Carbohydrates get a bad rap in the media, but they are an essential energy source, significantly during pregnancy when caloric needs increase. Carbs are broken down into simple glucose molecules, which help the baby grow and develop vital organs. But sometimes, during pregnancy, your blood sugar levels can start to creep up, and you may be diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Read on to learn more about this condition and get inspired by our healthy snack ideas for gestational diabetes.
What is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational Diabetes refers to high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), specifically during pregnancy. This can happen because the body’s insulin, a hormone responsible for stabilizing blood sugar levels, is no longer as sensitive or effective while pregnant.1
It is essential to take steps to lower high blood sugar. Chronically high levels can increase the risk of:1
- Preeclampsia, or high blood pressure during pregnancy.
- The baby has high blood sugar.
- A very large baby will require a c-section for delivery.
- Injury to mom during delivery due to a larger baby.
- Developing type two diabetes after delivery.2
Fortunately, most people can improve their blood sugar control through diet and lifestyle changes. This review showed that 70-85% of people diagnosed with gestational diabetes kept their blood sugars within a healthy range by improving their carbohydrate selections.3
They prioritized unprocessed carbohydrates and opted for fiber-rich choices. Fiber slows down how quickly a food is digested, so the glycemic impact on your blood sugar levels is delayed. Unprocessed foods are also lower in refined sugars and higher in essential vitamins and minerals that both mom and baby need to thrive.4
Examples of high-quality carbohydrates include:
- Whole grains (rice, pasta, cereals, crackers, etc.)
- Fresh fruits.
- Starchy vegetables (sweet potato, squash).
- Pulses and legumes (lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, navy beans, etc.)
- Unflavoured dairy products.
How Do I Know If I Have Gestational Diabetes?
Pregnant women should have their blood sugars assessed during the second trimester, between 24-28 weeks. If your blood sugars come back high, you will be asked to complete an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT).1
To complete the OGTT, you must drink a high-glucose beverage and wait a few hours for a blood test. If your blood sugars come back high, it can suggest your body’s insulin is having difficulty doing its job. Your physician will interpret the full results and let you know the appropriate next steps.
Healthy Snacks For Gestational Diabetes
If you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you do not need to be afraid to eat. Instead, it’s essential to focus on what you eat and how often. Eating three meals daily and two snacks are recommended to maintain stable blood sugars during pregnancy.3
The formula for a blood-sugar-friendly snack includes a complex carbohydrate high in fiber, paired with a lean protein and a little bit of unsaturated fat, considered a healthier form of fat.
Combined, these dietary elements slow down digestion and delay the effect of sugars from food entering your bloodstream. They keep your blood glucose levels stable, and they help you feel satisfied after eating.
Here are some blood-sugar-friendly snack ideas:
- Carrot sticks with peanut butter (or any nut butter).
- Fresh apple slices with cheddar cheese.
- Sliced cucumber drizzled with olive oil and hummus for dipping.
- A slice of whole grain toast with avocado and crumbled feta cheese.
- Unflavoured greek yogurt with mixed unsalted nuts, blueberries, and cinnamon.
- Baked peach drizzled with balsamic vinegar, served over greek yogurt.
- Whole grain crackers with cream cheese, tinned salmon, and cucumber slices.
- Overnight oatmeal cup with 2% milk, garnished with mixed berries, fresh mint leaves, and shredded unsweetened coconut.
- Whole grain English muffin with tinned tuna in olive oil, tomato, lettuce, and cheese slices.
- Air-popped popcorn, drizzled with olive oil and dusted with chili seasoning and paprika. Or, you can dust with garlic powder for a more mild option.
- Baked pear served with 2% cottage cheese, garnished with toasted sunflower seeds.
There will be days when you have to rely on prepackaged snacks. When possible, choose foods with as little processing as possible. Processed and ultra-processed foods are notoriously high in added sugars and low in fiber, which may spike your blood sugars.5
Choose these options whenever possible:
- Fresh fruit and precut are delicate.
- Mary’s crackers with hummus.
- Dried beans (chickpeas, fava beans).
- Vegetable pack with dip.
- Unsalted trail mix.
Bedtime Snacks For Gestational Diabetes
If you wake up with high blood sugar in the morning, you may want to try adding a snack before bedtime. Sugars can creep up overnight because it can be the most prolonged period without eating. Without dietary carbs, your liver will release glucose into your bloodstream to keep your levels in the normal range.6
Unfortunately, with diabetes, the liver doesn’t get notified when enough sugar is released. It continues to drip more into the bloodstream, and your numbers can increase. This is sometimes referred to as the leaky liver effect.6
Any snacks listed above are suitable before bed, but some people may be more sensitive to indigestion and should limit their fat intake before sleep. Even health-promoting fats can trigger heartburn and make you feel uncomfortable while pregnant. Keep your bedtime snack light so you can get the rest you and your baby need.
How Do I Know If My Sugars Are Improving?
The only way to know if a snack before bed is working is to track your sugars using a glucometer. Your healthcare team can teach you how to use this device, and a Dietitian can teach you how to interpret your readings.
The American Diabetes Association recommends using these blood glucose targets for gestational diabetes:7
- Before eating: 95 mg/dl or less
- One hour after a meal: 140 mg/dl or less
- Two hours after a meal: 120 mg/dl or less
Work With A Registered Dietitian
Nourish can connect you with a Diabetes Certified Registered Dietitian (RD). They can help you feel more confident in managing gestational diabetes. Together you can build a plan to stabilize blood sugar levels and ensure you and your baby remain healthy. Use Nourish to find the right RD for you now!
- Gestational Diabetes. (2022, March 2). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Chen, P., Wang, S., Ji, J., Ge, A., Chen, C., Zhu, Y., Xie, N., & Wang, Y. (2015). Risk factors and management of gestational diabetes. Cell biochemistry and biophysics, 71(2), 689–694.
- Lende, M., & Rijhsinghani, A. (2020). Gestational Diabetes: Overview with Emphasis on Medical Management. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(24), 9573.
- Monteiro, C. (2009). Nutrition and health. The issue is not food, nor nutrients, so much as processing. Public Health Nutrition, 12(5), 729-731. doi:10.1017/S1368980009005291
- Elizabeth, L., Machado, P., Zinöcker, M., Baker, P., & Lawrence, M. (2020). Ultra-Processed Foods and Health Outcomes: A Narrative Review. Nutrients, 12(7), 1955.
- Zeigerer, A., Sekar, R., Kleinert, M., Nason, S., Habegger, K. M., & Müller, T. D. (2021). Glucagon's Metabolic Action in Health and Disease. Comprehensive Physiology, 11(2), 1759–1783.
- Gestational Diabetes - Symptoms, Treatments | ADA. (n.d.). https://diabetes.org/diabetes/gestational-diabetes