Eating healthily is an important part of managing gestational diabetes. But when you’ve just been diagnosed, it can be hard to know where to start. So, we’ve come up with tips and recipe ideas.
When you’re diagnosed with gestational diabetes, one of your first questions is likely to be ‘What can I eat?’ With so much to take in, you could come away from your appointments feeling unsure about the answer.
Following our tips will help you to manage your gestational diabetes. Although we can’t tell you exactly what to eat, we’ll help get you started with some options to try for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner.
Don’t forget to stay active, check your blood sugar levels and take medication, including insulin, if you need it – all of these things also play an important part in managing your gestational diabetes.
Tips for eating well with gestational diabetes
These healthy eating tips for women with gestational diabetes are generic. Your care team should talk to you about making changes to your diet and refer you to a dietitian for individual advice that’s right for you.
1. Choose healthier carbohydrates (carbs)
All carbs affect your blood sugar levels, so you need to know which foods contain carbs. Choose the healthier foods that contain carbs and be aware of your portion sizes, which may need changing.
Here are some healthy sources of carbs:
- whole grains like brown rice, buckwheat and whole oats
- pulses such as chickpeas, beans and lentils
- dairy like unsweetened yogurt and milk.
At the same time, it’s also important to cut down on foods low in fibre such as white bread, white rice and highly-processed cereals. You can check food labels when you’re looking for foods high in fibre if you’re unsure.
2. Cut down on free sugar
We know cutting down sugar can be really hard at the beginning, so small practical swaps are a good starting point.
Here are some easy ways to cut down on excess sugar:
- Swap sugary drinks, energy drinks and fruit juices with water, plain skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, or decaffeinated tea and coffee.
- Try low or zero-calorie sweeteners, also known as artificial sweeteners, instead of using sugar. Cutting out these free sugars can help you manage your blood sugar levels.
- Have less processed foods like cakes, chocolates, ice cream and biscuits.
- Know the other names for sugar on the food label. These are sucrose, glucose, dextrose, fructose, lactose, maltose, honey, invert sugar, syrup, corn sweetener and molasses.
“Portion control and reducing sugar were the key factors for me in making sure I didn’t have high blood sugar readings.”
Nicole, who had gestational diabetes in both of her pregnancies – read her story
3. Perfect your portion sizes
This will help you manage your blood sugar levels and avoid too much weight gain during pregnancy. Talk to your care team about what weight gain is right for you. Your weight may be monitored closely while you’re pregnant.
4. Snack attack
If you do need to snack when you have gestational diabetes, choose plain or low sugar yogurt, unsalted nuts, seeds, fruit and veg instead of crisps, chips, biscuits and chocolates. But watch your portion sizes still – it’ll help you keep an eye on your weight.
5. Avoid diabetic foods
The law has changed and manufacturers are no longer allowed to label food as diabetic or suitable for diabetics. They don’t have any special health benefits, they’re expensive, could still affect your blood sugar and may cause an upset stomach.
6. Understand the glycaemic index
Choosing low glycaemic index (GI) foods may help to manage your blood sugar levels. GI is a measure of how quickly foods containing carbs affect your blood sugar levels after you eat them. Some foods affect sugars levels quickly and so have a high GI, and others take longer to affect blood sugar levels and so have a low GI.
You can get the most out of GI by switching to a lower GI food whenever you can and choosing some healthier carbs.
You’ll still need to think about your portion sizes. It’s the amount of carbs in the meal that will affect your blood sugar levels the most. And not all low GI foods are healthy, so make sure you read the labels and make a healthy choice.
7. Manage your weight
Evidence suggests that pregnancy isn’t the time to be on a really strict diet and you shouldn’t aim to lose weight. But it’s important that your weight is monitored by your care team and you don’t gain too much weight, which could cause problems for you and your baby.
Making small changes to your diet and physical activity levels can help you avoid gaining too much weight. It’ll also help you to reduce the risk of complications.
It’s important to keep going with your healthier lifestyle after you’ve had your baby and keep to a healthy weight. This will reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes in future pregnancies. And, it will also help to reduce your future risk of developing type 2 diabetes too.
Can I eat fish?
Try to eat fish regularly, as it’s good for you and the development of your baby.
The advice is to eat at least two portions a week, including at least one portion of oily fish – like mackerel, sardines, salmon, herrings, trout or pilchards. Oily fish is really good for heart health, but don’t have more than two portions a week because it contains low levels of pollutants (toxins). A portion is about 140g.
Avoid fish which tend to have higher levels of mercury, like swordfish, shark and marlin. And, don’t have more than four medium-sized cans of tuna, or two tuna steaks a week, as it can have relatively high amounts of mercury compared to other fish.
There are some foods you should avoid when you’re pregnant, including raw shellfish. The NHS have more information about what foods to avoid or take care with when you’re pregnant.
Meal and snack ideas for gestational diabetes
- A bowl of wholegrain cereal, such as porridge, with semi-skimmed milk
- 2 slices of wholegrain toast with unsaturated low-fat spread
- Low-fat and low-sugar yogurt and fruit.
Or you could try making:
- Apple and cinnamon fruity porridge
- Wholemeal spinach and cheddar pancakes
- Mushroom and spring onion omelette.
- A chicken or ham salad sandwich, made with wholegrain bread
- A small pasta salad, with plenty of veggies
- Soup – containing lots of veggies and pulses – with a wholegrain roll.
Or you could try making:
- Thai chicken stir fry
- Mixed bean chilli
- Chicken, squash and coriander pilaf
- Aubergine stuffed with tofu, mushrooms and borlotti beans
- Channa dahl
Get more recipe ideas here – you can search by type of meal and ingredient.