Gestational diabetes is a common metabolic disorder that affects many pregnant women. Though it is common, it is also very serious and can lead to complications in the pregnancy for both the mother and child.
Importance Of A Gestational Diabetes Diet Plan
Insulin resistance and inadequate insulin response are the two mechanisms that lead to the development of gestational diabetes. Decreased sensitivity to insulin and increased availability of nutrients to the baby are thought to account for the overgrowth of babies born to diabetic mothers, which is the most common complication associated with gestational diabetes. Because of this, it's important to work closely with a doctor and dietician to develop a gestational diabetes diet plan that will allow both the mother and child to stay healthy during both the pregnancy and after birth.
For the sake of clarity, it is assumed that the pregnant mother is NOT on insulin, as this is used as a last resort during pregnancy. If the mother is on insulin, the diet plan will be different, which the doctor will discuss with her.
Factors In Creating A Gestational Diabetes Diet Plan
Most of the time, simply following a gestational diabetes diet plan and getting moderate exercise will keep gestational diabetes under control. But because each pregnancy is different, each diet will be slightly different as well. A doctor and dietician will tailor the diet to the individual needs of the mother and her unborn child. The following factors will be taken into account when the doctor and the dietician suggest the diet plan:
- The pregnant woman's weight (women who are already overweight or obese need fewer calories than those who aren't)
- The pregnant woman's activity level
- How far along the pregnancy is
- How fast the baby is growing
- How large the baby is
- The type of calories needed
Although pregnant women frequently hear that they are "eating for two", this doesn't mean that they need to consume twice as many calories as they normally would. A pregnant woman only needs 300 to 400 extra calories per day for her baby to grow properly.
The doctor will also need to know if the mother is on any type of restrictive diet such as vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free diet. This will help the doctor determine any changes that need to be made and will also give the doctor a more complete picture of the mother's dietary health.
Creating A Gestational Diabetes Diet Plan
This will largely be done with a doctor and dietician, and expectant mothers should not attempt to do this on their own. These guidelines are just here to provide the mother with a point of reference.
Learning to read nutritional labels is essential to managing gestational diabetes. A dietician can help with this.
Protein (meat, fish, beans, eggs and nuts)
- 2 to 3 servings per day, with one serving of protein being equivalent to three ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry or fish, ½ cup of cooked beans, one egg or two tablespoons of peanut butter (be careful with peanut butter because it contains a lot of fat).
- Opt most often for fish or poultry as they are lower in saturated fats and fish contains beneficial fats. Be sure to remove the skin from chicken and turkey, and trim fat from beef, pork and wild game meats.
- Avoid frying and opt instead for baking, broiling, or grilling to avoid excess fat associated with frying.
Fruits and Vegetables
- 3 to 5 servings of vegetables and 2 to 4 servings of fruits per day, with one serving being equal to one cup of leafy green vegetables, ¾ cup of vegetable juice, ½ cup of cooked or raw chopped vegetables, one medium whole fruit such as a banana, apple or orange, ½ cup chopped fruit or ¾ cup of 100 percent fruit juice (be sure to check labels as fruit juices can contain a lot of sugar, which is not good for a mother with gestational diabetes).
- Opt for more whole fruits and vegetables instead of juices and choose fruits and vegetables without added fat, sugar, or salt. Whole fruits and vegetables contain more fiber than juices.
- Opt for more dark green and deep yellow vegetables as they contain more nutrients.
- 4 servings per day, with one serving being equal to one cup of milk or yogurt, 1 ½ ounces of natural cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese.
- Choose low fat or fat free dairy products.
- Dairy products also contain protein as well as other nutrients; therefore, they can also count toward the servings of protein. Some types of yogurt, like Greek yogurt, can contain as much as twice the amount of protein as the regular variety, so be sure to check the labels carefully.
Carbohydrates have a huge impact on blood sugar since many carbs turn to sugar in the body. Because of this, the number of servings and types of carbs recommended can vary greatly depending on each individual case.
- At least 6 servings of grains per day, though this could vary based on individual recommendations from a dietician or doctor. One serving equals one slice of bread, one ounce of fortified cereal, ½ cup cooked rice or pasta or one English muffin.
- Most carbs are found in products like bread, pasta, potatoes, cereal and certain starchy vegetables like bananas and peas.
- The best carb choices for women with gestational diabetes are whole grains that are high in fiber. These types of carbs minimize blood sugar spikes and crashes and fiber is good for the body, in fact most Americans don't get enough fiber in their diets.
- Many vegetable and fruits have carbs, but they also have other beneficial nutrients, so they can be enjoyed in abundance, just be sure to take their carbs into account.
Monitoring Blood Sugar
When a mother is diagnosed with gestational diabetes, her doctor may ask her to monitor her blood sugar several times per day. This may seem scary at first, but a mother will quickly get used to it, and because gestational diabetes disappears after the baby is born, it is typically only necessary for a short period of time. Upon diagnosis, the woman's doctor will teach her how to monitor her blood sugar. Typically, a finger prick a few times per day is all that is needed. This can even be done on the arm, where it is less painful.
Gestational diabetes is not the end of the world, but it is something that needs to be taken seriously, both for the health of the mother and the baby. It can be easily managed and a healthy baby is well worth the effort. (For more information on gestational diabetes, be sure to visit the Gestational Diabetes section.)