Understanding your diet and eating healthily is an important part of your treatment for gestational diabetes. It will help you keep your blood sugar levels in the safe range so you’re more likely to enjoy a healthy pregnancy and give birth to a healthy baby.
If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes you should be referred to a dietitian for individual advice. If this has not happened ask your maternity care team to refer you. We have come up with some tips and recipes to support you too.
To help you get started, we’ve got some options to try for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner. It’s important to be physically active every day as well, to help you manage your sugar levels.
Some women with gestational diabetes can keep their sugar levels in the safe range by any necessary changes to their diet and keeping active. Some women may also need insulin and/or a diabetes medication called metformin.
Eight tips for eating well with gestational diabetes
These healthy eating tips for women with gestational diabetes are general. 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.
The type and amount of carbs you eat or drink makes a difference to your blood sugar levels. The amount makes the biggest difference. And your dietitian may talk to you about reducing your carb portion sizes. It’s important too, to choose healthier carbs.
Easy swaps for healthier carbs
- Swap white bread for multigrain, wholegrain, wholemeal, rye, linseed or pumpernickel.
- Swap chapatti and roti made with white flour to those made with wholemeal flour.
- Swap white pittas for brown pittas.
- Swap chips and mash for wholemeal pasta, baked plantain or sweet potato.
- Swap white rice for brown rice.
- Swap cereals like Cornflakes and Rice Krispies for Weetabix, Branflakes, Shredded Wheat (or supermarket brand ones) or porridge
Other healthier carbs
- Pulses such as chickpeas, beans and lentils
- Dairy like unsweetened yogurt and milk. If you are using a non -dairy milk, check they are unsweetened and fortified with vitamins and minerals.
You can check food labels when you’re looking for foods high in fibre if you’re unsure.
2. Cut down on sugar
We know cutting down sugar can be really hard at the beginning, so small practical swaps are a good starting point.
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.
- Have fewer 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.
3. Perfect your portion sizes
Use our tips on carb 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.
If you do need to snack when you have gestational diabetes, swap cake, biscuits, crisps and chocolate for:
- plain or low sugar yogurt
- unsalted nuts
- seeds, fruit and veg
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
The gylcaemic index (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. To help you manage your blood sugar levels, go for carbs with a lower GI. 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 food labels and make a healthy choice.
7. Manage your weight
If you gain too much weight in pregnancy it can affect your health and increase your blood pressure. However, 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 changes to your diet and physical activity levels can help you avoid gaining too much weight. It’ll also help you to keep your blood sugar within a safe range.
Breastfeeding is one of the ways you can help reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes after giving birth.
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.
8. Eat more 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
Try to include protein foods with each of your main meals, to help fill you up and help manage your sugar levels.
- 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.
- An egg, cheese, fish or chicken salad sandwich, made with wholegrain bread or chapatti/roti made with wholemeal flour
- A small pasta salad, with plenty of veggies
- Soup – containing lots of veggies and pulses – with a wholegrain roll. Some soup contains lots of added salt and sugar so check the label.
Try our homemade chilli bean soup. .
Or you could try making:
- Cauliflower pizza
- Chicken and soya bean salad
- Cauliflower pilaf
- Chickpea and tuna salad
- Tuna niçoise salad
- Greek style chicken pittas
- Thai chicken stir fry
- Butternut and borlotti bean stew
- Mixed bean chilli
- Chicken, squash and coriander pilaf
- Aubergine stuffed with tofu, mushrooms and borlotti beans
- Aubergine and parmesan bake
- Italian style braised lamb steaks
- Channa dahl
- Chicken balti
Try serving dinners with our Cauliflower pilaf instead of rice.
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