Whether you were prepared for it or not, gestational diabetes can change the way you’ll live during pregnancy and can make it harder to handle those pesky pregnancy cravings.
We’ve got some mouth-watering meal plan recipes that will keep your tastebuds happy and your blood sugar levels on track. Sticking to a healthy eating plan is easy when you choose foods that satisfy your sweet tooth without packing in added sugar.
Before we head to the kitchen, let’s talk about gestational diabetes and discuss the risks associated with not managing your blood sugar properly. We’ll also talk about who is at risk of developing gestational diabetes, how you can lower your chances of having it, and how it is diagnosed.
If you have gestational diabetes, you can still have a thriving and enjoyable pregnancy. With the right tools and prenatal education, you’ll barely even know it’s there.
How Does Diabetes Affect Blood Sugar?
When you eat certain foods, your body breaks them down into simple sugar molecules called glucose. Your cells need this sugar to survive and carry out cellular processes. Glucose gets to your cells by using insulin as a vehicle.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. When glucose enters the bloodstream after a meal, the rising blood sugar levels stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin. The insulin removes the glucose from the blood and delivers it to the cells that need it.
Excess glucose is stored in the liver or muscles as glycogen. Glycogen can later be changed back into glucose to be used for energy. Some excess glucose is also stored as a lipid in adipose tissue.
If you have diabetes, your pancreas may not produce enough insulin to keep up with the amount of glucose in your bloodstream. You might also have cells that can’t receive glucose from the insulin, a condition called insulin resistance.
Each type of diabetes is different, but gestational diabetes is diagnosed only in pregnant women who have never been diagnosed with diabetes previously.
Gestational Diabetes Mellitus
During pregnancy, the body grows an entire organ called the placenta. The placenta supports the baby and releases certain hormones that affect the mother’s body, as well as the baby’s body. These hormones can cause additional glucose to be stored in the blood, and may even affect the way cells use glucose.
If the pancreas can’t keep up with the pregnant person’s blood glucose levels, and if the cells aren’t able to interact with insulin properly, the person may be diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
Who’s At Risk for Gestational Diabetes?
Anyone who has never had diabetes previously and is pregnant can be diagnosed with gestational diabetes. If you already have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes, your disease will follow you into your pregnancy and your doctor will help you understand how best to manage it.
If you’ve never had issues with your blood sugar levels, gestational diabetes may be a risk. Researchers aren’t sure why some women develop gestational diabetes and others don’t, but there are several risk factors that make you more likely to develop this condition. These include:
- Being overweight or obese (having a BMI over 30)
- An inactive lifestyle
- Being African American, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, Asian American, or Indigenous American
- A previous gestational diabetes diagnosis
- Previously giving birth to a larger-than-average baby (a baby that weighs over 9 pounds)
- A family history of diabetes
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
If you are thinking of becoming pregnant, you can reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, and getting plenty of physical exercise.
How Is Gestational Diabetes Diagnosed?
Screening for gestational diabetes requires a blood test. This test is usually administered between 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy by your obstetrician or health care provider.
The test consists of drinking an oral glucose solution and having your blood drawn about 20 minutes after consumption.
What Are the Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes?
There are typically no symptoms of gestational diabetes, which is why it is very important to be tested for this condition. While some women report experiencing excess thirst or more frequent urination, it is unlikely you’ll know you have it.
Gestational diabetes that is untreated can present serious health risks to you and your baby, so it’s important to be screened and follow your doctor’s recommendations.
Complications of Gestational Diabetes
Left unchecked, gestational diabetes causes you to have blood sugar levels that are too high during your pregnancy. This is unsafe for both you and your baby.
For mothers, risks include:
- High blood pressure that can lead to preeclampsia (a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention)
- C-section delivery
- Increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life
For babies, risks include:
- Increased birth weight. This condition, called macrosomia, causes babies to be born weighing over 8 pounds 13 ounces
- Hypoglycemia, or being born with low blood sugar
- Birth trauma — larger babies are at an increased risk of birth trauma and injury to the shoulders
- Preterm birth or stillbirth
- Increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life, or difficulty maintaining a healthy weight throughout childhood
Thankfully, a diagnosis of gestational diabetes can help your doctor educate you about how to care for you and your baby’s bodies through the remainder of your pregnancy. You’ll be given information on how the body processes carbohydrates, how many you need per day, and possibly be instructed to use a blood sugar monitor before and after meals.
With a few dietary changes and substitutions, you can still enjoy the foods you love, satisfy pregnancy cravings, and support a thriving, healthy pregnancy.
👩🍳📚 Quick and Easy Gestational Diabetes Cookbook: 30-Minute, 5-Ingredient, and One-Pot Recipes: 4.5 star review and written by Joanna Foley RD.
👩🍳📚 The Gestational Diabetes Cookbook & Meal Plan: A Balanced Eating Guide for You and Your Baby: 4.5 star review and written by Joanna Foley RD & Traci Houston.
Who is Joanna Foley RD? Joanna has been a Registered Dietitian for 7 years. She works as a freelance writer and author for a number of media outlets in the health & wellness field. She is also owner of her private nutrition counseling practice at www.joannafoleynutrition.com, where she strives to help others find food freedom by using an intuitive eating approach to help transform their relationship with food and create positive eating environments.
Five Recipes for Gestational Diabetes
You may be paying closer attention to carbohydrates, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely off the table – especially if you’re working with a dietitian to plan delicious, low-carb meals. Here, we’ll give you five meal ideas to keep your belly full, support your healthy baby, and make sure your blood sugar levels stay on target.
1. Salmon Rice Bowl
Get a healthy dose of omega-3s and load up on healthy, lean protein with this bistro-inspired bowl. The recipe calls for brown rice, which is a great whole-grain option for pregnant women with gestational diabetes. You can also substitute brown rice for quinoa,
Already at your carbohydrate limit for the day? Try swapping out the brown rice with cauliflower rice to save the carbs and up your vegetable intake. Find the easy, 20-minute recipe here.
If you want to spice up this recipe, all you’ll need to do is add some low-carb soy or teriyaki sauce to create a delicious stir fry.
2. Veggie and Hummus Sandwich
Sometimes you just crave a classic. If you’re in the mood for a sandwich, make that lunchtime favorite gestational diabetes-friendly by swapping out white bread with whole grain bread and choosing as many fresh non-starchy vegetables as you can pile in. Top it with hummus for a plant-based protein that also packs a delicious flavor.
Want a savory side? Swap out regular potato chips for sweet potato chips, wholegrain crackers, or apple slices. You’ll get the same amount of crunch with more nutritional value.
You can also top your hummus with parmesan, mozzarella, or goat cheese for an extra savory kick.
Find the easy-to-stack sandwich recipe here.
3. Dark Chocolate Brownies
Pregnancy cravings have you drooling for chocolate? That’s no problem. These thick, fudgy brownies only taste sinful. Made with stevia, a natural sugar alternative that is safe to use during pregnancy, these brownies are easy to make and won’t cause your blood sugar levels to surge.
Bonus tip: Cutting them into smaller sizes may help you observe better portion control, as well as help them last a little longer. If you still have some wiggle room in your daily limit, you can also add in a small scoop of sugar-free, low-carb ice cream. Grab the recipe here.
4. Strawberry Lemonade Popsicles
Being pregnant during the summer months can be incredibly uncomfortable. If you’re finding it virtually impossible to cool off, these easy-to-make popsicles can help. These stevia-sweetened treats also contain strawberries, a fruit that has a very low glycemic index.
Not a fan of strawberries? Swap them out for blueberries or raspberries for an entirely different flavor with the same average caloric and carbohydrate intake. The recipe for these popsicles can be found here.
5. Healthier Zucchini Bread
If you’re pregnant during the holidays, it can be hard to avoid home-baked goods. Set yourself up for success by keeping some of your own healthy versions on hand. This lower carb version of the classic zucchini bread you’ve grown up with freezes easily and thaws in minutes.
Developed by a culinary graduate who also had gestational diabetes, this recipe is one you’ll likely use long after your baby arrives. Another fun fact we learned from the recipe? You can eliminate ⅓ of the sugar in any recipe without noticing a significant change.
Find the recipe and more fun facts here.
If you’re just getting started, here are some easy tips that can make the transition from a pregnancy diet to a gestational diabetes diet a little easier to digest.
- Fiber is your friend. Fiber helps keep you full, and also helps with pregnancy constipation. Good sources of fiber include whole grains, whole fruit (fresh and/or frozen), beans, lentils, chickpeas, and root vegetables like potatoes and yams.
- Smaller meals may work better. To keep your blood sugar regulated, it may be easier to eat six small meals a day instead of three. This can help protect you against spikes and crashes in your blood sugar, and make it easier for your pancreas to keep up with your glucose demands.
- Snacks matter. Prepackaged foods and snacks can hide a ton of added sugar. Instead of grabbing a bar or cookie, try to eat whole foods with less than three ingredients like apples and peanut butter, greek yogurt and berries, or a small handful of nuts.
- Dairy contains carbohydrates. Be sure to measure how much dairy you consume, especially when drinking milk. Dairy contains some natural sugar, so it’s important to eat the right amount.
If you have questions, always contact your doctor to make sure what you want to eat is safe for you and your baby, and check back here at Diabetic.org regularly for new recipes and more helpful tips.
Healthy Pregnancies and Full Bellies
Gestational diabetes doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy food or satisfy pregnancy cravings. It simply means you’ll need to be more mindful of your food intake. Adding in plenty of physical activity as allowed by your doctor will also help your body regulate blood sugar levels.
For more information on diabetic conditions and for answers to frequently asked pregnancy questions, head over to our Gestational Diabetes section. You’ll find plenty of information about healthy living and learn about common health conditions that can affect you before, during, and after your pregnancy.
References, Studies and Sources:
How to Treat Gestational Diabetes | American Diabetes Association
Diabetes – Diagnosis and Treatment | Mayo Clinic
Gestational Diabetes and Increased Risk of Childhood Obesity | UCR Health
Salmon Rice Bowl Recipe | EatingWell
Veggie & Hummus Sandwich Recipe | EatingWell
Keto Chocolate Brownies Recipe | Diabetes Strong
Strawberry Lemonade Popsicles (No Sugar Added) | Diabetes Strong
Simple Healthy Zucchini Bread Recipe | The Gestational Diabetic
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