What can I eat if I have gestational diabetes?
How to control gestational diabetes with diet - including 4 tasty recipes, what foods to avoid and what worked for our mums
If you've been told you have Gestational Diabetes (GD), there's a lot of info to take in. And your diet will be high on that list.
You may have been given the chance to try to manage your GD just through diet, rather than by medication as well. This means keeping the amount of sugar in your blood (your glucose levels) at an even level and not too high. And one of the key things to remember is that carbs will have an impact on your blood glucose levels.
And if you're trying to maintain those levels by diet alone, rather than by medication, one of the key things to remember is that all carbs will have an impact on your blood glucose levels.
8 golden diet rules for gestational diabetes
We love the Gestational Diabetes UK website, set up by GD-experienced mum Jo Paterson. Jo gives tips and recipes (some of which we include here) to help you get on track quickly if you've been told you have gestational diabetes.
There are 8 golden rules shared by Gestational Diabetes UK to help keep your blood glucose levels steady.
- Eat little and often, ideally 3 meals and 3 snacks a day
- 'Pair' foods so that they will be tolerated better (when it comes to GD ‘food pairing’ is generally about pairing carbs with protein and natural fats to slow down sugar absorption in the blood)
- Eat high protein
- Eat good, natural fats
- Eat low amounts of unrefined complex starchy carbohydrates at every meal
- Bulk up meals with lots of vegetables and salad
- Drink plenty of water
- Go for a stroll
As you learn to live with gestational diabetes, you'll probably learn more about what your body can and can't take, what's good for you and what's not.
One of our mums, Deborah H, for example, found that eating eggs for breakfast kept her sugars low all day.
And quite a few of our mums reported that Weetabix made their blood glucose levels spike (for some, more than a piece of cake) so did their best to avoid it.
“Breakfast was always the most difficult meal for me,” advises Bluewater. “Weetabix is full of carbs, so you need to be careful there. Try higher protein stuff, eggs, bacon, baked beans, 1 slice of wholemeal toast. Porridge was ok for me but it took a great deal of trial and error to get there.”
Bodlondon found her midwive was really helpful as she’d had GD herself. “I was given dietary advice which basically involved cutting down on carbs as well as sugars and choosing carbs such as basmati rice rather than white rice. Also, watch out for certain breakfast cereals - things like cornflakes and rice crispies pushed my blood sugar up whereas Shredded Wheat kept it under control.
“My midwife encouraged me to be a bit more active immediately after eating e.g. doing the washing up straight away as this helps your body to process any sugar. “
“I found snacks the hardest thing, as I'd usually reach for a biscuit or some chocolate, but i got into the habit of snacking on nuts and seeds,” says LittleWelshOne. “Plain popcorn is good too. “
Foods to avoid when you have Gestational Diabetes
Foods that have a high GI - which is short for glycemic index - can make your blood sugar levels spike and so should be avoided.
Foods that have a high GI tend to be more processed foods containing refined sugar, such as:
- white flour
- white bread
- processed cereal, including puffed rice and corn flakes
- white rice
- some fruits, including bananas, grapes, watermelon – the GI of some fruits, such as bananas goes up as they ripen
Foods that are low GI and therefore better for Gestational Diabetes
More starchy foods release energy slowly and are therefore low GI.
- dried beans, pulses and lentils
- many vegetables, including sweet potato, peas, legumes
- wholegrain breads
- some wholegrain cereals and porridges
- wholemeal pasta
- most fruits
- basmati rice, quinoa and bulgur wheat
Preparing and cooking also affects GI
he way you prepare some food can affect their GI: for example, mashing potatoes increases their GI by breaking down the starch cells.
MFMer Johanna L recalls, "Plain boiled potatoes were fine, but as soon as they were mashed my sugar shot up."
4 gestational diabetes recipes - breakfast, main meals and pudding
1. Banana pancakes
Although bananas are carbohydrates and can be quite hard to tolerate with GD, if you use smaller, green bananas, these contain less sugar.
"Breakfast is the hardest meal to control," explains Jo, founder of Gestational Diabetes UK, "as we're more insulin-resistant in the mornings.
"If you use smaller, green bananas, these pancakes make a helpful alternative to eggs every morning no a GD diet."
See the GD banana pancake recipe
2. Creamy Cauliflower Cheese
Cauliflower is a healthy low GI food with lots of nutrients, including vitamin K, protein, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, fibre, vitamin B6 and folate.
3. Spaghetti bolognese
Swap your usual refined pasta for wholewheat spaghetti. You can also use Quorn instead of beef mince – Quorn is low in carbs but high in protein, a perfect GD food.
4. Peanut butter cookies
Grain free and sugar free – yet still delicious!
Will I need to have insulin or tablets?
It varies. Some expectant mums find they can control their GD with diet alone, others need medication to help.
“I was given info on what to eat, given a sugar blood testing kit and told to keep a record for a week of what I ate for each meal and what the sugar reading was,” recalls Suziewoo.
“I had appointments once a week from then on in the diabetic clinic. I could soon see what foods made my sugars high (carbs/fat and sugar of course!). I was lucky enough to control mine by diet.“
But sometimes diet alone simply won't be enough, as one of our mums, Stacey H, tells us: "I didn't eat a lot of sweets and only had treats once in a while.
"Even when eating healthily I was still unwell and ended up being on insulin injections, which helped me more than tablets."
If this is the case, your doctor will be make sure you're given what you need, be it tablets or injections.
You’re not alone with Gestational Diabetes
Gestational Diabetes is much more common than you might think. It happens to 18 in 100 women in England and Wales, and is on the rise. It occurs when your body isn't able to produce enough insulin (a hormone that controls sugar levels) to meet the extra needs that come with being pregnant - meaning you end up with too much glucose in your blood.
There aren't usually any symptoms, and so it's normally picked up through looking at your blood sugar levels when you have a blood test at your regular antenatal visits. If your blood sugar is high, you'll be given further tests.
Tara is mum to 1 daughter, Bodhi Rae, and has worked as Content Editor and Social Media Producer at MadeForMums since 2015
Six big family moments that matter – and the products that make them easier to navigate
These products from John Lewis & Partners help support the memorable moments of family life.