A gestational diabetes diet can help you manage your blood sugar levels during pregnancy. This provides long-term benefits for both the mother and baby.
However, it can be hard to control your cravings during pregnancy, making it hard to eat a healthy diet.
In this guide, we’ll highlight why your doctor may have told you to eat a gestational diabetes diet. Plus, you’ll learn tips for how to make healthy food choices.
Why Do I Need A Gestational Diabetes Diet?
Did you know that one in six pregnancies is affected by gestational diabetes? The increase in diabetes cases affecting people worldwide is also taking its toll on our babies. Gestational diabetes is first diagnosed during pregnancy and can adversely affect the pregnancy and the baby’s health.
The good news is that it usually disappears after delivery and can be well controlled with a healthy diet, exercise, and medications. However, keep in mind that even with these modifications, you still need to check your blood sugar and you’re at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes.
Gestational diabetes usually occurs in the 24th to 28th week of pregnancy. As the pregnancy hormones rise, they nullify insulin’s effects, causing high blood sugar levels. It is difficult to predict who will get gestational diabetes. But certain factors increase your likelihood of suffering from it. These include:
- Being overweight and obese
- Lack of exercise or physical activity
- Having prediabetes or gestational diabetes in the previous pregnancy
- Suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome
- Having a family history of diabetes
- Having delivered a big size baby previously (weighing more than 9 lbs)
- Black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Asian American women have a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes.
Gestational Diabetes Symptoms
Some women with gestational diabetes don’t experience any noticeable symptoms because the symptoms are similar to normal pregnancy. They are often diagnosed with high blood sugar levels only during routine pregnancy blood tests. Sometimes, your blood sugar levels rise very high. In that case, you may experience excessive thirst, an urge to pee more often, tiredness, but a better appetite than before.
However, these are common symptoms in normal pregnancy and do not necessarily indicate gestational diabetes. Hence it is important to undergo your routine pregnancy blood tests so that your doctor can diagnose and treat gestational diagnosis early and prevent complications.
Though most women with gestational diabetes have uneventful pregnancies and healthy babies, it may cause complications in certain cases. Mothers with gestational diabetes are at a higher risk of:
- Having a large-sized baby which leads to difficulties during normal delivery and birth. It increases the chances of needing induced labor or cesarean section.
- Having an increased amount of fluid around the baby (polyhydramnios) can cause premature labor and issues at the time of delivery.
- Preterm birth or birth before the 37th week of pregnancy.
- High blood pressure during pregnancy or preeclampsia can cause serious pregnancy complications if not treated.
- Your baby may suffer from low blood sugar levels or jaundice after birth.
- Rarely, gestational diabetes may cause stillbirth
Even if you have an uneventful pregnancy and your blood sugar levels return to normal, you will continue to be at an increased risk for type 2 diabetes in your future life. Also, you have a significantly higher chance of having gestational diabetes in your future pregnancies.
Gestational Diabetes Treatment Options
Treatment of gestational diabetes aims to keep the blood sugars as close to normal as possible with a healthy diet and exercise. If these don’t help, your doctor might prescribe you some blood sugar-lowering medicines that are safe for your unborn baby, such as metformin and insulin. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) advocates invigorating qi (vital energy) and nourishing yin, and strengthening the Spleen and Kidney to combat gestational diabetes.
Basics of a gestational diabetes diet
Be choosy about what you eat. Select only healthy and nutritious foods without too much fat and calories. Be careful of the number of carbohydrates you eat. All carbs increase blood sugar levels, but how much and for how long depends on the types of carbs you eat.
Opt for healthier carbs and control your portion sizes. Swap white bread for bread made from multigrain, whole grain, wholemeal, rye, linseed, or pumpernickel flour. Replace your snack bowl of chips with baked plantain or sweet potato and have brown rice instead of white rice.
You should be selective and eat nutritious food without too much fat and calories. Avoid high-sugar foods and fruits like durian, mango, juices, sweetened beverages, and pastries. Also, limit carbohydrates like white rice and white bread.
“Increase fiber in your meals like vegetables, fruits, whole-grain bread, crackers, and cereals. Pulses like chickpeas, beans, and lentils are good sources of proteins and healthy carbs. A study on women’s diet before pregnancy shows that a daily increase in fiber by 10g can reduce the risk of gestational diabetes by 26%,” said Physician Lim Sock Ling.
Cut down on your sugar intake. Ditch the sugary sodas and fruit juices and stick to water, plain milk, or decaffeinated tea and coffee. If you are not able to down your drink without sugar, use low or zero-calorie sweeteners. Ensure you use only the ones deemed to be safe in pregnancy. Eliminate pastries, chocolates, ice creams, and biscuits from your diet, at least until you have your baby in your arms.
During pregnancy, ensure you stock well on healthy snacks like plain or low-sugar yogurt, unsalted nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables for the hunger pangs. It would help if you didn’t start or go on a strict diet during pregnancy – only control your portions and make healthy choices.
Stay active to control blood sugar
Try to stay active and engage in exercise to control your weight. Walking, swimming, and prenatal aerobics classes can help you lower and keep your sugar levels in control. However, do seek guidance from your doctor on how much and the type of activity you can undertake. It’s very important to seek medical advice first before any exercise, especially during pregnancy (and mostly, a pregnancy with any complications, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.). Your doctor may ask you to restrict movement due to other health conditions or complications with your pregnancy.
Herbal remedies to add to your diet
You can also consider adding these foods or herbs to your diet that are beneficial for gestational diabetes:
- Mai dong tea: A study investigating the effects of Mai dong on insulin resistance shows that Mai dong is beneficial in managing gestational diabetes and reducing blood glucose levels, according to Physician Lim. This tea is a traditional Chinese medicine used for yin deficiency conditions, such as dry cough and palpitation, and is often paired with American ginseng. It tastes sweet, slightly bitter, and slightly cooling. It also helps regulate milk supply and is safe for consumption in moderation during pregnancy.
- Corn silk added to soup or tea is neutral and sweet, expels heat, calms the liver, and benefits the gallbladder.
- White fungus and snow pear soup nourish yin and help with gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes need not stop you from enjoying the most beautiful moments of your life. Take this as an opportunity to improve your health for your baby’s well-being and have a safe and joyful pregnancy.