Diets for gestational diabetes
Eating a healthy diet is one of the most important thing you can do to help manage gestational diabetes. Your doctor, a dietitian, or diabetes educator will help you devise meal plans, taking into consideration your blood sugar levels, whether or not you need insulin or other medications, your current weight and your pregnancy weight gain goal, blood sugar level, how much physical activity you get daily, and your food preferences.
In general, diets for gestational diabetes emphasize vegetables, fresh fruit, and whole grains and limit or eliminate refined carbohydrates, including sweets and processed foods. Eating fiber-rich foods is important because fiber can stabilize blood sugar levels and also prevent and eliminate a common pregnancy problem — constipation.
The amount of carbohydrates allowed in diets for gestational diabetes depends on your individual needs based on weight, ketone, and blood sugar levels. However, according to a position paper from the American Diabetes Association, most women with gestational diabetes should consume a minimum of 175 grams of complex carbohydrates daily, eaten throughout the day in three small-to-moderate meals and two to four snacks.
There’s no reason to feel deprived while following your meal plan to manage gestational diabetes — you can eat a host of healthy and delicious foods. For examples, check out the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guide to managing gestational diabetes, which includes a list of foods included in most diets for gestational diabetes.
Heart risks from gestational diabetes aren’t inevitable
To look for potential long-term health impacts of gestational diabetes, National Institutes of Health (NIH) researchers followed the diets, exercise habits, and medical histories of more than 90,000 women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study II. The data included information from before the time the women became pregnant, through middle age and into their early senior years.
The findings, published in JAMA, showed women with a history of gestational diabetes had a higher long-term risk of cardiovascular disease than women who didn’t develop diabetes while expecting. That’s not a total surprise because previous studies have shown women who had gestational diabetes are also at risk for high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, hardening of the arteries, heart attack, and stroke.
But the study, headed by researcher Cuilin Zhang, MD, PhD, of the Division of Intramural Population Health Research at NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, also revealed good news for women about heart risks and gestational diabetes.
It turns out, women who have had gestational diabetes can protect their heart health through the years with lifestyle changes. The heart risk wasn’t inevitable if women who had experienced gestational diabetes stuck to a healthy lifestyle after giving birth — specifically, if they exercised regularly, kept their weight under control, and didn’t smoke.
On the other hand, women who didn’t turn to a healthy lifestyle after developing gestational diabetes had a 43 percent higher risk for cardiovascular disease, especially for heart attacks and stroke.
Bottom line: Any time there is a complication during pregnancy, it’s cause for concern. However, gestational diabetes can be managed with healthy lifestyle changes. And if you keep up these changes and make them an ongoing part of your life after your baby arrives, the odds are you’ll have a far healthier future.
April 07, 2020
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA