“What can I eat?” is one of the most common questions that naturally arises after a diagnosis of gestational diabetes.
This metabolic condition develops during pregnancy and includes higher blood sugar levels. It can lead to many pregnancy complications if not managed properly.
Diet modification can help keep blood glucose levels within normal ranges during pregnancy, but where does that leave the sweet treats?
In this article, we look at whether or not ice cream can stay on the gestational diabetes menu.
Can I Eat Dessert With Gestational Diabetes?
When it comes to diabetes management, the name of the game is blood sugar control. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and involves impaired insulin sensitivity, also known as insulin resistance.
But where does that leave the dessert treats for those with an insatiable sweet tooth? As many pregnant women can attest, pregnancy and cravings go hand and hand.
For many, cold treats like ice cream and smoothies are a staple among dessert foods. It hits the spot, cools you off on hot days, and helps curb sweet tooth cravings as a bedtime snack.
Thankfully, low-carb ice cream options can lessen the blow to blood sugar levels and fit dietary recommendations for gestational diabetes.
What Is the Relationship Between Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar?
Glucose, also known as blood sugar, is an essential fuel and energy source for our muscles, organs, and cells.
When we eat carbohydrates, our endocrine and digestive systems break down the vital macronutrients, converting them to glucose. The byproduct of fat metabolism is ketones.
Glucose and Insulin
Once carbohydrates break down into glucose, that glucose gets deposited into the bloodstream — hence “blood sugar.” From there, it gets pushed into the body’s cells for fuel or stored as glycogen in the liver or muscle cells.
Glucose gets pushed into the cells with the help of insulin, a hormone produced by beta cells within the pancreas. Aside from acting as a key to opening the door for glucose, insulin also helps keep it under control.
More insulin is produced to help drive levels back down when blood sugar levels rise. In the case of gestational diabetes, factors like placenta hormone production and pregnancy weight gain can disrupt this process.
Complex Carbs vs. Simple Carbs
The rate of blood sugar rise depends on the type of carbohydrates you consume. For example, complex carbohydrates digest very slowly, thanks to dietary fiber. This provides a slow and steady release of glucose into the bloodstream.
The opposite is true for simple carbohydrates or simple sugars. These digest quickly, sending bursts of glucose into the bloodstream, spiking blood glucose levels, and creating the infamous “sugar rush.” This is the case for refined carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates include:
- Whole grains, like brown rice, oatmeal, and cereals.
- Starchy vegetables, like sweet potatoes and corn.
- Legumes and beans, like lentils, chickpeas, and black beans.
Simple carbohydrates include:
- Refined carbs, like white rice, white bread, and pasta.
- Processed foods with added sugars, like juices and soda.
- Candy, sugar, and corn syrup.
Gestational Diabetes and Ice Cream
So, where does ice cream fall in terms of carbohydrates? Well, it comes as no surprise that many ice creams are full of added sugars — not good for someone looking to manage blood sugar levels. But that doesn’t mean ice cream is completely off the menu.
It all comes down to portion and ingredients. Not all ice cream is created equal.
Some use full-fat milk, others low-fat or non-dairy alternatives.Some opt for added sugar and artificial sweeteners, others natural alternatives. There are also many low-carb and carb-free ice cream options for those with diabetes.
The amount of carbohydrates makes a huge difference. Lower carb options can help keep spikes of blood sugar under control.
How Many Carbs Can I Eat With Gestational Diabetes?
The truth is, there is no magic number in carb counting. Eating carbs in large amounts is not wise for any type of diabetes, whether type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, or gestational. Being mindful of carb content is vital for managing blood sugar levels.
But, when it comes down to a target number, the grams of carbs you should aim for depends on your age, weight, level of activity, and more.
How Can I Eat Ice Cream With Gestational Diabetes?
Let’s look at a few tips for choosing a good ice cream option for those with gestational diabetes.
Read the entire label, even the fine print. You want to check the number of carbs and the number of sugars. Most low-carb ice cream options have no added sugars and use natural sweeteners like stevia.
Avoid ice creams with hidden sugars, typically buried under other names like fructose, dextrose, or corn syrup.
It may be tempting to sit on the couch, streaming your favorite show while trying to find the bottom of your favorite pint of ice cream — but fight the urge. In addition to nutritional facts, labels come with portions or serving sizes. Stick to these.
It is the only way to ensure you stick to the right amount of carbohydrates. This may mean measuring out portion sizes.
Protein and Fat
The amount of protein and fat in food directly affects the carbohydrate and sugar absorption rates. The same is true when it comes to ice cream.
Ice cream with high protein and fat content will help promote slower absorption, which means less of a blood sugar spike.
Mixed Ice Creams
Stick to the basics, like chocolate and vanilla. Mixed ice creams with extra candies, cookies, and cookie doughs will add a lot of carbs and sugar.
This is even true when it comes to ice cream with mixed fruit. For example, vanilla ice cream mixed with mango will add extra carbs and sugar from the fruit alone.
What Ice Cream Can I Eat With Gestational Diabetes?
The keto diet lifestyle is tailored to fit those needing low-carb food options. Keto-friendly ice creams tend to have low carbohydrate content, higher protein, and little added sugar.
On the surface, keto-friendly ice creams may look to have the same amount of carbohydrates as other ice creams. However, the difference is between total carbs versus net carbs.
Total carbs refer to the total grams of carbs in a food. Net carbs are the total carbs minus the grams of fiber, sugar alcohol, or digestible carbs. Why is this important?
Total Carbs vs. Net Carbs
Let’s take this example: A piece of bread and a cup of raspberries may have the same total carbs — say 15 grams.
The fruit will keep you fuller much longer because of the digestible fiber content (8 g). So, one cup of raspberries would have lower “net carbs” at 7 g compared to the slice of bread.
A popular choice for keto ice cream is Halo Top Vanilla Bean. At 100 calories per serving, it has 21 g of carbohydrates with 6 g of fiber and 8 g of sugar alcohol. This equates to roughly 8 g of net carbs per serving.
Monitoring Blood Sugar
When it comes to gestational diabetes, glucose monitoring is vitally important to ensure a healthy pregnancy and healthy babies.
While numerous risk factors can lead to high blood sugar during pregnancy, monitoring diet is key.
Screenings for gestational diabetes occur during prenatal visits, typically in the second trimester of pregnancy, through a type of glucose test.
In addition to diet, healthcare providers may recommend daily exercise, medications like metformin, dietary supplements, and insulin injections to help control blood sugar levels.
The Bottom Line
One of the ways gestational diabetes is managed is through diet, causing many to wonder where sweet treats like ice cream fit on the menu. Thankfully, low-carb ice cream options help satisfy the sweet tooth without driving your blood sugar through the roof.
A dietitian or diabetes healthcare educator can help advise you on healthy dessert options to fit your unique dietary needs.
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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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