What to Eat to Manage Gestational Diabetes

Type 2 Diabetes is a chronic disease that is characterised by blood glucose levels (BGL) that remain elevated after eating. Gestational diabetes (GDM) is a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy, which is controlled in part by pregnancy hormones and can be influenced by poor diet and lack of physical activity. It is estimated that around 12-14% of pregnant women are diagnosed with GDM each year. GDM can impact the long-term health of both mother and baby if it is not managed correctly during pregnancy. While in most cases blood glucose levels do return to normal immediately post birth, it is important to know that a mother’s ongoing risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in future years is extremely high. In addition, persistently high BGLs can increase the risk of a child developing chronic disease in their later life.

Therefore, it is important that if you are diagnosed with GDM, that you work closely with your team of healthcare professionals (OBGYN, Dietitian and Diabetes Nurse Educator), to manage your BGLs. This can be achieved through healthy eating, exercise monitoring, and medication (if needed). Here are the key dietary steps to take to keep your BGLs and weight as tightly controlled as possible for the duration of your pregnancy.

  • Space out your carbohydrates throughout the day: Carbohydrate foods provide us with energy in the form of glucose and these foods include bread, cereal, pasta, rice, milk, fruit and sweets. Consuming small meals every 2-3 hours will be a much better option than eating larger meals less frequently. It is important not to cut these foods out as these are essential for the growth of your baby.
  • Choose low GI (less processed) carbohydrate foods: These foods will help to manage BGL patterns preventing spikes in BGLs after meals and include: Whole-grain bread, long grain rice, legumes, wholegrain cereals such as rolled oats, seeded crackers, most fruit and dairy.
  • Minimise high GI (highly processed) carbohydrate foods: These foods will often spike BGLs after meals and these foods include: White bread, medium grain rice, cakes, watermelon, pastries, confectionary, and some highlight processed cereals such as puffed rice/wheat. Consuming these foods can often result in fatigue, sugar cravings and often excessive weight gain.
  • Do not lose weight during pregnancy: This can be potentially harmful to the growth rate of your baby. What is encouraged is to control the rate of weight gain during pregnancy, particularly if your weight was higher before conception.
  • Commence a gentle exercise regime: Walking or swimming for 30-45 minutes after a meal may help to lower BGLs after meals. It is important to discuss this with your health care team to ensure that your exercise choice is appropriate for you.

Below is a sample meal plan which provides a guide on how you can space out your carbohydrate intake during pregnancy with GDM.

Sample meal plan

Breakfast Morning Tea Lunch Afternoon Tea Dinner Supper
Meal option 1 Rolled oats (1/2 cup) with milk and added nuts Fruit e.g. Apple 1 Sourdough roll with cheese, mixed vegetables and tuna 1 tub yoghurt 1.5 cups cooked pasta/noodles with chicken and mixed vegetables Muesli Bar
Meal option 2 2 slices grain toast, 2 teaspoons peanut butter or 1 tablespoon avocado
1 fresh fruit
1 fresh fruit e.g. Banana 1 Baked Sweet potato (200g) with mixed vegetables such as corn, chicken mince, 1 glass of milk And 30g mixed nuts 4 wholegrain crackers e.g. Vitaweat with cheese 1 cup cooked long grain rice or quinoa with beef and vegetable curry