Gestational diabetes is among some of the most commonly occurring pregnancy complications. Considering both integrative medicine and conventional health care, there are many misconceptions regarding its diagnosis. In the following content, we will be explaining the development of gestational diabetes and the food approach required for its management.
An Introduction to Gestational Diabetes Mellitus:
A diabetic condition that develops or is diagnosed during pregnancy is called gestational diabetes. In other words, it can also be referred to as “carbohydrate intolerance” or “insulin resistance.” Usually, all women experience insulin resistance to an extent due to the body’s natural metabolic shift that serves to shunt nutrition and glucose to the developing baby.
If we look at the entire scenario biologically, a baby can survive if the mother is on a short period of starvation or famine; hence slight insulin resistance is important among women to some extent. Since foods are processed in today’s world, we find carbohydrates everywhere, which really isn’t helpful, especially if a woman has insulin resistance to some degree.
Diagnosis of Gestational Diabetes:
Usually, screening for gestational diabetes is conducted at around 24-28 weeks of pregnancy. This is due to the past years where increased sugar levels and gestational diabetes were thought to occur at the same time around the second or third trimester when insulin resistance increases and placental hormones surge.
Today, gestational diabetes can be diagnosed earlier with the help of a hemoglobin blood test. These only confirm pre-existing diabetes. Due to the placental hormones and weight gain, insulin resistance worsens as the pregnancy progresses, resulting in increased blood sugar.
Other than this, gestational diabetes can also act as an indicator for the potential development of diabetes, leading to the worsening of insulin resistance post-birth. There is a higher risk for the development of type 2 diabetes for women who have experienced gestational diabetes.
Can Gestational Diabetes be Prevented?
There doesn’t need to be pre-existing risk factors in all women who suffer from gestational diabetes. However, wise preconception can help in the prevention of gestational diabetes. The risk of gestational diabetes can be reduced to a good extent by adopting a healthy lifestyle, such as having a good nutritious diet, healthy exercise, and avoiding smoking. Studies showed that women who indulged in regular exercise reduced the risk of developing gestational diabetes up to 48-79%.
Women who are overweight tend to have doubled risk of gestational diabetes. Why is this? This is due to the increase in insulin resistance. As the body weight increases, insulin resistance increases as well. It is important to maintain a healthy body weight in order to avoid such incidents.
Along with gestational diabetes, vitamin D deficiency may also be observed. Women with vitamin D deficiency are more vulnerable to gestational diabetes as compared to women who don’t have such health issues.
High Blood Sugar during Pregnancy
Although there have been many controversies over the seriousness of gestational diabetes, as all women already have insulin resistance to some extent, you should know that there are still risks to the baby when exposed to high sugar levels. These risks could be as follows:
- High glucose is a teratogen which may cause birth defects
- Change in the metabolism of the baby, which is permanent
- Shoulder dystocia
As the baby faces high blood sugar exposure, a high amount of insulin is produced by the fetal pancreas for the maintenance of the sugar level. This can ultimately result in the accumulation of fat; this could cause issues for the child in the regulation of blood sugar levels in later stages of life. Comparatively, babies that are exposed to gestational diabetes have a higher risk of being overweight and developing diabetes. These risks could be decreased if the mother has good control over her diet throughout the pregnancy.
Management of Gestational Diabetes:
Since unnecessary medication should be avoided, and the natural ways, which are also the best ways should be adopted first. A lifestyle change should be bought about by regular exercise for adequate physical activity and a change in the diet containing all the necessary amount of nutrition which is needed for you and your baby.
You can consult a pre-natal dietician for the best food choices for an ideal diet according to your condition and body. We have the following recommendation for the best and real foods that you should take during pregnancy if you have gestational diabetes.
Generally, your diet should contain:
- Vegetables and fruits
- Adequate amount of healthy fats and lean protein
- Whole grain products such as rice, pasta, and cereal
- Starchy vegetables such as corn
- High-sugary foods, such as fruit juices, cakes, and soft drinks, should be consumed in small amounts.
Each shouldn’t be consumed too little or in excessive amounts and should be just enough to meet your body’s requirements. The recommended amount and servings of each are:
- Carbohydrates should be the source of less than half of the calories consumed
- Foods that contain high amounts of carbohydrates are sugary or starchy foods such as cereal, pasta, potatoes, fruit juice, milk, soda, cookies, candy etc.
- Healthier choices would be opting for complex carbohydrates, which include whole-grain and high-fiber foods.
- Consuming simple carbohydrates can cause the blood sugar level to rise quickly after you eat them and hence should be avoided. These contain starchy foods and sweets such as desserts, sweet drinks, fries etc.
- Have lots of vegetables
- You can keep a check of your carbohydrates consumption as they are mentioned in grams
Grains, Beans, and Starchy Foods:
6 or more servings should be consumed per day. A serving equal:
- Bread slice – 1
- Cereal – 1 ounce – 28g
- Rice or pasta – cooked – ½ cup – 105g
- English muffin – 1
Foods that are a rich source of vitamins, fiber, minerals, and healthy carbohydrates are:
- Wholegrain cereal
- Whole grain bread
- Whole grain oats
- Whole wheat pasta
- Brown rice
3 – 5 servings per day would be enough. A single serving equal:
- Leafy green vegetables – 1 cup – 340g
- Cooked leafy vegetables – 1 cup – 340g
- Vegetable juice – ¾ cup – 255 g
- Raw or cooked chopped vegetables – ½ cup – 170g
Vegetables that are considered as a healthier choice include:
- Frozen or fresh vegetables without additives
- Deep yellow or green vegetables such as broccoli, carrots and spinach
2 – 4 servings would be enough, a single serving equal:
- Medium-sized fruit – 1
- Frozen, chopped or canned fruit – ½ cup – 170g
- Fruit juice – ¾ cup – 180ml
Among fruits, healthier choices would be:
- Whole fruits instead of juices would be healthier as they contain more fiber.
- Fresh fruit juices without sugar added
- Citrus fruits like grapefruits
- Fresh fruits instead of canned or frozen as these are more nutritious than preserved ones.
Milk and Dairy Products:
Consuming low-fat or no-fat dairy products of about 4 servings is suggested. One serving equal:
- Yogurt and milk – 1 cup – 240ml
- Natural cheese – 1 ½ oz – 42g
- Processed cheese – 2oz – 56g
Healthier choices among dairy products are:
- Low-fat or non-fat products without additives such as sweeteners
- Protein rich and rich in calcium and phosphorous.
2 -3 servings should be consumed per day. One serving equal:
- Meat, poultry, fish – cooked – 2-3oz – 55-84g
- Cooked beans – ½ cup – 170g
- Egg – 1
- Peanut butter – 2 tablespoons contain 30g
Healthier choices would be:
- Poultry and fish, turkey and chicken without skin
- Beef, pork, veal
- Fats should be cut from the meat that are visible and should be cooked by boiling or grilling instead of frying.
- Portions for sweet consumption should be kept small as these are not very healthy due to their high fat and sugar content.
- Sugar-free sweets are still not suggested as they still contain carbohydrates to an extent.
- Try to split the dessert that you got yourself.
Fat intake should be avoided in gestational diabetes as it is not very helpful, and your main goal is to control your diet to decrease the risks for your baby.
- Limit the intake of butter, oils, and desserts.
- Saturated fats should be avoided, such as that in bacon and butter.
- Intake should be limited but not cut off for the baby’s proper development.
- Unsaturated and healthy oils should be your choice, such as olive oil and canola oil.
How harmful is gestational diabetes to the baby?
Gestational diabetes can be harmful to the baby in three possible ways. First, it can lead to the birth of an obese baby as higher blood sugar can pass on to the baby during pregnancy. This can cause pregnancy complications because the increased size of the baby may also increase the chances of delivery by cesarean section.
Secondly, the because of the excess insulin production resulting from gestational diabetes, the baby may suffer from low blood sugar after birth which can cause complications like seizures and breathing difficulties in the newborn baby.
Finally, a baby born to mothers with gestational diabetes has an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other conditions related to metabolic syndrome later in life.
What are the warning signs of gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes usually does not produce any serious and noticeable symptoms. Therefore, all pregnant women must get screened for this as part of their prenatal care. However, some women may experience the usual symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes which are:
- increased thirst
- urge to urinate frequently
- unexplained fatigue or general weakness
- nausea and vomiting
- blurred vision
- Recurring infections like urinary tract infections or yeast infections.
What foods should I avoid with gestational diabetes?
If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you must carefully manage your blood sugar levels like anyone suffering from diabetes. This is critical to maintaining your baby’s and your own health.
At the minimum, you must carefully avoid sugary food and drinks like desserts, soda, candy, and fruit juices. You should also avoid processed foods and other high-carbohydrate foods like white rice, pasta, white bread, and processed food. Any food with a high glycemic index would need to be limited. Some examples are potatoes, corn, and even high-sugar fruits.
Gestational diabetes is risky for both the mother and the baby; however, measures should be taken to reduce the risks of any further complications. The best way is to implement the natural ways in your daily life before taking any medication.
Talk to your pre-natal dietician for the best advice and the best diet plan. Keeping your body active and carrying out healthy exercises is even better. Consume less fatty and sugary foods and make healthier choices. Maintain a normal and healthy body weight as suggested by the doctor, and the risks could be decreased to a good extent.