What is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM) is a type of diabetes that is usually diagnosed between 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy. Having GDM means that your blood glucose levels (or blood sugar levels) during pregnancy are higher than normal. So how does this happen? When we eat carbohydrate foods they break down into glucose in our body. Insulin (a hormone produced by our pancreas) regulates this process by keeping blood glucose levels within range. It does this by allowing glucose to enter the muscles and be used as energy. During GDM, the body does not produce enough insulin and/or it does not work as well as it should (referred to as insulin resistance). This leads to high blood glucose levels and the diagnosis of GDM. For the majority of pregnant women, GDM will resolve after giving birth however it does increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and GDM in future pregnancies.
What can you do to manage GDM?
While the diagnosis of GDM may come as a shock and the increased risk of complications may worry you, the good news is that you can manage your blood glucose levels and reduce the risk of these complications by implementing healthy eating habits. This will not only be beneficial during pregnancy but also keep you healthy afterwards.
Healthy Eating tips for Gestational Diabetes
- Choose low GI carbohydrates: Carbohydrate foods that increase your blood glucose levels more slowly are low GI and preferred for diabetes. So aim to include more low GI carbohydrates in your diet such as fruit (fresh, canned or dried), brown or wholegrain breads and cereals (rice, bread, pasta, oats), grains (quinoa, barley), milk, yoghurt, legumes (beans, chickpeas), lentils and starchy vegetables (orange sweet potato, corn and some white potatoes). These foods will also keep you fuller for longer, help to mange good weight gain during pregnancy and reduce the risk of developing diabetes in the future.
- Spread your carbohydrate intake throughout the day : Aim to eat 5-6 times throughout the day, including snacks in between. This will help to keep your blood glucose levels stable and also provide you with a sustainable amount of energy to undertake activities throughout your day. If you skip meals, you are more likely to overeat at the next meal and this may cause your blood glucose levels to rise rapidly.
- Balance your meals: As we already know, eating a large amount of carbohydrate at one time can elevate your blood glucose levels. A good way to control your carbohydrate intake is to think about how a portion plate should look like. So fill half your plate with non-starchy veggies (e.g. carrot, capsicum, broccoli, tomato), a quarter with a lean protein source (meat, chicken, fish, eggs, tofu) and the other quarter with a low GI carbohydrate. Non-starchy vegetables and meat/alternatives will not affect your blood glucose levels, as they contain little to no carbohydrate. So if you have had a carbohydrate containing snack and are still feeling hungry, then fill up with carbohydrate free foods instead.
- Limit high fat and sugar foods: While fat does not directly impact blood glucose levels, an excess intake of saturated fat can exacerbate insulin resistance. Additionally, high fat and sugary foods have little nutritional value and are high GI, which will raise your blood glucose levels quickly. So try to limit saturated fats (butter, full fat dairy products, fat on meat, pastries, crisps, cakes, biscuits) and also sugary foods (soft drinks, cordial, chocolate, confectionary). If using sweeteners such as sugar, honey or jam use a small amount. Replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats such as plant-based oils (olive, canola, sunflower), margarine, nuts (walnuts, almonds), seeds, oily fish and avocado.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
Eat a well balanced diet from all of the five food groups – focusing on the type and amount of carbohydrate foods you eat. This will not only help to manage your blood glucose levels but also ensure you are meeting your overall nutritional needs for both you and your baby.
Everyone’s experience with GDM is different and your nutritional requirements may vary depending on if you are using diet and lifestyle, medications and/or insulin to manage your blood glucose levels. So if you require more individualised advice, get in contact with one of our Accredited Practising Dietitian’s so we can support you through your pregnancy. You can book into one of our nearest clinics or contact us for online consults.