Diet and Nutrition for Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs when the level of blood glucose (blood sugar) rises during pregnancy. When it happens, this usually occurs during the second half of a pregnancy and typically disappears with the birth of the baby.

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.

According to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, three to eight percent of all pregnant women in the United States are diagnosed with gestational diabetes (Johns Hopkins Medicine).

Gestational diabetes increases the risk of having a large baby, as well as the risk of having a baby born with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). 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.

It is very important for women with gestational diabetes to eat breakfast. This is because hormone levels fluctuate during sleep, and starting the day with stable blood sugar levels is ideal.

You should keep track of what you eat and should your monitor blood sugar levels to help your doctor develop a plan for managing the gestational diabetes. Use of measuring tools to determine portion sizes so that your food records are accurate is advisable.

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 and Starches

Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. However, monitoring the intake of carbohydrates is important because they are converted into sugar in the body, which can increase blood glucose levels. Carbohydrates should comprise no more than half of your daily caloric intake.

Patients 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. It is also best to choose carbohydrates 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
  • whole grain cereal
  • starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and corn.

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. 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

To reduce fat intake, eat lean cuts of meat with any visible skin and fat removed. Chicken and turkey are leaner than red meats.

Guidelines for Dairy Products

Dairy products are important for pregnant women because they are a good source of calcium. Women with gestational diabetes should try to eat four servings of dairy per day. One serving is equal to one cup of milk or yogurt or 1.5 oz. of cheese.

Non-fat or low-fat dairy options are best for women with gestational diabetes. It is also important to drink no more than one glass of milk at a time. This is because milk is actually a type of carbohydrate and can raise blood sugar levels if you drink too much at once.

Individuals who are lactose intolerant or on a vegan diet can try milk alternatives that include calcium, such as almond or soymilk.

Eating the Right Fruits and Vegetables

It is important to consume a wide variety of fruits and 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.

One to three servings of fruits should be eaten each day. Because fruits contain sugar, only one serving of fruit should be eaten at a time. One serving of fruit is equal to one medium-sized fruit or ½ cup of chopped fruit. Fruit in syrup and fruit juices should be avoided because these contain large amounts of sugar.

Can I Eat Sweets and Fats?

Sweets are high in fat and sugar and should be limited for individuals with gestational diabetes. Patients are strongly encouraged to eat smaller portions of sweets and look for sugar-free options.

Artificial sweeteners can be used instead of sugar, but not all artificial sweeteners have been shown to be safe in pregnancy. Aspartame, acesulfame k, and sucralose have been shown to be safe in small amounts for consumption during pregnancy. Patients should always check with their doctor before consuming these substitutes.

Your fat intake should also be limited. However, it is important not to exclude fats altogether because they help with fetal brain development. Try to choose unsaturated fats, such as vegetable oils, nuts, and avocados. These are healthier than saturated or trans fats, both of which can contribute to high cholesterol.