Following a healthy diet is critical during pregnancy, but women who develop gestational diabetes (a form of diabetes that develops while pregnant) can benefit greatly by choosing the right foods and following an exercise plan for blood sugar control. Keep in mind that gestational diabetes may require additional medications and medical attention throughout pregnancy and you should work with your doctor, diabetes educator or dietitian create a plan that will work for your specific needs. In addition to medical management, gestational diabetes, like type 2 diabetes, can be addressed by following a meal plan that helps to balance blood sugars throughout the day while meeting the needs of your growing baby. Here are some steps you can take to control your gestational diabetes and maintain optimal health during pregnancy through diet and lifestyle changes:
Eat Healthy Carbohydrates
Healthy carbohydrates high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are important during pregnancy, even with gestational diabetes. Though carbohydrates raise blood sugars, sources such as fruits, vegetables and whole-grains are digested most slowly than refined sources like white flour, white rice, sugar or sugary beverages. One key to maintaining even blood sugar levels throughout the day is to space out regular meal and snack times. Food choices should contain a balance of whole-grain, high fiber carbohydrates, healthy fat and a protein source. Limiting refined carbohydrates and sugar (think soda, juice, desserts) will help avoid large spikes in blood sugar.
With gestational diabetes, you may notice that blood sugars are highly unstable in the morning hours. Many breakfasts are dominant in carbohydrates, such as pancakes, muffins, cereal, or bagels, so be sure to balance the morning meal so it includes protein and fat as well. Add eggs, tofu, dairy or protein powders to your breakfast choices and be sure your carbohydrates are made from whole grains instead of white, enriched flour. Water will likely be the best bet for beverages as you may notice juice causes blood sugars to spike.
Increase Fiber Intake
High fiber foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, peas, beans, legumes and whole grain breads and cereals are healthy carbohydrate sources. All of these foods have a high fiber content and are digested and absorbed by your body more slowly than simple carbs like sugar, corn syrup or juice. Choosing high fiber foods can help keep blood sugar levels from spiking after meals and also help prevent constipation. The American Pregnancy Association recommends 25-30 grams of fiber per day.
Physical activity is directly linked to decreasing blood sugar levels. Using your doctor's recommendations on what is safe for your pregnancy, walking or other low impact activities can have many benefits during pregnancy including balancing blood sugars with gestational diabetes. Common activities that are comfortable during pregnancy include (but are not limited to) walking, yoga, swimming, and some weight training. Guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend 30 minutes of activity most, and preferably, all days of the week. (http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/37/1/6.full.pdf+html)
Be Compliant with Medical Recommendations
Checking blood sugars, taking medications and injecting insulin could be an unexpected burden on your pregnancy if you develop gestational diabetes, but working with your doctor and complying with the recommendations made is critical to the health of your baby. Certified Diabetes Educators can help teach you the most comfortable ways to stick with the guidelines your doctor has set for the duration of your gestational diabetes. Ask for a referral to a Diabetes Educator or Registered Dietitian if you need support during pregnancy, as they are available to help. Finally, be sure to follow up after your baby is born to be sure that blood sugar levels are back to normal and there is no other medical attention needed.
By following these recommendations for diet and lifestyle support with gestational diabetes, you can help control blood sugars throughout your pregnancy. If you have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, talk to your health care provider about diet and exercise factors to create a program that is right for your needs.
Ginger Hultin, MS, RD, LDN is a Chicago-based dietitian who specializes in integrative oncology. With a Master's degree from naturopathic Bastyr University, she practices plant-based nutrition and specializes in lab interpretation and appropriate supplementation. Ginger also had a passion for fitness and maintains both group fitness and personal training certifications.