Gestational diabetes is a condition in which a woman who doesn’t have diabetes develops high blood sugar during pregnancy. It usually goes away after the baby is born. But it’s vital to manage gestational diabetes because high blood sugar affects both your health and your baby’s health.
It’s often possible to manage your blood sugar with the right combination of diet and exercise. This article offers up some common-sense meal planning advice for those with gestational diabetes. Exercise is a great way to complement your new diet. Walking for at least 15 minutes 3 or 4 times a week can help with gestational diabetes management and improve your blood sugar.
Read on for healthy snack and meal ideas, as well as what foods to avoid or eat in moderation.
General Diet Guidelines
Eating a healthy, balanced diet and following these general diet guidelines will go a long way toward managing your blood sugar.
Make sure you:
- Eat about every 3 hours during the day to avoid becoming overly hungry.
- Pass on sugary foods and sweetened soft drinks, which can spike your blood sugar.
- Choose whole grain carbs like oats, brown rice, or whole wheat pasta over refined carbs like white rice or regular pasta. Refined carbs raise your blood sugar faster.
- Eat plenty of high fiber foods like vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds to help balance blood sugar.
- Include some protein (eggs, fish, chicken, or meat) with each meal and snack. It keeps you full and balances blood sugar.
- Add healthy fats from nuts, seeds, nut butter, or avocado, especially if you need extra calories.
It’s helpful to work with a registered dietitian to design a personalized meal plan for gestational diabetes. They’ll help you select the right foods and portions to manage your blood sugar. You will want to pay close attention to your portion sizes of carbohydrate foods.
Carbohydrates turn into glucose once they’re digested. That glucose gets absorbed into your bloodstream, so eating too many carbs increases your blood sugar. Still, carbs are a vital energy source for you and your baby, so don’t cut them out altogether.
Instead, make sure to eat healthy carbs from these foods:
- Whole fresh fruits (small portions because they’re all carbs).
- Whole grains.
- Starchy vegetables like white or sweet potatoes, corn, peas, and winter squash.
- Beans or legumes, including lentils, chickpeas, and black, kidney, or pinto beans.
- Milk and yogurt.
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Gestational Diabetes Food List
The key to planning healthy meals for gestational diabetes is to start with nutritious whole foods and ingredients. It’s best to steer clear of fast foods and packaged foods with long ingredient lists. It’s also wise to read food labels and avoid foods with added sugar.
These foods provide essential nutrients for you and your baby, and they won’t cause a spike in your blood sugar. Keep this gestational diabetes food list handy for when you’re planning meals:
- Produce: Any fresh or frozen vegetables and unsweetened fruits.
- Whole grains: Oats, brown rice, quinoa, barley, farro, 100% whole grain bread.
- Proteins: Eggs, peanut or almond butter, beans, hummus, tofu, chicken, lean beef, and low mercury fish like salmon or light canned tuna.
- Dairy foods: Plain or low sugar Greek yogurt, regular milk, or unsweetened non-dairy milk.
- Healthy fats: Avocados, nuts, olive oil, and seeds like chia, hemp, pumpkin, and sunflower.
Once you stock your kitchen with the right ingredients, it’s easier to plan healthy meals. Try these balanced meal ideas:
- Overnight oats with berries, nuts, and sunflower seeds.
- Spinach, mushroom, and tomato omelet with a side of whole grain toast.
- Beef, vegetable, and barley soup.
- Roasted broccoli and cauliflower with quinoa and grilled salmon.
- A burrito bowl with black beans, shredded chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, and avocado.
If you want something sweet after a meal, choose a small portion of fresh fruit topped with nuts or a sprinkle of low sugar granola. It’s best to avoid desserts or other sweets because they’re too high in carbs.
Best Snacks for Gestational Diabetes
Snacking is important because it prevents you from getting too hungry and making less healthy choices. But it’s essential to plan out healthy snacks just as you would plan meals. Think of snacks as mini-meals — balance them with some protein, fat, and healthy carbs.
Some snacks for gestational diabetes include:
- Strawberries with Greek yogurt and nuts.
- A handful of whole grain crackers with hummus and raw vegetables.
- Deviled eggs with carrot and cucumber slices.
- Avocado toast sprinkled with feta cheese.
- Apple slices with peanut butter.
Planning healthy meals and snacks helps manage your gestational diabetes — and it’s easier than you might think. It’s a habit that pays off for you and your baby. And it’s a healthy way to eat throughout your life.
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Nutrition is vital for maintaining your overall health. UPMC Nutrition Services offers comprehensive diet and nutrition counseling on a variety of topics, including eating disorders, weight management, and heart disease. Our team provides medical nutrition therapy for chronic conditions such as celiac disease, cancer, and diabetes. UPMC’s network of registered dietitians is available to help guide all patients towards a healthier life.