Pregnancy cravings can send you to the McDonald’s drive-through for a big, juicy cheeseburger faster than the speed of light. If you have gestational diabetes, however, you’ll have to be a little more careful with how you satiate your hunger.
Gestational diabetes affects the way your body balances and regulates your blood sugar levels. If not well managed, it could jeopardize your chances of having an uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery. It could also present potential health risks to your body and your baby.
Before we talk about how to make gestational diabetes-safe decisions when you’re eating out, let’s talk about what’s happening in your body and learn more about this condition that can affect pregnant women.
Understanding Gestational Diabetes
When we eat food, our bodies break it down into usable parts. These molecules are delivered to the cells that need them so they can carry out cellular function. Cells make up tissues that make up your organs. Your organs are parts of complex systems that keep your body alive and functioning.
When you eat carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into molecules called glucose. Glucose is a simple sugar that our cells use for fuel. Glucose is important, and our bodies need it to survive, but too much glucose can have negative health effects and is linked with serious health problems like:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Kidney damage and disease
- Nerve damage
- Increased risk of heart disease
- High blood pressure
Your body has a streamlined process for removing glucose from your bloodstream. When your blood glucose levels rise after a meal, your pancreas releases insulin. Insulin is a hormone that carries glucose from the blood into the cells that need it.
This process regulates blood sugar levels and ensures you don’t develop conditions associated with blood sugar levels that are too high.
- The pancreas does not produce enough insulin to keep up with the amount of glucose in the bloodstream.
- The cells of the body have become unable to properly use the insulin produced by the pancreas. This is a condition called insulin resistance.
The underlying cause for these conditions depends on the type of diabetes someone has.
- Type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune disorder. With type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system incorrectly attacks the pancreas and prevents it from making insulin.
- Type 2 diabetes has no known cause and develops over time. Two factors that are associated with type 2 diabetes are obesity and physical inactivity.
- Gestational diabetes is linked to hormones released by the placenta during pregnancy. These hormones cause the body to retain excess glucose in the blood.
Gestational diabetes only occurs in pregnant women who have never had diabetes.
Who Is At Risk?
Researchers are not sure why some pregnant women develop gestational diabetes and some do not. However, there are some factors that can increase a person’s chances of developing this condition. These include:
- Being overweight or obese (having a BMI over 30)
- Having a sedentary or inactive lifestyle
- Being of a certain race or ethnicity including African American, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, Asian American, or Indigenous American
- Having close family members who have diabetes
- Having had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy
- Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Giving birth to a large baby (one that weighs more than 8 pounds 13 ounces) before your current pregnancy
- Being diagnosed with prediabetes
Even if you have one or some of these risk factors, you may not develop gestational diabetes. You can reduce your risk by maintaining a healthy weight and managing your blood sugar levels well before you become pregnant.
How Is Gestational Diabetes Diagnosed?
When you reach approximately 24 weeks of pregnancy, your doctor will typically administer an oral glucose tolerance screening test. This test consists of drinking a glucose beverage and having your blood drawn after consumption.
The only way to determine whether or not you have gestational diabetes is to have a blood test. If you are not receiving prenatal care, it’s important to start now to ensure you receive these types of screenings.
Does Gestational Diabetes Go Away?
Normally, gestational diabetes will go away on its own after your baby arrives. However, having gestational diabetes places you at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. You’ll need to get regular checkups with your health care provider and get blood tests done to ensure your blood sugar levels are within a healthy range.
What Are the Risks of Gestational Diabetes?
Having gestational diabetes places both you and your baby at risk of developing certain complications during your pregnancy. These risks include:
- Higher risk of surgical (cesarean section) birth
- Macrosomia, which is a condition that affects how large the baby is in-utero
- Birth trauma, like shoulder dysplasia
- Increased risk for type 2 diabetes in both mother and baby
- Increased risk for obesity for the baby
- Hypoglycemia for the baby at birth
- High blood pressure and preeclampsia in the mother
If gestational diabetes is not well managed, your risk of developing these conditions is higher. Part of controlling your blood sugar levels while you are pregnant will involve testing your blood sugar during certain times of the day and making sure you make healthy food choices.
Eating Out With Gestational Diabetes
It can be hard enough to eat the right foods at home can be hard enough, but when you’re at dinner with friends or grabbing Taco Bell with your coworkers, your options are limited. Here, we’ll give you five tips to help you make smart choices that will keep your blood sugar levels stable and your belly happy.
1. Pay Attention to Portion Sizes
Restaurant portion sizes are classically larger than actual serving sizes. Learning dietary portion sizes can help you quickly assess whether you need to eat all the food in front of you or ask for a to-go box for the leftovers.
Another option? Share a meal. Not only will you save yourself from overeating, but you’ll also save money in the process.
2. Learn the Art of Substitution
Most restaurants are happy to accommodate special preferences or substitutions if given the opportunity. You can make healthy substitutions that help keep you full and prevent you from going over your daily recommended carbohydrate intake.
Not sure what to substitute? Try this: instead of french fries, ask for grilled or sauteed veggies, steamed broccoli, or a side salad. Instead of a regular potato, ask for a sweet potato. Instead of white rice, ask for brown rice. Instead of starchy vegetables, go for healthy fats.
But when you’re grabbing a quick bite on-the-go, substitutions can be a little harder. Here are a few fast food options that won’t undo all the hard work you spent meal planning with your registered dietitian:
- A burrito bowl from Chipotle
- Black coffee or sugar-free syrups from Starbucks
- Grilled chicken salad or grilled chicken sandwich (sans bun) from Chick-fil-A
- Whole grain bread substitutes from Subway
- Low-carb options from Panera Bread, like a salad or soup
- Frozen Greek yogurt from your local froyo parlor instead of ice cream from Wendy’s
3. Forgo the Fried Food
Fried food can hide a ton of carbohydrates, trans fats, and sodium. Instead, opt for grilled or baked portions. Stick to lean meats like chicken, fish, turkey, or pork. If there’s no other option, you can always remove the breading or skin from the meat before you eat it.
4. Drink Water
Sodas, teas, and sugared coffees can add sugar and extra calories to your meal without offering any nutrition. Instead, stick with water. You’ll stay hydrated, which can help keep you full and avoid a spike in blood sugar levels.
Although diet drinks don’t contain sugar, the artificial sweeteners they do contain can cause you to crave sweets. If you want something fizzy, try sparkling water or club soda instead.
5. Get the Sauce on the Side
Grabbing a salad can be a much better menu option, but asking for the salad dressing on the side will help you control the portion you use and help you avoid using too much. The same is true for meals that come with sauces. Ask your server to place the sauce on the side so you can regulate the amount you use.
Healthy Pregnancies and Healthy Meals
Having gestational diabetes can make your pregnancy a little more challenging, but you can do it. Keeping your blood sugar levels well managed will mean a lowered risk for complications both for you and your baby.
Watching your diet and making healthy food choices are important while you have gestational diabetes. Your doctor may refer you to a dietitian to discuss how carbohydrate intake works and how many carbs you need during your pregnancy.
When you eat out, it can be harder to make choices that are safe for your blood sugar levels. With a few smart decisions, you can still enjoy a meal out with friends and family without putting your blood glucose levels in the danger zone.
For more information, check out our section on Gestational Diabetes. Here, you’ll find answers to some of your most frequently asked pregnancy questions and information on how gestational diabetes can impact your pregnancy and your baby.
You can have a healthy pregnancy; check out the blog for tips and tricks to promote your wellness and your baby’s.
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Fact Checked and Editorial Process
Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Camille Freking and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera.
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Chris is one of the Co-Founders of Diabetic.org. An entrepreneur at heart, Chris has been building and writing in consumer health for over 10 years. In addition to Diabetic.org, Chris and his Acme Health LLC Brand Team own and operate USARx.com, Allergies.org, Pharmacists.org.
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