What to Eat with Gestational Diabetes According to Dietitians

If overwhelmed with what to eat with gestational diabetes, learn how to nourish a safe and healthy pregnancy here!

What to Eat with Gestational Diabetes According to Dietitians

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy when the body does not produce enough or no longer responds to insulin. It is tested for around 24 to 28 weeks of the pregnancy and is essential to test for even if the pregnancy seems normal. 

Gestational diabetes is a potentially serious health concern. However, diagnosed women can manage gestational diabetes under doctor supervision and with a healthy diet and exercise plan.

Know It is possible to combine the nutritional needs of the growing baby along with following a diet for gestational diabetes. Wondering how? Our dietitians give their top advice for simple yet research-backed tips for what to eat with gestational diabetes. 

Top Gestational Diabetes Diet Tips

Getting diagnosed with gestational diabetes can be scary, but the good news is following a gestational diabetes diet, along with physical activity, can help manage it.

In general, a healthy gestational diabetes diet includes eating a wide variety of foods while emphasizing high fiber carbs combined with lean proteins and heart-healthy fats. Here is a closer look at what, and why, of what is recommended for gestational diabetes.

1. Eat the Right Kind of Carbohydrates

A growing baby’s main source of fuel is glucose. With gestational diabetes, the mother’s blood sugar is high. What can happen in an overabundance of fuel going to the baby results in a larger than normal baby. This could increase the risk of birthing complications or a c-section.

Gestational diabetes does not mean cutting out all carbs, it means choosing the right carbs. According to a 2019 review on gestational diabetes, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends a diet with ≥175 g of carbohydrates daily to ensure healthy fetal growth and development. 

To lower the risk of a larger baby but still supply adequate nutrition, the focus should be on eating balanced meals with carbohydrate sources that won’t spike blood sugar. 

Avoid foods that will spike blood sugar such as sweetened drinks, white bread, packaged snacks, sugary cereal, candy, baked goods, fruit juices, etc.

Examples of high-fiber carbohydrates to include in a gestational diabetes diet that won’t spike blood sugar include:

• Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, oats, and whole wheat bread
• Non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, beets, and celery sticks
• Legumes like lentils, black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, peanut butter, etc.
• Whole fruits without added sugar
• Unsweetened, low or non-fat dairy products

2. Combine Carbs with Healthy Fats and Lean Proteins

Besides choosing the right carbohydrates, another key aspect of a healthy gestational diabetes diet plan is eating lean proteins and healthy fats with the carbohydrates listed above.

Following the MyPlate at meal times can help keep eating balanced meals simple. Aim to make half your plate filled with fruits and vegetables. Have one quarter a whole grain, one quarter a lean protein, and a cup (or serving) of dairy on the side. 

Lean proteins include:

• Skinless chicken or turkey
• Fish and seafood
• Lean pork and beef
• Eggs
• Legumes
• Tofu or tempeh

Heart-healthy fats include:

• Olive oil
• Avocados and avocado oil
• Nuts, seeds, and nut butters

It is best to limit or avoid foods high in saturated and trans fats like fast food, desserts, processed meats, and fried food.

3. Include Balanced Snacks for Gestational Diabetes

Throughout pregnancy the amount of food that is comfortably eaten can change based on morning sickness, cravings, and changes in digestion from the growing baby. Getting adequate nutrition during pregnancy usually involves eating three regular meals and can include snacks in between.

Snacking with gestational diabetes follows the same tips for meals. Aim to eat high fiber carbohydrate sources, like fruits and vegetables, paired with a protein and/or fat source. Getting protein at snacks can help keep you feel full and ensure the release of glucose (broken-down carbohydrates) is released slowly from the gut into the bloodstream.

Healthy snacks for gestational diabetes can include:

• Pairing plant-based proteins like edamame or nuts/seeds with a piece of fruit or cut up raw veggies
• Dipping whole-grain crackers or veggies with hummus
• A handful of nuts
• Cut up apple or celery sticks with nut butter
• Unsweetened Greek yogurt with a handful of berries and a few tablespoons of chopped nuts
• Hard-boiled egg, sliced avocado, and whole-grain bread

4. Make Healthy Eating Easy

Making healthy meals and snacks when pregnant can seem extra challenging. Besides enlisting other family members and friends to help with meal prep and cooking, there are ways to make eating healthy easier during (and after) pregnancy.

Meal plan for the week as much as possible. This includes planning meals, forming a shopping list, and prepping meals ahead of time when it makes sense. When cooking one meal, make double portions to freeze for an easy meal to make later.

Keep breakfast easy but healthy by making blender breakfasts like smoothies, drinks, or even healthy pancakes, waffles, or muffins.

Stick with your grocery list when shopping. Avoid making impulse purchases only to later feel like you are having to battle the temptation to not eat a certain food you got at the store.

If looking for convenience and doctor-approved meal recommendations, turn to BistroMD. BistroMD offers a wide variety of a customizable, doctor-designed meals, including diabetic options, to support your health goals. In addition, you get the support of on-staff Registered Dietitians for any questions or concerns.

5. Avoid Sugary Drinks

This was touched on in point number one, but it bears repeating. Sugary drinks, even if fruit-based, can go almost directly into the bloodstream to spike blood sugar. They should be limited/avoided with gestational diabetes due to the risk of keeping blood sugar elevated.

Stick primarily to water to keep you hydrated during pregnancy, and use sliced or crushed fruit to add some natural sweetness if desired. Other choices include sparkling water, unsweetened tea, or coffee as tolerated.

Milk and dairy products are good sources of nutrients especially needed during pregnancy. However, they are sources of carbohydrates. It is recommended to limit drinking milk with gestational diabetes to one cup at a time with meals or snacks.

What about diet drinks and gestational diabetes? The University of California San Fransisco Health suggests Aspartame, (including Equal, NutraSweet, Natra Taste), Acesulfame K, and Sucralose (including Splenda) are considered safe for pregnancy. However, water should ideally be the primary liquid of choice. 

Recap: What Is a Gestational Diabetes Healthy Diet?

A gestational diabetes diabetic diet should emphasize naturally high-fiber carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Pair carbohydrates with lean proteins and heart-healthy fats to support stable blood sugar levels during pregnancy.

Sugary drinks, along with simple carbohydrates, should be limited/avoided to best support healthy blood sugar levels. Mostly consume water to support a healthy pregnancy as well. 

Keep in mind what is best for each individual pregnancy needs can vary. Discuss with your doctor and meet with a dietitian to create an individualized gestational diabetes diet and exercise plan to best suit your needs.

References:

Fenneld. What to eat when on a gestational diabetes diet. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-should-you-eat-when-youre-on-a-gestational-diabetes-diet-plan/. Published June 24, 2021. 

Gestational diabetes diet: Medlineplus medical encyclopedia. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007430.htm

McIntyre HD, Catalano P, Zhang C, Desoye G, Mathiesen ER, Damm P. Gestational diabetes mellitus. Nature News. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41572-019-0098-8. Published July 11, 2019. 

UCSF Health. Dietary recommendations for gestational diabetes. ucsfhealth.org. https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/dietary-recommendations-for-gestational-diabetes. Published June 24, 2022.

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