Between weird food cravings and intense aversions, following a healthy diet when you're pregnant can be challenging—especially if you've been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. A condition caused by elevated blood sugar levels, gestational diabetes can affect the welfare of both mother and child, but maintaining a balanced diet is one proven way to help manage the symptoms.
Gina Charles, D.O., has dealt with gestational diabetes both as a patient and as a physician in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. During her own recent pregnancy, she was diagnosed at 28 weeks. "Since it was not severe, I was placed on strict diet control instead of insulin," she says. "With the help of a diabetic educator and my own knowledge of managing gestational diabetes, I developed a meal plan that fit my busy lifestyle."
Fortunately, a gestational diabetes meal plan isn't too different from a standard healthy diet. The American Diabetes Association recommends aiming for a ratio of 25 percent protein, 25 percent grains and starchy foods, and 50 percent non-starchy vegetables. Recommended items on a gestational diabetes food list include:
And when it comes to forbidden foods? You probably won't be surprised to learn that fast food, fried food, candy, sodas, and processed carbs are all on the do-not-eat list.
Andrea Moore, nutritionist and doctor of physical therapy in Renton, Washington, who also suffered from gestational diabetes during her own pregnancy, says that food combinations matter, too. "One food by itself can spike levels, but eaten in combination with others, it may be just fine," she says. "The worst offenders are foods that are mainly a carbohydrate, which does include fruit as well. If you are eating something like fruit, or even healthy carbs like sweet potatoes, make sure to have it with healthy fats and proteins."
Dr. Moore suggests starting the day with a low-carb breakfast if you have gestational diabetes. "Universally, our systems are most reactive to carbohydrates and sugars first thing in the morning," she says. Here's her sample meal plan for the day:
Breakfast: 3 cage-free eggs, avocado, and homemade organic turkey sausage
Lunch: Organic mixed baby greens with chopped vegetables, pulled free-range chicken thighs, and a handful of pumpkin seeds with "dump ranch"
Dinner: Wild-caught salmon with asparagus and side of sweet potato with coconut oil and cinnamon
Dr. Charles notes that it's important to snack several times a day as well. "As a gestational diabetic, it is recommended to have a snack between meals so you maintain adequate blood glucose," she says. Her go-to gestational diabetes snacks: baby carrots with hummus, trail mix, and homemade blueberry yogurt parfait.
Both Dr. Moore and Dr. Charles advise working closely with a doctor or nutritionist to develop a personalized gestational diabetes diet plan. "Everybody is an individual," Dr. Moore says. "Studies show that while there are certain foods that tend to universally spike blood sugar, there are also many foods that spike it in some people, but not others. So even healthy, low-carb foods can create blood sugar spikes." That's why it's important to track fasting blood sugar and levels after meals with a reliable monitor, rather than simply tracking symptoms, she says. Many symptoms that people associate with low blood sugar, such as feeling weak, jittery, and irritable, can also be a symptom of high blood sugar.
Eating a balanced diet is important for any woman with gestational diabetes, but keep in mind that it's not the only factor when it comes to managing the condition. "Stress also creates [blood sugar] spikes, so if a certain diet feels very stressful, it may not have the expected therapeutic benefits," Dr. Moore notes. "This is why treating the whole person and not just one piece is so important…The more balanced your body is, the better you feel—so in the late stages of pregnancy, you can absolutely have plenty of energy, feel vibrant and have smooth, stable moods, even while managing gestational diabetes."