Gestational diabetes is a metabolic disorder that occurs during pregnancy. Left untreated, it can spell serious complications for both mother and baby.
Up to 10 percent of pregnant women in the United States experience gestational diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Of these, nearly half go on to develop type 2 diabetes.
Thankfully, gestational diabetes can be managed by simple lifestyle changes, which include getting regular exercise and eating a balanced diet.
Here, we explore some of the best food practices for those with gestational diabetes looking for great vegetarian meal plan options.
What Is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a subgroup of diabetes mellitus, a set of chronic metabolic conditions that disrupt the body’s ability to manage insulin effectively.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), gestational diabetes is the most common medical complication that occurs during pregnancy.
In short, gestational diabetes occurs when the body cannot regulate blood sugar levels as it should. The issue is sometimes insulin resistance, and sometimes the body’s inability to produce enough insulin to handle the glucose.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps control glucose levels in the bloodstream. It is necessary for healthy metabolism or the breakdown of food for energy.
Many believe the placenta’s hormonal changes and overproduction of hormones contribute. This keeps blood sugar levels high (hyperglycemia).
Common Risk Factors for Gestational Diabetes
Some degree of insulin resistance is common during pregnancy because of hormonal changes and weight gain. Still, several risk factors can increase a woman’s chance of developing gestational diabetes.
- Obesity or a BMI greater than 25
- Maternal age, 25 years of age or older
- A diagnosis of prediabetes
- Medical history of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- High blood pressure before or during pregnancy (hypertension)
- A gestational diabetes diagnosis in a previous pregnancy
- A family history of type 2 diabetes (father, mother, siblings)
- A baby weighing over nine pounds previously (infant macrosomia)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ethnic groups that are at a higher risk for getting gestational diabetes include:
- Hispanic or Latino Americans
- American Indians or Alaska Natives
- Asian Americans
- Pacific Islander
- African Americans
How Is Gestational Diabetes Treated?
Thankfully, gestational diabetes is a preventable condition in many cases. Maintaining a healthy weight before and during pregnancy is one of the most important factors.
While healthcare professionals commonly prescribe medications like metformin to help manage blood sugar levels during pregnancy, a healthy diet is paramount.
Daily exercise and eating a healthy diet can help mitigate the effects of gestational diabetes, namely higher blood sugar levels.
What Is a Good Diet for Gestational Diabetes?
One of the first steps in managing gestational diabetes is diet modification to help keep blood sugar levels within normal range.
The first item on the dietary agenda usually involves monitoring carbohydrates and sugar intake. Complex carbs and simple sugars are metabolized by the body and turned into glucose. But there can be too much of a good thing.
The complex carbs in whole grains, cereals, fruits, and non-starchy vegetables have fiber to balance out insulin spikes; these are considered low glycemic foods. Simple sugars found in refined carbohydrates do not have the same glucose-regulating effects.
Refined carbohydrates include foods like white rice, white bread, soda, fruit juices, items with added sugars, and more. These can make blood glucose levels soar. Artificial sweeteners have the same effect.
Most diabetes meal plans recommended by registered dietitians and nutritionists include macronutrients consisting of 65 percent complex carbohydrates, 25 percent lean proteins, and 10 percent healthy fats.
But, the final dietary verdict should be determined by your healthcare provider. Healthy portion sizes are also key.
Foods To Include
- Natural complex carbs – Whole grain bread, brown rice, whole-wheat flour, beans and lentils, sprouts, cruciferous vegetables, sweet potatoes, and high-fiber fruits.
- Lean protein sources – For vegetarians, this includes beans, lentils, quinoa, tofu, and eggs.
- Healthy fats – Rich omega-3 fats include coconut oil, ghee, olive oil, avocados, flax seed, dairy products like cottage cheese, and nuts.
Foods To Avoid
- High glycemic and refined carbs – White flour pasta, white rice, white bread, sugary drinks, and candies.
- Unhealthy fats – This includes many hydrogenated fats found in margarine, fried foods, and loads of processed foods.
- Sugary drinks – Fruit juices and sodas are packed with added sugars, which can cause massive spikes in blood sugar.
👩🍳📚 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.
Can I Eat a Vegetarian Diet With Gestational Diabetes?
A vegetarian diet has numerous benefits, not just for those trying to manage gestational diabetes.
For example, the benefits of a vegetarian diet include better weight control and less consumption of saturated fats. This is largely due to the emphasis on a higher intake of whole grains, calcium-rich vegetables, and fruits.
Let’s look at an example of a seven-day vegetarian meal plan that is specially designed for those dealing with gestational diabetes.
|Day 1||Breakfast: ⅓ cup of rolled oats, one tbsp of peanut butter, and ½ cup of low-fat or almond milk.|
Lunch: Mexican baked eggs on black beans, one piece of whole wheat toast, ½ cup of Greek yogurt
Dinner: Lentil burger with whole wheat bun with a side of cream of mushroom or cauliflower soup.
|Day 2||Breakfast: Apricot oat muffin with one cup of low-fat milk or milk of choice.|
Lunch: Brown rice bowl with black beans, chickpeas, and a choice of veggies. Cucumber salad.
Dinner: One lentil burrito with whole wheat wrap, green salad, one tbsp of olive oil, and white vinegar dressing.
|Day 3||Breakfast: One-egg omelet with veggies (mushrooms, spinach, etc.), two slices of whole wheat toast, herbal tea of choice.|
Lunch: Brown rice bowl with tofu scramble. Green salad with sunflower seeds.
Dinner: Sweet potato-black bean burgers with mixed grilled vegetables.
|Day 4||Breakfast: One serving of apple cinnamon oats porridge with one cup of low-fat or almond milk.|
Lunch: One grilled cheese sandwich (cheese of choice) with whole wheat bread and tomato slices. ¼ cup of blueberries mixed with your favorite yogurt.
Dinner: Roasted root veggies and dark greens over spiced lentils or brown rice. Added plain yogurt for an extra thickness.
|Day 5||Breakfast: Two slices of whole wheat or rye toast, one egg (scrambled, poached, or sunny side up), and ¼ avocado.|
Lunch: Green goddess bowl with greens, asparagus, peas, and a creamy yogurt dressing. Add protein of choice: Black beans or tofu.
Dinner: Tofu stir fry. Mix with your favorite vegetables (mushrooms, peppers, onions) and serve over brown rice.
|Day 6||Breakfast: Zucchini pancakes, ½ cup of Greek yogurt, one cup of herbal tea.|
Lunch: Roasted veggie and edamame bowl served with brown rice. Fruit and feta salad.
Dinner: Spinach lasagna with whole wheat pasta, carrots, mushrooms, ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella cheeses.
|Day 7||Breakfast: Raspberry and mango smoothie with no added fruit juice. Just a touch of lemon juice and agave for taste.|
Lunch: Taco bowl with chipotle lime cauliflower, red onions, avocado, queso fresco served over quinoa.
Dinner: Cooked spaghetti with favorite tomato sauce (no added sugars), parmesan cheese, and green salad with olive oil and vinaigrette.
Snack options could include:
- Medium-sized fruits (citrus or apple slices)
- Blueberries or raspberries with low-fat yogurt
- Hummus with pita chips or carrots
- Nuts, including almonds, walnuts, pistachios
- Cottage cheese with added fruit
Contrary to popular belief, desserts are still an option even with diabetes. In fact, there are plenty of low-carb dessert options for those with gestational diabetes.
Common Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes
Not everyone with gestational diabetes experiences symptoms. In fact, many will experience a healthy pregnancy.
However, for those that do, common symptoms include:
- General fatigue or tiredness
- Frequent urination
- Excessive hunger and thirst
- Weight gain
Testing for Gestational Diabetes
Prenatal care screenings for gestational diabetes involve oral glucose tolerance tests to check for glucose levels in the blood in later trimesters of pregnancy.
How Can I Prevent Gestational Diabetes?
For many women, gestational diabetes is a preventable condition. Aside from choosing healthy foods, other preventable measures include regular physical activity.
Daily exercise combined with a healthy diet can help keep you from gaining excess weight. Exercises like yoga, walking, and swimming are great low impact exercises. Aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least three to four times a week.
The Bottom Line
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy when blood sugar levels are higher than normal.
Along with daily exercise, diet is one of the key preventive measures to help mitigate the effects of high blood sugar.
Thankfully, there are plenty of diabetic-friendly vegetarian meals out there to choose from. If you’re pregnant, make sure to consult your OB/GYN or doctor before making any dietary changes.
References, Studies and Sources:
Gestational Diabetes – Symptoms, Treatments | ADA
Gestational Diabetes Mellitus | ACOG
Dietary Recommendations for Gestational Diabetes | UCSF Health
Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Vegetarian Diets and the Risk of Diabetes | PMC
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