Diet and Meal Plan for Gestational Diabetes

Have you been diagnosed with gestational diabetes? Learn what foods to eat and what foods to avoid, plus get a 3-day meal plan.

pregnant-woman
by
Rebecca Washuta
— Signos
MS, CNS, LDN
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Reviewed by

Rebecca Washuta
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
July 19, 2024
January 11, 2024
— Updated:

Table of Contents

If you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you’ve likely got a lot on your mind. Not only are you navigating pregnancy and preparing for parenthood, but you’re also concerned about how this condition may affect your health and the health of your baby.

Gestational diabetes isn’t something to be taken lightly. It can lead to preterm delivery and respiratory distress syndrome in babies and can cause preeclampsia and future metabolic issues (like type 2 diabetes) in moms.1 Fortunately, most cases of gestational diabetes can be managed with lifestyle changes in areas like exercise, stress, and, most importantly, diet. In this article, we’ll explain what you need to know about gestational diabetes and provide a sample meal plan.

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Understanding Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is one of the most common conditions associated with pregnancy. An estimated 8% of mothers are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and this risk increases to almost 16% in mothers over the age of 40.2 

Gestational diabetes occurs when your pancreas can’t make enough insulin to keep up with the new demands associated with pregnancy. Although this condition typically subsides after you give birth, it can lead to complications like high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes for the mom and other serious health concerns for the baby.3

During pregnancy, your baby requires lots of fuel (in this case, glucose) because they are growing so quickly.  To accommodate this increased need, your body changes how it handles glucose. During pregnancy, your body produces hormones like progesterone, cortisol, and prolactin, making your cells more insulin-resistant.3 This decrease in maternal insulin sensitivity saves glucose molecules so they can be transferred through the placenta to the baby. 

As the mother’s cells become more insulin-resistant, the pancreas is required to produce more insulin. If the pancreas can’t keep up with the increased demand for insulin, gestational diabetes develops. Although this condition can’t be reversed, it can be properly controlled with the right diet.

Tips for Maintaining Low Glucose Levels When Pregnant

Keeping your blood sugar levels in check is always important, but this becomes your highest priority if you have gestational diabetes. Here are some of the best ways to balance your blood glucose levels during pregnancy.

  1. High Fiber: The American Pregnancy Association recommends aiming for 25 to 30g of fiber per day.4 Fiber helps slow down the absorption of glucose, which will prevent your blood sugar from spiking. Fiber also supports a healthy gut microbiome, which has been shown to improve glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes.

  2. Stay Physically Active: The easiest thing you can do to lower your blood sugar is to get moving, and this has never been more true than during pregnancy. Studies have shown that exercise during pregnancy has been shown to decrease the risk of gestational diabetes.6

    Traditional exercises like running and weight lifting can feel difficult during pregnancy with all the changes your body is going through (especially in the third trimester), but any type of physical activity will help. Low-intensity exercises like yoga, swimming, dancing, and even walking can lead to a healthier pregnancy and delivery.

  3. Manage Stress:Stress hormones can cause a rise in blood sugar, so it’s important to do your best to manage your stress levels while pregnant. Pregnancy can be very stressful as your mind and body adapt to many changes, so it’s essential to find ways to actively relax. Things like breathwork, meditation, journaling, or even listening to music can help you unwind.

  4. Monitor Your Blood Sugar Levels Regularly: If you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, it’s crucial to monitor your blood sugar levels frequently to prevent any major swings. Continuous Glucose Monitors (like the one Signos offers) are painless, convenient, and give you real-time data to keep your blood sugar in check.

Managing Gestational Diabetes Through a Healthy Diet

Your diet plays a big role in your body’s glucose metabolism and insulin production, which is why it’s so important to be mindful of what you’re eating when you're pregnant. Eating a balanced diet high in fiber, high-quality protein, and healthy fat can support a healthy pregnancy and prevent health complications for you and your baby. 

Below are our top tips for how to improve your diet when you have gestational diabetes:

  1. Eat Balanced Meals: Although it may feel easy to give in to cravings, avoid high-carbohydrate meals and snacks. Instead, balance carbohydrate-rich foods with lean protein, fat, and fiber. Instead of a bowl of mac & cheese, try mac & cheese with chicken and broccoli. Instead of a chocolate bar, try unsweetened Greek yogurt with chocolate chips and nuts. Eating this way will slow down digestion and help flatten your blood sugar curve.

  2. Opt for Complex Carbohydrates: Simple carbs like white bread, traditional pasta, cookies, cakes, chips, and candy are quickly broken down and absorbed by the body, which will send your blood sugar soaring. Instead, choose complex carbohydrates like whole grain bread and cereals, chickpea or lentil pasta, and sweets packaged with fiber like fruit.

  3. Maintain Regular Eating Intervals Throughout the DayEating at regular times during the day can help prevent high blood sugar and low blood sugar swings. This will also help you maintain your energy levels (pregnancy fatigue is real) and support regular bowel movements.

Balanced Nutrition With Gestational Diabetes: What to Include and Avoid

While you need to be mindful about what you’re eating with gestational diabetes, it doesn’t have to be hard. Here is a list of healthy foods to incorporate into your diet and foods you should avoid.

Include

  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Turkey
  • Tofu
  • Non-starchy vegetables (the more colorful veggies you can eat, the better!)
  • Fruit (1-2 servings per day)
  • Cottage cheese
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Protein pastas
  • Nuts/nut butters
  • Seeds
  • Popcorn
  • Unsweetened yogurt
  • Olive oil
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Chia seeds
  • Flaxseeds

Avoid

  • Candy
  • Desserts
  • Soft drinks
  • Juice
  • White bread/pasta
  • Refined grains
  • Highly processed foods
  • Fast food
  • Fried foods
  • Baked goods

Example of a 3-Day Meal Plan for Gestational Diabetes

woman-doing-a-weekly-meal-plan

Below is what a healthy meal plan may look like for someone with gestational diabetes. Portion sizes will vary depending on your weight and physical activity, but you can use this gestational diabetes meal plan as a guide. Talk to your registered dietitian or healthcare provider to develop a personalized meal plan for you.

Day 1

  • Breakfast: Unsweetened plain yogurt topped with fresh fruit, chia seeds, and sliced almonds
  • Lunch: Kale Caesar salad with roasted salmon and avocado
  • Snack: Guacamole or hummus with baby carrots and celery
  • Dinner: Baked chicken breast over quinoa with a side of steamed zucchini
  • Dessert: Banana ice cream (frozen bananas blended into a puree) topped with grain-free granola

Day 2

  • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with a side of sauteed spinach and whole-grain toast
  • Lunch: Chicken salad sandwich on whole grain bread with a side salad
  • Snack: Cottage cheese with whole grain crackers
  • Dinner: Tofu tacos - sauteed tofu on whole grain corn tortilla topped with purple cabbage and avocado
  • Dessert: Dark chocolate and strawberries

Day 3: 

  • Breakfast: Protein pancakes topped with mixed berries 
  • Lunch: Mediterranean Salad - chickpeas, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions, and feta cheese topped with a balsamic vinaigrette
  • Snack: Apple with peanut butter
  • Dinner: Protein pasta with ground turkey meatballs and a side of steamed broccoli
  • Dessert: Sauteed pear slices topped with cinnamon and whipped cream

Learn How to Improve Your Nutrition and Monitor Your Glycemic Index Levels With Signos’ Expert Advice.

Signos incorporates cutting-edge research and the proven power of continuous glucose monitoring to help you lose weight and reach your health goals. Not sure if Signos is right for you? Take this quiz to find out! Interested in learning more about nutrition and healthy eating habits? Check out more articles on our blog.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn More: </strong><a href="vegan-diet-for-diabetes">Vegan Diet for Diabetes: Tips for Success</a>.</p>

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References

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gestational-diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20355339#complications
  2. QuickStats: Percentage of Mothers with Gestational Diabetes, by Maternal Age — National Vital Statistics System, United States, 2016 and 2021. (2023). Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 72(1), 16. 
  3. Soma-Pillay, P., Nelson-Piercy, C., Tolppanen, H., & Mebazaa, A. (2016). Physiological changes in pregnancy. Cardiovascular Journal of Africa, 27(2), 89–94. https://doi.org/10.5830/CVJA-2016-021
  4. https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/constipation-during-pregnancy/#:~:text=Eat%20a%20high%20fiber%20diet,bread%2C%20prunes%2C%20and%20bran.
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8153313/
  6. Cooper DB, Yang L. Pregnancy And Exercise. [Updated 2023 Apr 17]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430821/

About the author

Rebecca Washuta is a licensed dietitian with degrees in neuroscience and nutrition and helped individuals develop long-term health habits and achieve various wellness goals.

View Author Bio

Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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