What type of pregnancy diet should I follow if I have gestational diabetes?

What type of pregnancy diet should I follow if I have gestational diabetes?

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If you have gestational diabetes (GD), choosing the right food to eat is important. Keeping your blood sugar stable by eating healthy food and exercising makes it less likely that you and your baby will face complications due to your gestational diabetes. In fact, many women with gestational diabetes can manage their condition without taking medication by following a healthy eating plan, monitoring their blood sugar, and exercising regularly.

Watching what you eat also helps you gain a healthy amount of weight during pregnancy. A dietitian or your doctor can help with managing your diet and make recommendations about your carbohydrate intake and the number of calories you should eat throughout the day.

Do I need to monitor carbohydrates?

Yes. The amount and type of carbohydrates (natural starches and sugars) in food affects your blood sugar levels. With gestational diabetes, you'll need to track your carbohydrate intake in particular.

Setting a limit on the amount of carbohydrates you eat at each meal is important to managing your blood sugar. Your dietitian or doctor is likely to recommend that your total amount of carbohydrates be limited to about 40 percent of your daily calories and that your remaining calories be divided between proteins (about 20 percent) and fats (about 40 percent).

What do I need to know about carbohydrates if I have gestational diabetes?

Try to eat more foods that contain mostly complex carbohydrates rather than those with only simple carbohydrates. Although both types are turned into glucose (blood sugar) and used for energy, complex carbohydrates also provide the vitamins, minerals, and fiber you and your baby need. Complex carbs also take longer to digest and release sugar more slowly into your bloodstream than simple carbs, which are quickly broken down by your body.

Complex carbs are found in:

  • Whole grains that are high in fiber, such as brown rice and whole-grain bread; choose these instead of refined versions, like white bread and rice
  • High-fiber legumes, such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas

Avoid refined sugar and processed foods and drinks that are high in added sugars, such as candy, cakes, and sodas. Fruit juices and honey should also be avoided because of their high sugar content. Note that some natural foods – such as fruits, milk, and dairy products – also contain simple carbs, but these have health benefits. They should be included in your pregnancy diet in moderation.

If you're craving something sweet, the artificial sweeteners aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal), acesulfame potassium (Sunett), and sucralose (Splenda) are considered safe to use during pregnancy. However, research on use by pregnant women is limited. If you're going to use these sweeteners, do so in moderation. Also, be aware that some foods with artificial sweeteners may be highly processed and contain simple carbs.

If all this seems overwhelming, know that you don't have to make these changes on your own. Your dietitian or doctor will give you plenty of information to guide you when making food choices. Your provider can also help with meal planning.

How do I reduce my blood sugar level during pregnancy?

One way to stabilize your blood sugar levels is to follow a specific meal plan. Ask your doctor about meeting with a registered dietitian who can create a diet particularly suited to you based on your weight, height, physical activity, and the needs of your growing baby, as well as on your blood glucose levels. She'll also take into account your personal food preferences.

Note: If dietary changes aren't enough to keep your blood sugar in a healthy range, you'll need to take insulin (which you give to yourself with a needle) or an oral medication that lowers blood sugar levels. If your practitioner prescribes one of these medications, you'll need to meet again with your dietitian to reassess your diet.

A dietitian starts by determining how many calories you need each day. Then she teaches you how to determine portion sizes and how to balance your meals with just the right amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. She'll also make sure that you're getting enough vitamins and minerals.

When you're trying to control gestational diabetes, what you eat isn't the only factor to consider. How and when you eat is important too. You can help keep your blood sugar level even by following these guidelines:

  • Include some lean protein at each meal to help balance blood sugar. Protein helps to make you feel fuller, sustain energy, and give you better blood sugar control.
  • Have three small meals plus two to three healthy snacks every day to keep your blood sugar level stable.
  • Try to space out your meals and snacks evenly throughout the day so you eat something every two to three hours.
  • Eat a snack containing some carbohydrates and protein before you go to bed. Your blood sugar tends to go down and then go up at night. Eating a snack helps to keep it closer to normal.
  • Eat a good breakfast. Your blood glucose levels may be higher than normal in the morning. That's because your body is trying to provide you with the energy needed to start your day. To keep your levels in a healthy range, you may have to limit carbohydrates (breads, cereal, fruit, and milk), boost your protein (eggs, cheese, peanut butter, nuts), and possibly avoid fruit and juice altogether.
  • Don't skip meals. Be consistent about when you eat meals and the amount of food you eat at each one. Your blood sugar will remain more stable if your food is distributed evenly throughout the day and consistently from day to day.
  • Avoid foods and drinks that contain simple sugars, such as sodas, fruit juices, and desserts, which will cause your blood sugar level to spike.

Can exercise help me control my blood sugar?

Yes. Diet and exercise can work together to stabilize your blood sugar. Talk to your provider about how much exercise you should add to your daily routine. Many women with gestational diabetes can aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise at least five days a week. Even something as simple as walking for 10 to 15 minutes after each meal can help control your blood sugar level.

What foods should I eat if I have gestational diabetes?


Up to 40 percent of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates, and most should be complex carbohydrates. Good choices are foods that provide the essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber you need:

  • Legumes, such as beans, chickpeas, and lentils
  • Brown rice
  • Whole oats and whole-oat-based cereals, such as porridge, oat bran, and muesli
  • Whole-grain, multigrain, and pumpernickel breads
  • Low-fat milk and dairy products
  • Fruits such as apples, oranges, pears, peaches, and mangoes
  • Vegetables such as broccoli, green beans, squash, salad greens, cabbage, and carrots
  • Starchy foods such as potatoes, corn, peas, and whole-wheat bread in moderation


Proteins should make up about 20 percent of what you eat each day. Try to stick to lean protein sources that are lower in unhealthy fats:

  • Fish such as cod, catfish, tilapia, and shrimp
  • Chicken and turkey without the skin
  • Select or Choice grades of beef with the fat trimmed off
  • Eggs or egg whites
  • Beans
  • Tofu and other soy products


The remainder of your calories, about 40 percent, should come from fats, at least 30 percent of which should be healthy (unsaturated) fats, such as:

  • Olive, safflower, and canola oil
  • All-natural peanut butter (check labels, since some can contain unhealthy trans fats)
  • Nuts such as almonds, cashews, and walnuts
  • Avocados

What foods should I limit?

  • Fruit: Whole fruit contains healthy vitamins and minerals, and also sugars. Limit fruit to one to three portions a day, but only eat one at a time. A portion can be a very small piece of fruit, half or less of a large fruit like an apple, or a half cup of sliced fruit. Avoid fruit canned in syrup.
  • Starchy vegetables: Foods such as potatoes, peas, corn, and whole-wheat bread should be limited to about 1 cup or 2 slices of bread per meal, because your body eventually breaks down starches into glucose.
  • Dairy: Milk and other dairy products are high in lactose, a simple sugar, so limit the amount of milk you drink to 1 cup at a time (and try to stick with low-fat dairy products). If you're looking for a new beverage of choice, try club soda with a squeeze of lemon or orange, or unsweetened decaffeinated iced tea.

What foods should I avoid?

Simple carbohydrates

Avoid refined foods and sugars, and foods and beverages high in simple carbohydrates, which can lead to spikes in your blood sugar level:

  • Fruit juice
  • Soda and sweetened beverages
  • White bread
  • Short-grain white rice
  • Refined table sugar
  • Honey
  • Candy, sweets, and desserts, such as cakes, cookies, and ice cream

Unhealthy fats

Limit unhealthy saturated fats and trans (hydrogenated) fats to less than 10 percent of your calories per day:

  • Butter
  • Highly processed foods, such as crackers, chips, and baked goods
  • High-fat dairy products, such as full-fat cheeses and whole milk
  • High-fat meats, such as regular ground beef, hot dogs, and bacon

I'm overweight or obese. How does this affect my GD diet?

If you were obese before becoming pregnant, your provider may recommend limiting or reducing calories so you don't gain too much as your baby grows. But it's important to talk to your doctor about your individual situation before making any changes to your calorie intake.

I've been referred to a dietitian. What can I expect?

You'll get medical nutrition therapy (MNT), which is a personalized eating plan you'll work out with your dietitian. This will take into account your weight and how many calories you need each day. A dietitian will talk to you about:

  • How to count carbohydrates
  • How many and what type of carbohydrates to have daily
  • When to consume carbohydrates
  • Planning healthy meals and snacks
  • Timing insulin with food consumption
  • The impact of exercise on diet and insulin
  • Getting the fiber, vitamins, and minerals you need for a healthy pregnancy

As your pregnancy progresses, your dietitian may make changes to your MNT based on the results of blood sugar monitoring and how much weight you've gained. If you need to start taking insulin, you'll still need to follow an eating plan, but a dietitian will likely make some changes to take your treatment into account.

Visit the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine's website for more information and to find a maternal-fetal medicine specialist near you.

Watch the video: Best exercise for gestational diabetes. How to help control gestational diabetes. (August 2022).

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