- Gestational diabetes occurs when blood sugar levels rise during pregnancy.
- Most people can manage their blood sugar levels by making dietary changes.
- Follow our 5-day diabetes meal plan to start improving blood sugar levels.
Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) occurs when you have elevated blood sugar levels during pregnancy due to insulin resistance or insufficient insulin levels. Insulin is an essential hormone for managing blood sugar levels, and without enough functional insulin, blood sugar levels can rise (known as hyperglycemia).
Fortunately, most people can manage elevated blood sugars during pregnancy through lifestyle and dietary changes. In fact, a review published in 2020 found that 70-85% of people who were diagnosed with gestational diabetes had improved glucose control through lifestyle and dietary management alone.
Keep reading to learn more about nutrition's role in managing blood sugar levels, and start improving your blood sugars by following our 5-day gestational diabetes meal plan.
Gestational Diabetes Basics: Getting Started
Being pregnant is an exciting time, and taking care of yourself and your growing baby is the top priority. If your blood sugar levels are going up during your pregnancy, you can make changes to help bring your numbers back down to a healthy range.
- Being active. Regular physical activity helps to lower blood sugar levels and increases sensitivity to insulin. Ask your doctor which types of exercises (and intensity levels) are appropriate for during your pregnancy.
- Eat regularly throughout the day. Aim to eat 3 meals daily, plus 2-3 snacks to help keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day.
- Aim for 28g of fiber per day. Fiber is found in whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. It helps to slow down glucose breakdown in food, which delays sugar absorption into the bloodstream.
- Check your blood sugar levels. A glucometer is a blood sugar testing device that can help you measure your blood sugar levels at home. This data can help you make meaningful changes to better control your blood sugar levels.
Working with a registered dietitian specializing in gestational diabetes management can be immensely helpful. If you want individualized nutrition care, consider booking a virtual appointment with a Nourish dietitian.
What to Eat with Gestational Diabetes
Learning more about the types of foods that impact your blood sugar levels is a great place to start your gestational diabetes education. The key foods you want to familiarize yourself with are called carbohydrates. After eating, they are metabolized and absorbed into the bloodstream in the form of simple sugars (called glucose). Your muscles, tissues, and vital organs use these sugar molecules for fuel. While pregnant you should eat a minimum of 175g of carbohydrates daily.
Choose carbohydrates that are high in fiber to slow down glucose digestion and absorption into the bloodstream. Below are a few examples of carbohydrates you may recognize:
- Whole grains: quinoa, oatmeal, brown rice, millet, and buckwheat.
- Fruits: apples, blueberries, cantaloupe, peaches, raspberries.
- Vegetables: broccoli, mushrooms, onions, asparagus, cabbage (all varieties).
- Legumes: kidney beans, black beans, white beans, pinto beans. These plant-based foods also contain protein, which further aids with satiety and blood sugar control.
Dairy products contain naturally occurring carbohydrates and other essential nutrients such as calcium and protein. Similar to fiber, protein also helps slow down glucose breakdown. You can absolutely include dairy foods while managing your blood sugar levels but try to pick products that are lower in added sugars most often, such as unflavored yogurts.
At meals, you can include either animal or plant-based sources of protein. The American Diabetes Association suggests choosing lean or low-fat options whenever possible, and you should aim for a minimum of 71g daily. A few examples are listed below:
- Chicken and poultry.
- Fish and seafood.
- Cottage cheese.
- Extra-lean ground beef.
- Tofu and other soy-based products.
Consider working with a registered dietitian if you need help learning what foods can optimize your blood sugar levels. You can book a virtual nutrition appointment through Nourish.
Meal Plan for Gestational Diabetes
Below is an example of a 5-day meal plan for gestational diabetes. The portion sizes will vary depending on your nutritional requirements.
- Breakfast - hard-boiled egg sliced onto whole grain toast, served with fresh avocado, diced tomatoes, and baby arugula.
- Lunch - tuna prepared with olive oil, kalamata olives, roasted peppers, red onion, and feta. Serve wrapped in a whole-grain tortilla with fresh lettuce.
- Dinner - deconstructed slow-cooker cabbage rolls with ground turkey, shredded cabbage, canned tomato, onion, brown rice, garlic, and your favorite spices.
- Snacks - trail mix with fresh fruit slices. In the afternoon, you can have Greek yogurt with berries and spices.
- Breakfast - toasted whole grain English muffin with your favorite nut butter, fresh berries, and sprinkled with ground cinnamon.
- Lunch - mixed bean salad with fresh cucumber, tomato, sweet onion, cilantro, and diced avocado. Dress with olive oil and apple cider vinegar. Serve with a hard-boiled egg for protein.
- Dinner - beef stir fry (with lean sirloin steak). Cook with onions, bok choy, peppers, garlic, and broccoli. Dress with a homemade sauce with sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, a small amount of orange juice, and grated fresh ginger. Serve over brown rice.
- Snacks - air-popped popcorn seasoned with olive oil, chili powder, and garlic powder. In the afternoon, you can have fresh fruits with cottage cheese.
- Breakfast - boiled steel-cut oats with nuts, seeds, diced peaches, and unsweetened coconut flakes.
- Lunch - quinoa-based chili with kidney beans, red peppers, canned tomato, onions, garlic, and carrots. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and fresh jalapeno (if you can tolerate spice).
- Dinner - white fish baked with capers, lemon juice, onion, and garlic. Serve with bulgar and a green salad on the side.
- Snacks - cottage cheese with fresh berries. In the afternoon, you can have leftover popcorn from the day before.
- Breakfast - tofu scramble with sundried tomato, spinach leaves, red onion, and a spoonful of cheddar cheese. Serve over whole-grain toast.
- Lunch - grilled chicken sandwich served on a whole grain bun. Add your favorite toppings like lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles. Garnish with mustard and a small amount of mayonnaise.
- Dinner - baked cauliflower and black bean bowl. Serve over quinoa and garnished with fresh tomato, bell peppers, and onions. Dress with a homemade cream sauce made with sour cream, water, garlic powder, and curry.
- Snacks - chia seed pudding made with milk, garnished with fresh plum. In the afternoon, you can have fresh-cut vegetable sticks with your go-to dip.
- Breakfast - savory warmed lentils with spices, onion, kale, tomato, and served with whole grain naan or pita bread.
- Lunch - buckwheat soup with turkey, sweet potato, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, and parsley. Serve with a side of fresh vegetables and hummus.
- Dinner - baked salmon filet with lemon and garlic marinade, served with roasted squash, asparagus, and a side of herbed brown rice. To make herbed rice: add chopped fresh parsley and basil leaves, olive oil, pistachios, and a pinch of salt into cooked brown rice.
- Snacks - whole grain crackers with fresh cucumber and avocado dip; in the afternoon, you can have fresh fruits with cheese slices.
Tips for Meal Preparation
It is normal to experience fluctuating energy levels as you move through each trimester. When you feel well, try to prep several meals and store them in the freezer. Your future self will be grateful because when you feel too tired to cook, you can grab a nutritious homemade meal from the freezer, reheat it, and enjoy it.
It is easier to be prepared when you have a well-stocked pantry and fridge. Frozen and canned vegetables and fruits offer similar nutritional benefits as fresh produce but are often more affordable and very quick to prepare. It is a good food-safety practice to fully drain and thoroughly rinse any canned foods before eating.
Lean on others for meal preparation support during this time. Consider having meal planning sessions with your partner or your close friends to make the experience more enjoyable. Adding a social element can make the whole experience more fun and offload some of the cooking responsibilities.
Learning how to nourish yourself and manage your blood sugar levels can be stress-free with the right support network in place. A gestational diabetes registered dietitian is expertly trained in the nutrition management of health, including prenatal and diabetes management.
Nourish offers individualized nutrition counseling through online appointments that easily fit into your schedule. Most insurance providers cover the cost, which means you pay no money out of pocket. Get started with a registered dietitian now!
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