause your blood sugar levels to spike if you have gestational diabetes. While you don’t need to avoid these types of foods completely, they should be eaten in moderation.
Limit Your Intake of High-Starch Foods
Foods that are high in starch are also high in carbohydrates. These kinds of foods can really raise your blood sugar levels, which is why you’ll want to avoid eating them in large quantities. You should stick to smaller portions or stay away from them completely. High-starch foods include:
- White bread
- White potatoes
- White rice
- White pasta
Whole grains, such as brown rice and whole wheat bread, are a more nutritious option. With that said, they’re still carb heavy. You’ll want to be careful about how many of these foods you eat.
Stay Away from Hidden Sources of Carbs and Sugar
Foods and beverages that are high in carbs or sugar aren’t always obvious. It’s wise to pay attention to what you’re consuming. Products that contain more carbs and sugar than you might expect include:
- Processed foods
- Condiments like ketchup and salad dressings
- Fast food
Maintain a Healthy Weight
It’s normal to gain weight while pregnant, but too much weight could cause your blood pressure to rise and have other adverse effects on your health. You shouldn’t try to lose weight during pregnancy, nor should you feel the need to maintain a strict diet. With that said, you and your care team should monitor your weight and take steps to avoid excessive weight gain.
One of the best things you can do to maintain a healthy weight is to make lifestyle changes regarding your physical activity levels and diet. Doing this will also help you to maintain a healthy blood sugar level. After you’ve given birth, you can lower your risk for type 2 diabetes if you breastfeed.
Make fish a regular part of your diet. It’s packed with nutrients that will help your developing baby, and it’s great for you too!
Ideally, you should be eating a minimum of two portions of fish each week. At least one of those portions should be an oily type of fish, such as salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, pilchards, or sardines. Eating oily fish can help to keep your heart healthy. Just make sure you don’t eat more than two portions of oily fish each week. These fish can contain low levels of toxins. 140g is considered to be one portion of fish.
Stay away from fish that are very high in mercury, such as shark, swordfish, or marlin. You should also watch your intake of tuna fish. Limit yourself to either two tuna steaks per week or four tuna cans. This is another fish that can be high in mercury.
Certain types of fish should be avoided during pregnancy, such as raw shellfish. Talk to your doctor about what you can safely eat during your pregnancy.
Gestational diabetes could increase your baby’s risk for:
High birth weight: When mothers have higher blood sugar levels, it could impact the baby’s growth. If a baby is over nine pounds, there is an increased risk of complications during delivery. This could include necessary C-sections, birth injuries, or wedging in the birth canal.
Premature birth: When blood sugar is high, women are more likely to go into labor early. In some cases, a doctor may advise that the baby be delivered early because of its size.
Respiratory issues: When babies are born premature to mothers that have gestational diabetes, they may have difficulty breathing. Some babies develop a condition known as respiratory distress syndrome.
Hypoglycemia: In some cases, mothers with high blood sugar may give birth to babies with very low blood sugar. More severe cases could lead to seizures. The baby’s blood sugar level can be stabilized if it is fed immediately. In some cases, it may be necessary for the baby to receive an intravenous glucose solution.
Increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes: The children of mothers that develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy are more likely to become obese or develop type 2 diabetes.
Stillbirth: If gestational diabetes is not properly treated, it could be fatal for the baby.
What Should You Stay Away From If You Have Gestational Diabetes?
In spite of what people say, you don’t need to completely eliminate certain types of foods from your diet after a gestational diabetes diagnosis. Instead, you should focus on eating a balanced diet. Carbohydrates and sugar should only be eaten in moderation.
Still, it’s best for people with gestational diabetes to stay away from certain types of food, such as:
- Sugary beverages: Stay away from fruit juice and soda. Juice may seem healthy, but it’s a source of both carbs and sugar. If you’re craving a sweet drink, you could try adding lemon to your water. You could also drink flavored water or try sparkling water, such as LaCroix.
- Sugary foods: If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll want to be careful about how you satisfy those cravings. Cake and candy should be avoided. You should also be careful about eating too much fruit! If you do need a sweet treat, stick to a small portion of full-fat ice cream.
- High-starch foods: Women that have gestational diabetes don’t need to rule out carbs such as pasta, potatoes, and white bread and rice. However, they should limit their intake. It’s best to pair these foods with fats or proteins. If possible, you should opt for a version that is high in fiber or something that contains whole grains.
- Zero-carb diets: Carbs are something the body needs, even when you have gestational diabetes. While you should limit your carb intake, you shouldn’t cut them out entirely.
Developing a Healthy Meal Plan for Gestational Diabetes
Balance is key when you’re putting together a meal plan that will help you to maintain a healthy blood sugar level. According to experts, it’s best to include protein, healthy fats, carbohydrates, and a non-starchy vegetable in each meal that you eat. As an example, whole wheat sandwiches with lettuce, avocado and lean meat are a terrific option for lunch.
Are you trying to find healthy, gestational diabetes-friendly recipes that you can prepare at home? You’ll find a few ideas below. There’s no shortage of healthy and tasty options available to you. Best of all, if you start eating healthy now, you’ll be able to maintain a healthy diet after you give birth.
Breakfast: One Hard-Boiled Egg
- Calories: 155
- Protein: 1/2 serving
- Nutrition fact: You’ll get lean protein from eggs, which is a great way to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Breakfast: A cup of low-fat or fat-free milk
- Calories: 102
- Calcium: 1 serving
- Nutrition fact: Just one 8-ounce glass of milk can provide you with 30% of the calcium your body needs for the day.
Breakfast: 1/2 English muffin topped with a tablespoon of peanut butter
- Calories: 161
- Fat: 1/2 serving
- Whole grains: 1 serving
- Nutrition fact: When you eat proteins and healthy fats, like the ones contained in peanut butter, alongside carbohydrates, it can help to keep your blood sugar from spiking.
Snack: 1 cup low-fat plain yogurt with 1/2 cup of berries and 2 tablespoons of walnuts
- Calories: 287
- Fruit: 1/2 serving
- Nutrition fact: Berries are loaded with antioxidants and nutrients. A small serving of berries can provide 17% of the daily vitamin C your body needs.
Lunch: Open-faced caprese sandwich with chicken
- Calories: 240
- Protein: 1/2 serving
- Fats: 1 serving
- Whole grains: 1 serving
- Vitamin C: 1/2 serving
- Nutrition fact: While whole grains are always a healthy choice, they’re particularly beneficial for women with gestational diabetes. Because they break down slowly, they can impact your blood sugar levels gradually.
Snack: Veggie sticks with 1/3 cup of hummus
- Calories: 201
- Vitamin C: 2 servings
- Vegetables 4 servings
- Legumes: 1/2 serving
- Nutrition Fact: Since hummus is made out of chickpeas or other legumes, it’s an excellent option for pregnant women. Legumes are also complex carbohydrates, which means they cause your blood sugar to rise gradually.
Dinner: Salmon with goat cheese and grilled peaches served over arugula
- Calories: 397
- Protein: 1/2 serving
- Calcium: 1/2 serving
- Fruit: 1 and 1/2 servings
- Vegetables: 3 servings
- Fat: 1/3 serving
- Nutrition fact: Not only is salmon low in mercury, but it’s also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. It’s important to make sure that fish is a regular part of your diet when you’re pregnant.
Snack: Crackers with cottage cheese, flaxseed, and cherry tomatoes
- Calories: 169
- Whole grains: 1 serving
- Protein: 1/2 serving
- Vegetables: 1/2 serving
- Vitamin C: 1 serving
- Nutrition Fact: If you have gestational diabetes, you’ll definitely want to include fat-free or low-fat cottage cheese in your diet. It’s a way for you to get more lean protein and calcium.
While it may seem difficult to manage the symptoms of gestational diabetes by changing your diet, it’s far less difficult than it seems. The guidelines above will help you to develop a healthy meal plan that works for you. You’ll be able to stay healthy and limit your stress during this important time, and you’ll be able to develop healthy habits that you can maintain after you give birth.