Gestational Diabetes: Managing Risk During and After Pregnancy Video - Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Gestational Diabetes Diet: Tips For Managing High Blood Sugar During Pregnancy
Pregnancy isn’t for the faint of heart. In addition to everyday annoyances like nausea, swelling, backaches, and gas, up to 10 percent of moms-to-be are also stuck with gestational diabetes, according to the (CDC).
This type of diabetes develops during pregnancy, typically in the second or third trimester. It’s caused by a surge of insulin-impairing hormones produced by the placenta which raise blood sugar. Over time high blood sugar can lead to insulin resistance, and in some cases, it can progress to gestational diabetes. All pregnant women are at risk for gestational diabetes, but being overweight before getting pregnant, gaining too much weight during pregnancy, or having a family history of diabetes can all increase your risk, according to The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Gestational diabetes usually goes away after giving birth, but it could increase your risk of type 2 diabetes later in life.
Gestational diabetes increases the risk of C-section, premature labor, and large birth size.
Gestational diabetes symptoms are usually pretty mild, and may include feeling thirstier or have to pee more often than usual. Still, managing gestational diabetes is vital. The condition can pose health risks to both you and your baby. Moms may develop high blood pressure, and babies may develop low blood sugar and be at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes when they're older, according to the CDC. The condition also increases the risk of C-section, premature labor, and large birth size, which can make labor more difficult.
How to deal with gestational diabetes
1. Choose quality carbs
When you have gestational diabetes, the extra glucose (or sugar) that’s present in your body forces your pancreas and your baby’s pancreas to work harder. “Since carbohydrates often contain large amounts of glucose, it’s important to understand the right type of carbs to eat and how your body responds to them,” explains prenatal and postpartum nutrition expert Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN.
That means choosing complex, minimally processed carbs over highly processed refined ones. Complex carbs are rich in fiber, which slows digestion and keeps your blood sugar levels steadier, says Lily Nichols, RDN, CDE, author ofReal Food for Gestational Diabetes. Some wholesome carbs include:
- Whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice, or quinoa
- Whole wheat bread and pasta
- Beans and legumes like chickpeas, black beans, and lentils
- Vegetables and fruit
2. Ditch sugar and refined carbs
Without fiber to slow down their digestion, refined carbs cause your blood sugar to spike and fall quickly. That forces your body to produce higher levels of insulin to process all of that extra sugar, which can worsen insulin resistance. To avoid this, you’ll want to avoid or minimize your consumption of:
- Sugary drinks like soda, sweet tea, or juice
- White bread and white pasta
- Other foods made with white flour or refined grains, like baked goods
3. Mind your portions
Even when you eat the right kind of carbs, you’ll still need to pay close attention to the amount on your plate. How much should you aim for? There’s no one-size-fits-all recommendation, Nichols says. The right serving size will depend on your calorie needs and activity level, as well as the amount of carbs that your body can tolerate without spiking your blood sugar.
Figuring that out can take some trial and error. A registered dietitian who’s also a certified diabetes educator can help you come up with a good starting point, and can also show you the appropriate carb serving sizes for meals and snacks.
From there, you can use an app like My Fitness Pal or Chromometer to easily track your carb intake and work with your RD to make tweaks as needed based on your blood sugar levels. “You can adjust up or down based on your individual tolerance,” Nichols says. “For instance, if your blood sugar is above range after you had a sandwich for lunch, you may want to try an open-faced sandwich the next day or even a lettuce wrap.”
4. Indulge carefully
Despite the fact that sweets force your body to produce higher levels of insulin to process the extra sugar (which can worsen insulin resistance), that doesn’t mean treats are entirely off-limits during your pregnancy. Everyone is different, but there’s a good chance you’ll still be able to indulge in a small portion of dessert once in a while.
“We all want a cupcake at our baby shower, right? The key is to eat these foods more sparingly,” Shaw says. Your dietitian can help you figure out how often you can treat yourself and what an appropriate serving size would be.
5. Pair carbs with protein and fat
In addition to choosing fiber-rich carbs, you’ll want to pair those carbs with healthy sources of protein and fat, recommends says Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, author ofFeed the Belly: The Pregnant Mom’s Healthy Eating Guide. Some good options include:
- Lean proteins like chicken, beef, fish, and eggs
- Unsweetened dairy foods like milk, plain yogurt, or cottage cheese
- Nuts, seeds, and unsweetened nut butters
- Olive oil
Adding these foods to your meal or snack promotes even slower, steadier digestion, which can help you control your blood sugar, Shaw says. Here are a few examples of how to pair a carb with some protein and fat:
- Breakfast:Garden vegetable omelet (protein, fat) with fresh cherries (carb)
- Lunch or dinner:Grilled salmon salad (protein) with vinaigrette (fat) and a whole grain roll (carb)
- Snacks:1/4 cup of mixed nuts (protein, fat) and a clementine (carb), or a piece of string cheese (protein, fat) with a 1/2 cup of berries (carb).
6. Make healthy lifestyle changes
A healthy diet isn’t the only thing that can help you keep your gestational diabetes in check. There are a few other steps you can take, too. In addition to keeping up with your prenatal visits, aim to move for at least 30 minutes, five days a week, the CDC suggests. Exercise helps the extra sugar in your bloodstream to be used as fuel, Shaw says. You can’t go wrong with low-intensity activities like brisk walking.
Video: Gestational Diabetes: Introduction
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