Gestational diabetes and your diet

If you have gestational diabetes, your diet will become an important part of managing your condition and keeping your pregnancy safe.

Some women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes manage to keep their blood sugar levels under control using diet and exercise alone.

If you have gestational diabetes, you need to limit the amount of sugary foods and drinks you have. These foods raise your blood sugar levels very quickly. You will be shown how to monitor your blood glucose levels and, as you go on, you will see which foods are raising these levels too high.

Carbohydrates and blood sugar levels

Generally, 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.

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. The glycaemic index was devised to show which foods release sugar quickly and which ones don't. Look for options that have a low glycaemic index.

 Read more about the glycaemic index and find a list of foods that have a low glycaemic index (low GI) here.

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. 

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

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.

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.

Eat little and often

The other thing you can do to keep your blood glucose levels fairly constant is to eat little and often. Start with a good breakfast and top up through the day with regular meals, with or without snacks. If you treat your diabetes with insulin or glibenclamide, it helpful to always carry healthy snacks with you, such some pieces of fruit, so you can have this if you suspect your blood glucose levels are dropping. Having a healthy snack means you can avoid becoming too hungry or having to rely on convenience food.

Trial and error

Everyone is different and what works for some women might not work for you. Some women find that porridge, fruit or other foods, even though they are generally recommended, do not work for them as they increase their blood glucose levels. If you find it hard to control your blood glucose levels, try not to get frustrated. Over time, you will learn what works for you.

"If I had bread it would be a really good quality bread, and just one slice. Then fish and vegetables and a lot of cheese. And oatcakes! Oatcakes were the things that saved me!" Michelle, mum of two

Tips for eating well with gestational diabetes

  1. Eat regular meals, including breakfast.
  2. Watch your portion sizes, there's no need to 'eat for two'. Portion size will have the biggest effect on your blood glucose level.
  3. Include carbohydrates but look for low GI options and don't have too much.
  4. Get your five vegetables a day for vitamins, minerals and fibre for you and your baby.
  5. Cut back on salt, too much salt is associated with high blood pressure, which increases the risk of diabetes complications. 
  6. Remember that drinks count too. Stick to water and sugar-free alternatives, and if you drink fruit juice limit it to one small glass (150ml) as day.
  7. Don't look for 'diabetic' foods. Diabetes UK says they are expensive and contain as much fat and calories as ordinary versions, and they can also have a laxative effect.

Read more:

Understanding the glycaemic index

Meal ideas with gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes and managing your weight

Read more about diet and exercise with gestational diabetes

Read more about treatment for gestational diabetes

Sources

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

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