Gestational Diabetes Diet
Are you wondering “What can I eat on the gestational diabetes diet?” This can’t be answered simply because each body reacts differently. For example, some mamas are able to eat rice and still get a blood sugar reading within limits, while others cannot tolerate even a spoonful of rice without their blood sugar spiking. Finding out what you can and can’t tolerate will be a trial-and-error journey; however, there are general guidelines to help. Let’s go through a brief explanation of the diet, because understanding the basics will empower you and allow you to eat what you like!
The gestational diabetes diet groups foods into three main categories based on how the body processes the food’s nutrients: proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Here are the diet’s food groups, although these lists are not all-inclusive.
1. The primary focus is carbohydrates because they have the biggest effect on blood sugar. You should know that carbohydrates are not created equal. Have you heard of good carbs and bad carbs? Well, in the context of the gestational diabetes diet, good carbs are slowly processed by your body and will likely not cause your blood sugar to elevate quickly (spike), and bad carbs rush into your blood, causing spikes.
You may think, “I’ll just cut out all carbs to make it easier.” Well, that’s not a good strategy because carbs are the body’s primary source of energy. So, instead of cutting all carbohydrates, become familiar with which foods are good carbs and which are bad carbs.
Good carbs are largely found in nature’s goodies like vegetables, nuts, beans, and fruits, whereas bad carbs are found in heavily processed foods, rice, grain flours, and starchy vegetables. This doesn’t mean that you can’t eat a baked potato, rice or bread; rather, it means that you’ll have to strictly portion these bad carbs to avoid spiking. In some cases you may have to avoid certain foods altogether, like the mother in the earlier example that can’t tolerate even a spoonful of rice.
If you are uncertain as to whether a food is good or bad, you can Google its glycemic index. Foods that are 55% or lower are considered low-glycemic and are better choices. Unfortunately, there isn’t one consolidated database for every food, but you can get a general idea of where a foods lies on the glycemic index scale from Google’s search results.
Perhaps the easiest way to balance your diet is through this visual representation. Fill half of your plate with vegetables: greens are safest but that doesn’t mean you’re limited to just green veggies. Try whatever you like, and mix it up so you don’t grow tired of them. The other half of the plate is portioned into one-fourth for protein and one-fourth for carbohydrates like fruit, rice, etc. It is important to note that servings are often smaller than we realize, so be mindful that a large apple may have to be split into two servings.
2. Next in the fight to stabilize blood sugar is fiber. Fiber is counted as a carbohydrate, and is listed as such on nutrition fact labels (see below). However, fiber is a good carb because it actually fights to regulate blood sugar. Because the body processes fiber differently from other carbs, you’ll see the term “net carbs” on some products and recipes. This means that the fiber has been subtracted from the carbohydrate count. The figure below shows how to read nutrition labels.
Fiber is also what helps bowel movements. Between pregnancy in general and the amount of cheese we eat on this diet, fiber is definitely needed! The easiest way to get enough fiber in is through green veggies. If you find that you’re not eating enough fiber, there are additives/supplements that can be found in the store’s laxative section. I recommend chia seeds or flaxseed; found in the flour aisle.
3. Another fighter is protein. Get it in at every meal and snack. Think of it as being a block that carbohydrates have to pass.
4. Before we conclude, let’s talk about the morning blood sugar reading, also known as “fasting” reading. Not only is your blood sugar effected by what you eat, it’s also effected by the amount of time between each time you eat. So that means it fluctuates even while you sleep. The goal is to have stable blood sugar around-the-clock: any extreme, whether high or low, is unwanted. So, to prevent an extreme, it is recommended to eat a protein-heavy, carb-light bedtime snack. A couple examples are string cheese or Greek yogurt.
The fasting reading is the most sensitive, and a lot of factors effect it: sleep, stress, the time interval between bedtime snack and fasting reading, type of snack, etc. I’ve noticed a couple of trends that mothers report (in GD support groups on FaceBook). If the bedtime snack and fasting reading are done at the proper times, the next step is to change what you’re eating. If the protein-heavy bedtime snack doesn’t produce a good fasting reading, some mothers try dairy foods like milk or ice cream. The change does help some mothers. I have even seen a few mothers say that eliminating the bedtime snack is what finally brought their fasting reading within range. Anything is worth a try before resulting to insulin.
As a side note, this is why the support groups on FaceBook are so important. No doctor, dietitian or nutritionist will tell you to eat ice cream before bed, or eliminate the bedtime snack. These groups offer real-life and real-time support and suggestions that you can’t get anywhere else.
There is more to the gestational diabetes diet but these are basic tidbits for reference. None of the information on this site is medical advice, nor should it be used to replace medical advice. Your doctors and partners will guide you more effectively and inform you more thoroughly.
1. Each body is different and finding what works for you will be a trial-and-error journey.
2. Get a general idea of which foods are good carbs and which are bad carbs.
3. When in doubt, Google the food’s glycemic index and/or test the food with a strict portion size.
4. Visually portion your plate with half as veggies, one-fourth as protein and one-fourth as carbs.
5. Fiber is a fighter, so increase it!
6. Include protein and carbs at each meal and snack.
7. Eat a protein-heavy, carb-light bedtime snack.
Extra – Drink lots of water!
We found “Real Food for Gestational Diabetes: An Effective Alternative to the Conventional Nutrition Approach” (affiliate link) to be a great, plainly-stated, in-depth resource.