First let’s do a brief overview of what Gestational Diabetes is; Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy. It occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin to meet the increased demands of pregnancy. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, and during pregnancy, hormonal changes can affect its production and utilization.
This condition typically arises around the 24th to 28th week of pregnancy when the body’s insulin needs rise. If the pancreas cannot produce sufficient insulin, blood sugar levels can become elevated, posing risks to both the mother and the developing baby. Gestational diabetes increases the likelihood of complications during pregnancy and childbirth, and it may also contribute to the long-term risk of type 2 diabetes for both the mother and the child.
Proper management through lifestyle modifications, monitoring blood sugar levels is crucial to ensure a healthy pregnancy and birth outcome. So let’s skip the overwhelm & MAKE IT SIMPLE using my top 3 need-to-knows from a nutritional perspective.
- 1. Pull back on all LIQUID SUGARS! Start by cleaning up your coffee order, ensuring you are drinking sugar free electrolytes like LMNT (not sponsored, just loved!) and say “see ya later” to fruit juices you may be enjoying in your mocktails.
Backstory: I’ll never forget when one of my best friends from childhood texted me in tears that she was diagnosed with gestational diabetes during her first pregnancy. I quickly found myself at her house going through her pantry as she took me through everything she consumed daily. She started her day off each and every morning with a packet of a very well marketed electrolyte. These packets had 12 grams of sugar in each packet. TWELVE GRAMS! (it is KEY to look at the nutrition label on anything you’re consuming. You want to look for the total sugar & added sugar. I like to keep the added sugar to 5 grams max). It is recommended that women consume no more than 24 grams of added sugar per day which means that my friend was unknowingly consuming half of her daily amount before she even put any food in her mouth- yikes! Within 2 weeks of pulling back on all liquid sugars and properly pairing her meals with the right macronutrient ratios, the RD she was set to work with was floored at how quickly her numbers came down and how well she was balancing her gestational diabetes with the tried and true methods we put into place immediately.
Liquids are always the place I start with clients because sugar sweetened liquids have the most drastic effect on our blood sugar because they are pure sugar without any fiber, fat or protein to slow the blood sugar rise when consuming them. I always like to give the example of drinking champagne on an empty stomach. You pretty much immediately feel the effects right? Same goes for liquid sugars and their impact on our blood sugar, pregnant or not!
- 2. Make a list of proteins you like and are able to consume. The meat aversions I had during my first trimester were no freaking joke. I legitimately thought I was never going to be able to eat chicken again. The fact that I am able to eat it now is MIND-BLOWING to me. So mama, if you’re reading this thinking “omg same” – know that I get it! What I did and what I have all of my clients to do is make a list in their phone using the Note app titled: “Proteins I like”. While there are many other important nutritional things to consider, I find this macronutrient the most important because we will literally keep eating until our body has enough amino acids which come from protein! Protein is the most satisfying macronutrient as it turns off more than half of your hunger hormones, so I find that focusing on that does WONDERS for my girls.
- I have also found that most women are able to tolerate dairy based proteins best in that first trimester. Things like Greek yogurt, cottage cheese) and also eggs. This is where I’ll encourage my clients to lean in to those things, even if they weren’t consuming a lot of dairy prior to pregnancy. Want some toast? GREAT, have at least one egg with some avocado on it. Want a bowl full of fruit? AWESOME, have it with a serving of greek yogurt. Is pasta the only thing you think you can stomach? FANTASTIC, choose a protein & fiber based one like Banza and add some grass-fed butter and parmesan cheese to it for some healthy fats. As you move through your pregnancy, that protein list will grow! Basing your meals off protein FIRST is the name of the game!
Because the biggest thing nutritionally when it comes to gestational diabetes, is that we want to avoid eating naked carbs. Meaning, we want to weigh the things that have the greatest impact on blood sugar (carbohydrates) down. And we can do this with fats too! Want a banana? YUM! Add some peanut butter sister! Need a slice of toast to just survive? Add a slice of cheese! (I fell in love with this Kerrygold during pregnancy). It’s all about ADDING to your main meals, mini meals and snacks, not restricting!
3. Pull back on processed foods. You’ve got enough of a process going on, which involves GROWING A HUMAN (!) so be mindful about the amount of processed foods that enter the temple of yours that’s home to your sweet baby! Processed foods are anything that come out of a box, bag, package or have a nutrition label on them. They’re the richest source of added sugar and often it’s hiding in foods marketed as ‘healthy’ like granola and low fat yogurt.
I encourage clients and friends to eat actual potatoes vs potato chips, real fruit instead of fruit bars etc. Generally speaking, the more processed something is, the less work it requires for your body to break it down which means it impacts your blood sugar quicker. Think of it like this.. how quickly have you been able to down half of a bag of potato chips (even the “clean” ones!) standing in your kitchen in a blink of an eye? That’s not a “you” thing, that’s just A REAL THING! You naturally feel yourself stop when full when eating some real roasted potatoes vs the delicious craveable crunch of a chip. It’s not about not having any processed foods ever, it’s just about giving your baby and your body what it really needs first (ideally as much real food as possible!) and then reassessing from there.
So mama, do your BEST. Give yourself GRACE along the way. And on those days when you feel like you can’t do it for you, do it for your dream baby inside of you. I’ll never get over the strength and power I found in pregnancy and continue to find 18 months postpartum when I think of my dream girl that my body grew! We mamas are truly the luckiest and I know you are more than capable of doing this! xx