Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is one of three types of diabetes. About 7% of pregnant women develop the condition. Although GDM usually goes away after the baby is born, having the issue while pregnant increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future. A healthy, diet low in simple carbohydrates that raise blood glucose is the best way to maintain insulin levels in women with gestational diabetes.

The Pros and Cons of Fruit

While one to three small-to-medium pieces of whole fruit each day can be a good source of fiber for a pregnant woman, it takes several pieces — minus their fiber — to make even one glass of fruit juice. Juices are a concentrated, liquid form of carbohydrates and can raise blood sugar levels faster, so opt for the whole-food option. Fresh citrus fruits like tangerines, lemons, or grapefruits are a good fruit option, but avoid dried fruits, which have higher sugar concentrations.

pregnant woman eating a bowl of fruit


Stay Away From Added Sugars

Avoiding sugary foods can help balance blood sugar levels in the body; processed white sugars can spike blood sugar levels. Natural sugars — agave nectar, honey, coconut sugar, and maple syrup — may not be highly processed, but they can still lead to higher blood sugar levels. Sugar-free sweets can also contain significant amounts of carbohydrates or potentially problematic sugar substitutes.

pregnant woman checking her blood glucose level


Focus on Whole Grains

About half of the calorie intake for women with GDM should come from carbohydrates. High-fiber whole grains contain complex carbohydrates and several vitamins, including magnesium, B vitamins, chromium, iron, and folate. Brown or wild rice, barley, oats, and beans are examples of healthy whole grains. Multi-grain bread contains more nutrients and fiber than white bread.

pregnant woman slicing a grainy loaf of bread


Eat the Right Proteins

Lean meats, cooked beans, nuts, lentils, peanut butter, and some plant-based proteins, like soy, grain, or legume-based proteins are good sources of protein. However, processed meats like bacon, sausage, and lunch meat contain large amounts of sodium. A 2017 study of non-pregnant women who later became pregnant found that higher consumption of red and processed meat during prepregnancy had links to a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes.

pregnant woman cracking eggs into bowl


Choose Protein-Rich Yogurt

Although yogurt can be a good source of vitamin D, fruit-flavored yogurts made from non- or low-fat milk can also have high amounts of processed fruits and sugars, which can raise blood sugar. Whole-fat, plain Greek yogurt is a better option. It contains higher amounts of protein and healthy fats and may also provide probiotic effects, according to studies. Fresh mixed berries add sweetness naturally, as well as antioxidants and vitamins.

pregnant woman eating a container of yogurt


Limit Milk Consumption

While it may be a good source of calcium, milk is also a liquid-form carbohydrate that leads to a more rapid change in blood sugar levels in the body. If a woman with GDM drinks too much milk, her blood sugar levels can rise quickly and significantly.

Unsweetened soy milk, flax milk, and almond milk have lower amounts of carbohydrates and are beneficial alternatives.

man pouring milk in cereal for pregnant woman


Opt for Leafy Green Vegetables

Starchy vegetables like corn and peas are a good source of fiber and other nutrients. However, women with GDM should consume them in limited amounts because they contain more natural sugars than leafy vegetable types. Non-starchy, low-calorie vegetables such as carrots, artichokes, kale, broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, and cauliflower are an excellent source of carbohydrates, folate, iron, vitamins A and C, protein, potassium, and fiber.

pregnant woman eating a salad


Skip the Diet Drinks

While diet sodas may be lower in calories and carbohydrates, they often contain artificial sweeteners, natural or artificial flavors, preservatives, acids, caffeine, and coloring agents and contain no nutritional value. Studies show that both artificially and sugar-sweetened beverages led to increased risks for developing type 2 diabetes.

Water, unsweetened tea or coffee, or low-sodium vegetable juices are better options.

pregnant woman enjoying a cut of tea


Steer Clear of Packaged Snack Foods

Some snack food companies offer “healthy snack” alternatives, but these foods are highly processed and usually contain high amounts of fat and sugars. Some consist of refined flour and grains, but only a small amount of nutrients.

Choose fruits or raw vegetables, like carrots, celery, or other fresh options for a healthier snack.

pregnant woman eating orange slices and chocolate


Eat Fish for Healthy Fats

The body needs fats to survive, but it's important to get them from healthful sources. Healthy fats help the body absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K and keep the skin and hair healthy. Omega-3 fatty acids provide crucial alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which are especially important for pregnant women. Unsaturated fats like omega-3 boost heart health and reduce blood clotting. Fish is the richest source of these nutrients.

woman's hand sprinkling rosemary on grilled fish


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