Diets for gestational diabetes
Eating a healthy diet is one of the most important things 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 you need insulin or other medications
- Your current weight and your pregnancy weight gain goal
- Your blood sugar level
- How much physical activity you get daily
- Your food preferences
In general, diets for gestational diabetes emphasize vegetables, fresh fruit, and whole grains and limiting or eliminating refined carbohydrates, including sweets and processed foods.
Fiber-rich foods are important because fiber can stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent and eliminate a common pregnancy problem: constipation.
The amount of carbohydrates recommended in diets for gestational diabetes depends on your individual needs based on weight, ketone, and blood sugar levels. 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.
You shouldn’t feel deprived while following your meal plan to manage gestational diabetes. You can eat many healthy and delicious foods. For examples, see the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guide to managing 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 study, 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 during their pregnancy. Previous studies have shown women who had gestational diabetes are also at risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hardening of the arteries, heart attacks, and strokes.
But the JAMA study, also revealed good news for women about heart risks and gestational diabetes. Women who have had gestational diabetes can protect their heart health as they age with lifestyle changes. The heart risk wasn’t inevitable if women who had 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 heart disease, especially for heart attacks and strokes.
Any time there is a complication during pregnancy, it’s cause for concern. But you can manage gestational diabetes with a healthy lifestyle. If you make them an ongoing part of your life after your baby arrives, the odds are you’ll have a healthier future.
August 11, 2023
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA