What Sort Of Diet Should You Follow If You Have Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a condition that develops during pregnancy — it happens when an excess of certain hormones affects the body's ability to use insulin effectively, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, and when the body is unable to use it properly, it can lead to high blood sugar.

The condition affects approximately 2-10% of pregnant women in the United States. It typically develops in the second or third trimester of pregnancy and usually goes away after the baby is born, according to the National Health Service (NHS). However, women who develop gestational diabetes are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life — around 50% subsequently develop type 2 diabetes. 

Symptoms of gestational diabetes may include frequent urination, increased thirst, fatigue, and blurred vision. However, some women may not experience any symptoms at all. Nevertheless, the condition can also lead to various complications, including high blood pressure, premature birth, and the need for a C-section.

For this reason, if you have gestational diabetes, your doctor may advise you to make some diet and lifestyle changes to mitigate the chances of complications.

Diet for gestational diabetes

Research has shown that following a healthy diet can effectively manage gestational diabetes. For instance, a 2016 meta-analysis published in the journal Medicine found that women with gestational diabetes who followed a low-glycemic-index diet had a reduced need for insulin. According to the Mayo Clinic, low-glycemic-index (GI) foods cause a slow and steady rise in blood sugar levels. Foods with a low glycemic index include non-starchy green vegetables, fruits, and legumes (such as lentils and chickpeas). Additionally, nuts and seeds such as almonds, cashews, and macadamia nuts, as well as lean proteins such as fish, poultry, and tofu, can be included in a low-GI diet, says Healthline.

The American Diabetes Association reiterates the above claim and recommends that women with gestational diabetes maintain a healthy diet that includes a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables with limited fat intake. Endocrine Web further recommends limiting or avoiding food and drinks that are high in added sugars and saturated fats. Limit your intake of saturated fats by avoiding full-fat dairy products like butter and fried foods like hamburgers, advises Medline Plus

Fiber is also an important part of a healthy diet. Good sources of fiber include whole grains and whole fruits. Furthermore, when choosing carbohydrates, opt for complex carbohydrates like whole grains. It's also important to spread carbs throughout the day and avoid skipping meals, as pregnancy demands certain nutritional needs for you and your baby, warns the University of California, San Francisco. Lastly, staying hydrated is also vital. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to help flush out excess sugar.

Work with your doctor before making any changes

Generally speaking, when adopting a new diet, it's important to note that your nutritional needs may vary based on factors such as your age, weight, and activity level. It's always best to consult your doctor or registered dietitian to develop a personalized nutrition plan that meets your specific needs. Additionally, regular physical activity, such as walking or yoga, can be beneficial in managing gestational diabetes, as the NHS explains. Exercise can help regulate blood sugar levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and support weight management, per Harvard Medical School

Monitoring blood sugar levels is also an important part of managing gestational diabetes. Your doctor might provide you with a glucose meter so you can monitor your blood sugar at home, and they might adjust your care plan as needed based on your results. Some women with gestational diabetes may need to take medication or insulin to help control their blood sugar levels, says the Mayo Clinic. Attending prenatal appointments is also important for women with gestational diabetes. Regular check-ups can help ensure that blood sugar levels are properly managed and that both mother and baby are healthy.