Gestational Diabetes Diet

Written by Janelle Martel | Published on June 25, 2012
Medically Reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE on May 29, 2014

Diet and Nutrition for Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs when the level of blood glucose (blood sugar) rises during pregnancy.

Gestational diabetes testing is usually done between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. If you have risk factors for diabetes, your doctor may recommend that testing be done earlier in the pregnancy. If you have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you will need to be tested six to 12 weeks after giving birth to see whether the diabetes is still present. Diabetes usually resolves itself after you deliver, although you are at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

According to the American Diabetes Association gestational diabetes affects 18% of pregnancies. Gestational diabetes increases the risk of having a large baby, which may cause problems with delivery as well as the risk of having a baby born with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Respiratory distress, jaundice, and low calcium and magnesium levels are also more common in baby’s whose mothers have gestational diabetes. Finally, there is a higher risk of your baby developing diabetes later in life. Changing your diet is generally the first method of treatment for gestational diabetes.

General Nutrition Guidelines

The number of calories you should consume each day depends on certain factors, such as your weight and activity level. In general, pregnant women should increase their consumption by 300 calories per day from their pre-pregnancy diet. Three meals and two to three snacks per day are recommended. Eating smaller meals more frequently can help you keep your blood sugar level stable.

Most likely, your doctor will recommend that you monitor blood sugar levels to help your doctor and health care team develop a plan for managing the gestational diabetes.

Testing your blood sugar after meals tells you how that meal affected your blood sugar. You doctor will let you know what your blood sugar levels should be. General recommendations are to keep sugar levels no higher than 95 mg/dL before eating, no higher than 140 mg/dL one hour after eating, and no higher than 120 mg/dL two hours after eating.

You may notice that your blood sugar levels are higher in the morning even though you have not eaten. This is because hormones released in the night can raise your fasting blood sugar. For some people, eating a snack before bed can help. For others, managing the carbohydrate eaten at breakfast is important. Testing your blood sugar levels can help you and your health care team figure out the best meal plan for you.

Doctors may also recommend that pregnant women take a prenatal multivitamin, iron supplement, or calcium supplement because of the need for more vitamins during pregnancy. This will help the baby develop normally.

Carbohydrates Sources

Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy.

It is the carbohydrates in foods that raise blood sugar. The amount of carbohydrate you eat with your meals should be monitored carefully. Measure portions so you know how much you are eating, and record this for your health care team at each meal and snack, so if your blood sugar levels are out of range you can decide whether you need to change your diet. However, eating too few carbohydrates can also cause problems. That is why good tracking and record keeping is key.

Tracking carbohydrates can be done by either counting grams of carbohydrates at each meal and snack, or tracking the servings of carbohydrates. Talk to your dietitian and health care team for more information.

You should try to consume carbohydrates with each meal so that the carbohydrate consumption is spread throughout the day. This can help keep your blood sugar levels stable.

Starches and grains provide carbohydrates to the body. It is best to choose starches that are high in fiber and made with whole grains. Not only are these types of carbohydrates more nutritious, but they are also digested more slowly. Good choices include:

  • whole grain bread and crackers
  • brown rice and pasta, quinoa, buckwheat, or amaranth
  • whole grain cereal
  • legumes, such as black beans, or kidney beans
  • starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and corn.

Milk and yogurt also provide carbohydrates to the body. It is counted in the total carbohydrate content of your meal or snack. Milk is a valuable part of a meal pan because it provides a good amount of calcium, which is important for bone health. Low fat dairy may be a better choice if you are trying to manage your weight gain with pregnancy. Soy milk is an option for vegetarians or people who are lactose intolerant. Soy milk has carbohydrates. Almond milk is not a carbohydrate source and may help you if you need to limit your carbohydrate at a particular meal but still want a milk-type product.

Fruits provide carbohydrates and are also counted in the total carbohydrate content of your meal or snack. Whole fruits are high in fiber and preferred over juices or canned fruits packed in sugar.

Sweets also provide carbohydrates. While you do not need to completely avoid sweets, you should monitor your intake of these foods closely as they can raise your blood sugar more quickly than higher fiber, more complex carbohydrates. Sweets often have more carbohydrates in a smaller serving than other carbohydrate foods.

Guidelines for Protein Intake

Protein is an essential component of a healthy diet. Many protein options are also rich in B vitamins, which can help prevent birth defects. Protein sources do not have carbohydrates, so they do not raise blood sugar. Most women with gestational diabetes require two to three servings of protein each day.

One serving of protein is equal to one of the following:

  • 3 oz. of cooked meat
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup of beans
  • 1 oz. of nuts
  • 2 tablespoons of nut butter
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt

To reduce fat intake, eat lean cuts of meat with any visible skin and fat removed.

Eating the Right Vegetables

It is important to consume a wide variety of vegetables to get the nutrients needed for both mother and baby. Eating three to five servings of vegetables each day is recommended.

One serving of vegetables is equal to one of the following:

  • 1 cup of leafy vegetables
  • ½ cup of chopped vegetables
  • ¾ cup of vegetable juice

You should specifically try to eat dark green and yellow vegetables, because veggies these colors contain more nutrients.

Dietary Fat Sources

Fats do not raise blood sugar since they do not have carbohydrates. However, they are a concentrated source of calories, so if you are trying to manage your weight gain, you may want to manage your fat intake.Healthy fats are essential. Nuts, seeds, avocado, olive and canola oil, and flax seed are just a few examples of healthy fats. For overall health limit saturated fats such as lard, bacon, etc., and trans fats, which are found primarily in processed foods.

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