Healthy eating with gestational diabetes

If you have diabetes in pregnancy, your choice of food is an important part of managing your condition.

All about carbohydrates

If you have gestational diabetes, it’s helpful to understand how carbohydrates (carbs) work. Healthy eating means eating foods that don’t encourage your blood glucose levels to spike. This means looking at the carbohydrates you eat, which include sugars and starchy foods.

"I lost the craving for sweets after about two weeks."Beth, mum of two

Sugars (simple carbohydrates) include sweet foods such as sugar, honey and natural sugars that occur in foods like milk and fruit. Manufacturers add sugar to a wide range of processed foods, from cakes and chocolate to peanut butter or tomato sauce. Some of these foods release sugars instantly into your bloodstream, causing it to spike suddenly. 

Starchy foods (complex carbohydrates) include foods such as pasta, noodles, rice, couscous potatoes and bread. They need to be broken down before the sugars are released into your bloodstream, which means that the process happens more slowly. Wholegrain versions are a good swap from white/processed versions, as they are digested even slower because of the extra fibre.

If you have gestational diabetes, you need to limit the amount of sugary foods and drinks you have.

When it comes to complex carbohydrates, you still need to eat some starchy carbs with each meal, but avoid the ones that are released very quickly into your bloodstream. As you monitor your glucose levels, you will see why: they have a dramatic effect on your blood glucose levels. Look for options that have a low glycaemic index (low GI).

The healthiest sources of carb include wholegrains, pulses (beans and lentils), fruit and vegetables, and some dairy foods. These foods tend to be nutritious and release their sugar at a slower rate.

However, the amount you eat will have the biggest effect on your blood glucose levels so watch your portions.

Read more about foods to avoid in pregnancy, supplements to take and eating a balanced diet.

Remember

Sugars are not just found in food: think about sugary drinks too. Stick to water and sugar-free alternatives, and if you drink fruit juice limit it to one small glass (150ml) as day. Some sugary drinks release sugar into your blood very quickly.

 

Read more about treatment for gestational diabetes

  • Infographic that reads 'the glycaemic index'

    Understanding the glycaemic index

    The glycaemic index is a measure of how quickly sugars are released into the bloodstream.

  • Woman's feet standing on scales

    Managing your weight and gestational diabetes

    Women who are overweight are at higher risk of developing gestational diabetes, although many women who develop it are not overweight at all.

  • Pregnant woman swimming.

    Staying active with gestational diabetes

    Exercise during pregnancy has a wide range of benefits for you and your baby. If you have gestational diabetes, you have even more reason to exercise: it can help reduce your blood glucose.

  • A bowl of tuna nicoise salad.

    Meal ideas for diabetes

    These meal ideas offer some suggestions for meals that could help control your glucose levels, but you will need to use trial and error to find out what works best for you.

  • Pregnant woman carrying yoga mat and water bottle.

    Treatment for gestational diabetes

    Gestational diabetes is normally treated using a combination of methods: medication and self-care, including diet and exercise.

  • Screenshot from video of how to test your glucose levels.

    Monitoring your own glucose levels

    If you have gestational diabetes, measuring your own blood glucose levels will become something you do regularly. It’s very important - it helps to guide your treatment and lifestyle, to reduce the risks for you and your baby.

  • Woman testing her glucose levels.

    Treatment - diabetes self-care

    Once you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you will need to monitor your blood glucose through each day. Depending on what your healthcare team have said, you may also be prescribed some tablets or insulin injections.

  • Woman's blood sugar levels being tested.

    Hypoglycaemia and pregnancy

    Hypoglycaemia happens when your blood glucose levels drop too low. This is more likely to happen if you treat your diabetes with insulin. If you treat you diabetes with diet or metformin alone, you are generally not at risk.

Sources

Last reviewed on March 1st, 2015. Next review date March 1st, 2018.

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