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Gestational Diabetes Diet and Meal Plan
Updated on
September 11, 2023

Gestational Diabetes Diet and Meal Plan

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Gestational Diabetes Diet and Meal Plan.
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Gestational Diabetes Diet and Meal Plan

Have you been diagnosed with gestational diabetes? It might feel stressful to have to closely watch what you eat and know that if you don’t, you and baby can be at risk for health problems. But it can also be empowering to know that eating right can help keep you and baby healthy. So go forth and eat smart and savvy and—dare we say it?—maybe even enjoy it a little. Here’s how.

What is gestational diabetes?

“Gestational Diabetes Mellitus, often referred to as gestational diabetes or just GDM, is a type of diabetes that occurs during a pregnancy when a woman clearly did not have type 1 or type 2 diabetes prior to becoming pregnant,” says Laura Hieronymus, doctor of nursing practice and VP of health care programs at the American Diabetes Association.

Gestational diabetes, like regular diabetes, is a condition where your body doesn’t properly regulate the level of glucose (sugar) in your blood. It affects between 2% and 10% of pregnancies each year. If you have gestational diabetes, it most likely was brought on by pregnancy-related weight gain and/or hormones released by the placenta that block insulin. But regardless of what caused it, it will likely go away after delivery, especially if you stick with the treatment your healthcare provider prescribes.

For most pregnant people, their diagnosis of gestational diabetes happens when they’re found to have elevated blood sugar levels after taking a glucose tolerance test. That test, which every pregnant person is required to take during every pregnancy, is taken between 24 and 28 weeks pregnant. After a gestational diabetes diagnosis, “the treatment always includes an individualized meal plan and regular moderate physical activity and will likely include daily self-monitoring of blood glucose (blood sugar),” Hieronymus says. “As the pregnancy progresses, insulin injections are necessary if blood glucose levels do not meet target goals for pregnancy.”

Eating according to a gestational diabetes meal plan will help protect your baby from potential complications of gestational diabetes, which include high birth weight and preterm birth. But don’t stress: smart eating can help you and baby stay healthy. Totally worth it.

Gestational Diabetes Diet

There’s no one-size-fits-all food plan that works for every person with gestational diabetes. Much of what it entails is paying attention to how many carbs you’re eating in relation to protein and fats. Carbs make blood sugar spike the most, so they should be limited.

Tracking all your food can be tedious and exhausting, so it’s important to work with a professional to ensure you’re getting the support you need. “All [pregnant people] with GDM should meet with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) who specializes in diabetes care, and work together to develop an individualized food plan,” Hieronymus says.

“Everyone’s dietary needs and tolerance to carbohydrates varies,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Lily Nichols, author of Real Food for Gestational Diabetes. “The best way to know you’re eating the right quantity of carbohydrates and balance of foods at mealtimes is to pay close attention to your blood sugar response after meals.”

That’s why it’s important for those with gestational diabetes to monitor their blood glucose levels with a glucose meter. Sure, pricking your finger four or more times a day (in the morning and after every meal) may not be your idea of a good time, but your blood glucose levels really will tell you how your body’s responding to what and how you’re eating. You and your doctor or dietician can tweak your gestational diabetes diet plan as you go to make it work for you.

What to eat when you have gestational diabetes

In general, a diet that will help with treating gestational diabetes should be balanced across macronutrients (fats, carbs and proteins). “Optimal foods are lean and/or plant-based proteins, whole grains, non-starchy vegetables, fruit, and low-fat dairy or plant-based alternatives,” Hieronymus says. Here’s more specific guidance on what makes “optimal” foods for a gestational diabetes diet:

  • Balanced meals and snacks. “Every time you eat, make sure you have a fat, a carb and a protein,” says registered dietician Leigh Tracy, a diabetes educator at the Center for Endocrinology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.
  • Lean protein. Fish, poultry, tofu and beans are healthy protein choices for people with gestational diabetes. “Protein will help you feel full and satisfied and may help you think more clearly when it is time to choose your next meal or snack!” Tracy says. Protein also helps balance your blood sugar level when you eat it alongside carbs.
  • Healthy fats. Choose unsaturated fats like avocados, olive oil, salmon, tuna and chia seeds. “Carbohydrates give you quick energy but may raise your blood sugar too quickly,” Tracy says. “Fat acts as a speed bump by slowing your body’s absorption of the carbohydrate.”
  • Veggies. “Non-starchy vegetables like greens, tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, mushrooms and peppers are low in carbohydrates and full of fiber and nutrients,” Tracy says.
  • Lots of water. Dehydration can cause blood sugar levels to rise, so keep drinking up. Plain ol’ H2O is best.
  • Fiber-rich foods. “Fiber is useful because it slows the absorption of food and can help prevent a spike in blood sugar,” says registered dietitian Beth Auguste, founder of Be Well with Beth. “For example, choose breads and crackers that have at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.”

Also consider taking a walk after a meal, since even a little bit of exercise after eating can lower blood sugar levels and help you manage your gestational diabetes. General guidance for exercise to aid in gestational diabetes treatment is 30 minutes a day three to five days a week, unless you have a condition that restricts physical activity.

Foods to avoid with gestational diabetes

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to completely cut out a whole bunch of foods because you have gestational diabetes. It’s all about balance and not going too crazy with the carbs, especially sugar.

But, in general, if you have gestational diabetes, try to avoid:

  • Sugary drinks. Skip the soda and fruit juice. “Even all-natural, organic, no-sugar-added juice contains carbs and will raise your blood sugar. Try water with lemon or water flavoring packets like True Lemon,” Tracy suggests. Sparkling water like LaCroix can also be refreshing and satisfying.
  • Sweets. Got a sweet craving? Candy, cakes and a lot of fruit are no-gos when you have gestational diabetes because of their sugar and carbohydrates. But, Auguste says, you can have a little full-fat ice cream every now and then.
  • Super starchy foods. We’re not saying people with gestational diabetes should skip carbs like potatoes, pasta, white rice and white bread completely, but you should definitely limit them, pair them with protein and fats, and try to choose whole grain and/or fiber-rich versions instead.
  • No-carb dieting. Do not try to cut carbs completely just because you have gestational diabetes. Your body needs them, and you’ll feel too deprived without them.

Gestational diabetes meal plan and recipe ideas

When planning each gestational diabetes-friendly meal, keep that balance in mind. “I typically recommend that each meal should contain some protein, healthy fat, carbohydrate and non-starchy vegetables,” Tracy suggests. For example, “for lunch, try a whole wheat sandwich with roasted turkey breast, a couple slices of avocado and topped with lettuce, with a side salad with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil dressing.”

Looking for recipes that fit into a gestational diabetes meal plan? Here are a few ideas:

There are some seriously delicious options you can enjoy when you have gestational diabetes. Plus, eating well for your baby’s health can get you on track for sticking to some healthy habits for the rest of your life.


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