If you have just received a diagnosis of gestational diabetes, the first thing that you need to know is that you are not to blame. That sinking sensation, the feelings of guilt and shame – let them go. It is not your fault. Finding out that you are at risk of sugar levels spiking during pregnancy is absolutely the best thing that could have happened for you and your baby. Chances are, it is almost entirely down to your genetics and not something you could have prevented. If you would like to read more about gestational diabetes in pregnancy, and my experience of it during two pregnancies and two stress-free labours, take a look at the post ‘Why you shouldn’t refuse this test in pregnancy.’ To learn more about the tricks I learned when coping with a low-carb gestational diabetes diet for a combined time of ten months, read on.
Please note, I am not a dietitian or a medical professional and these tips are based entirely on my personal experiences. You should consult your doctors, nutritionist, or diabetes team about changes to your diet while suffering from diabetes in pregnancy.
Gestational Diabetes Diet – Tips and Tricks
Sugar and Carbohydrate
Most people realise that high sugar foods like cakes, chocolate and biscuits need to be eliminated on a gestational diabetes diet. However, being careful about starchy foods is just as important. That slice of bread or bowl of pasta may seem like it shouldn’t contain sugar, but that carbohydrate turns straight to sugar when it is broken down in your blood stream. If the cereal that you thought was low sugar and oh so healthy is spiking your post-breakfast reading, it is because of carbohydrate.
Check out the labels on all food and focus on the carbohydrate and ‘of which sugars’ part. Low sugar is important, and a lower carbohydrate figure significant too. But the relationship between the numbers is also really important. The higher the ‘of which sugars’ part in the relation to the overall carbohydrate, the more fast release sugar there is. You want slow release sugar, so your body has to really work to break it down.
Foods that are high carbohydrate but slow release sugar include:
- wholemeal pasta
- seeded bread and wholemeal bread
- wholemeal rice
A good tip is to cook wholemeal pasta, allow to cool and then reheat before eating. I think this allows some of the bonds in the food to reform, making it harder to breakdown. Seeds on bread are also excellent as the seeds take longer to break down.
Fruit, Vegetables and Nuts
Although you might consider fruit to be a good snack, especially as an alternative to something unhealthy, unfortunately it is full of sugar. Natural sugar, yes – but sugar will spike your readings wherever it comes from. You need to regulate portion sizes and you may need to avoid some fruits entirely.
- Berries like blueberries and strawberries (palm size protions)
- Eating good fats with fruits – yoghurt and cream
- Fruit juice – fruit is already broken down and goes straight to bloodstream
- Dried fruit like raisins and sultanas
You may be able to eat dried fruit and bananas in moderation, but if you are looking for a culprit for an unexplained spike, those fruits may be responsible.
A great alternative to fruit is nuts. Nuts are much lower in carbohydrate and high in good fats that your body breaks down before it gets to the carbohydrates. I lived on nuts as snacks for both my pregnancies.
Even vegetables contain sugar, though some more than others. For example, carrots gave me higher readings if I ate them in large quantities. Generally though, vegetable and meat portions will increase a little to fill you up more when carbohydrate in your diet decreases.
- Replace half of the spaghetti in a recipe with courgette and carrot strips
- Replace potatoes with sweet potatoes and squashes
- Add lentils to bulk up meals in place of some of the rice, pasta or potatoes
- Don’t overcook veg
Fat is your friend (in moderation!)
The light at the end of the tunnel is cheese.
For a gestational diabetes diet, fat is good. Obviously you need to chose the healthiest fats and avoid the saturated ones. As with any diet, you are aiming for a healthy balance. But not only will fat not spike your blood sugar on its own, it also actively helps you tolerate more carbohydrate in your diet. Your body has to work harder to breakdown the fat and sugar at the same time, meaning that the sugar is broken down more slowly.
Cereal with full fat milk is better
Toast with butter is better
Strawberries with cream are better!
If cheese is not your thing, milk, cream, natural yoghurt and eggs can make life on a restricted diet more bearable.
Meat is mostly protein (and sometimes fat) so it is also your friend. The more naturally prepared the meat, the better. Watch out for sausages and burgers that have things like added breadcrumbs. If a product is 100% meat, all the better.
Finally, remember that raw and non-broken down food is best.
If you have potatoes, large chunks, or whole potatoes, not mash or chips.
Under-cooked or raw fruit and veg is always better, as it is harder to break down.
Unprocessed meat is better as some processed meat has added water and sugar.
Drink lots of water and keep hydrated after every meal. Try to be active in between eating and testing – these things will help you break down sugar better too.
For more information about how much carbohydrate and sugar can be found in various foods, check out the glycemic index (GI). Good luck with the gestational diabetes diet, the rest of your pregnancy and have a large slice of cake for me when your little one has arrived safely!