Lifestyle changes, including diet and physical activity, play an important role in the treatment of gestational diabetes. Some women with the condition are even able to control their blood glucose levels through these things alone – however, most will still need medications, such as insulin.
One of the best ways that you can manage your gestational diabetes is to make sure that your diet is balanced and healthy. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to diet, so it is just as important to enjoy the food that you eat during pregnancy.
Tips for eating well
1. Careful with carbs
All carbs affect your blood glucose levels, so be aware of the amount you eat. Your diabetes healthcare team will help you. You may be advised to:
- eat less carbohydrate
- choose better types of carbohydrates
- spread carbohydrates throughout the day.
Try to choose nutritious carbohydrate-containing foods, such as wholegrain starchy foods, pulses, fruit and vegetables. Limit the intake of highly processed carbohydrate foods, such as white bread, refined cereals and ready meals that have added fat, salt and sugar.
2. Go low
Low glycaemic index (GI) foods helps to control blood glucose levels. Lower GI options include muesli, porridge, multigrain bread, granary/seeded bread, wholewheat pasta, basmati rice, yam, plantain, quinoa, beans, lentils, dhal, and most fruits and vegetables.
3. Less sugar
Aim to reduce the amount of added sugar you have.
You can do this by:
- reducing your intake of processed foods, especially sugary drinks, snacks and desserts
- reading food labels and choosing low/reduced-sugar versions of food and drink where possible
- knowing other names for sugar on the food label – sucrose, glucose, dextrose, fructose, lactose, maltose, honey, invert sugar, syrup, corn sweetener and molasses
- making your own treats and experimenting using less sugar
- using artificial sweeteners – some people worry about the safety of sweeteners, but talk through the different options with your healthcare team if you have any concerns.
4. Be regular
Eat meals on a regular basis, which usually means planning for three meals a day – with or without healthy snacks – and avoiding long gaps in between. This will help you control your appetite and blood glucose levels.
5. Perfect your portion sizes
This will help you manage your blood glucose levels and prevent too much weight gain during pregnancy.
6. Avoid ‘diabetic’ foods
They offer no special health benefits, are expensive and may have a laxative effect.
7. Eat five a day
Use veg to bulk up your meals and snack on fruit or vegetable sticks instead of sweets, crisps and biscuits. Don’t go overboard with fruit juices and smoothies (drink no more than a small glass – 150ml – a day), and eat fruit throughout the day, rather than a huge portion in one go.
A portion is:
- 1 piece of fruit, such as a banana or an apple
- a handful of grapes
- 1 tablespoon dried fruit.
Fish and gestational diabetes
Fish is good for your health and the development of your baby, so it’s good to eat it regularly. The general recommendation is to eat at least two portions (one portion is about 140g) per week, including one or two portions of oily fish, eg mackerel, sardines, salmon, herrings, trout or pilchards. Oily fish is also beneficial to heart health, but don’t have more than two portions a week.
Avoid fish which tend to have higher levels of mercury, eg swordfish, shark and marlin, and limit tuna, – which can also have relatively high amounts of mercury – to up to four medium-sized cans or two tuna steaks a week. It’s also advisable to avoid raw shellfish, to reduce the risk of food poisoning, which can be particularly unpleasant during pregnancy.
Managing your weight
Don’t aim to lose weight while you’re pregnant – this could be unsafe for you and your baby. However, making small changes to your diet and physical activity levels can help you to avoid gaining too much weight during your pregnancy. It will help you to manage your gestational diabetes better and help to reduce the risk of complications.
It is important to maintain dietary and lifestyle changes after you’ve given birth, to reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes in future pregnancies. It will help to reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, too.
Ask your healthcare team to refer you to a dietitian.
Alcohol and gestational diabetes
There is some debate about the safety of alcohol intake during pregnancy. The safest option is not to drink alcohol at all while pregnant. It is particularly important to avoid it during the first three months, as alcohol may be associated with increased risk of miscarriage.
For pregnant women, getting drunk or binge drinking (drinking more than 7.5 units of alcohol on a single occasion) can be harmful to your baby. So, if you choose to drink alcohol during pregnancy, it is advisable to stick to a maximum of 1–2 units once or twice a week. Alcohol can also make hypoglycaemia (hypos) more likely, if you treat your gestational diabetes with insulin or glibenclamide.