Dr Manny's Notes

Caring for your gestational diabetes

A pregnant woman gets her blood sugar/glucose checked.

A pregnant woman gets her blood sugar/glucose checked.  (iStock)

During your pregnancy, you might dread the renowned “sugar test” that your doctor will probably order around 24–28 weeks. You have to drink a sugary liquid and wait around for its effects to spread throughout your system. If you screen through the one-hour and three-hour tests with both positive results, you’ll have to work with your doctor to keep your blood sugar stable through a proper diet, often called an ADA diet. With this diet plan, many pregnant women can control their gestational diabetes and deliver happy, healthy babies.

What is an ADA diet?

Simply put, the ADA diet is a meal plan recommended by the American Diabetes Association for those dealing with diabetes. This diet encourages you to eat a variety of healthy foods while watching the intake of starches and sugar. You should also choose foods high in vitamins and minerals and balance starch with fiber to keep your sugar levels under control.

In addition, the American Diabetes Association recommends that you work with a dietitian and/or your doctor to learn about proper nutrition for gestational diabetes. If you cannot control your sugar levels through the ADA diet alone, your doctor may add insulin shots.

Controlling Blood Sugar

To control your blood sugar through diet, you can choose one of several ways: carbohydrate counting, the glycemic index, or the plate method. All of these methods focus on balancing starchy foods with protein and low-starch vegetables to improve energy, control weight, and balance blood sugar.

Carbohydrate Counting

For carbohydrate counting, you and your doctor will work to set a number of carbs that you will incorporate into each meal. At first, this process may have some trial and error since your carb intake will depend upon your lifestyle, metabolism, and physical activity. Once you have a set number, you’ll need to learn the amount of carbs in the foods that you eat. You should never exceed your carbohydrate limit during a meal.

The Glycemic Index

If you choose to use the glycemic index, you will need to incorporate mostly foods that are low or medium on the scale. With this system, you’ll still need to work closely with medical help since one food may change its glycemic index when paired with another food. For example, you can eat a food high on the glycemic index with one lower on the scale to balance out the glycemic effects.

The Plate Method

To use the plate method, you would aim to fill a certain portion of your plate with either protein, non-starchy vegetables, or starches. You may find this method the easiest one to use, but it doesn’t always fit a person’s lifestyle.

According to Stephanie Dunbar, ADA’s director of nutrition and medical affairs, you should fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables. Then, you can fill another quarter with protein and the final portion with whole grains or starchy vegetables. Finish with a small serving of fruit and low-fat dairy, and you’ll leave yourself filled and happily balanced.

Choose Foods Wisely

When planning meals for gestational diabetes, you should make wise choices about the foods you eat. You will need to restrain yourself with some types of food and completely eliminate others from your diet. Below, you’ll find examples that you can eat and some that you should avoid.

Foods to Eat

  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • Oatmeal
  • Brown rice
  • Lentils and black beans
  • Low-fat or skim milk
  • Olive oil

Foods to Avoid

  • Specialty coffee drinks
  • French fries, or other fried food
  • Loaded deli sandwiches
  • White flour or rice
  • Fruit juice
  • Flavored water

While having gestational diabetes does require some diet changes and extra care, you can still enjoy filling, healthful foods throughout your pregnancy. Then, with your doctor’s guidance and the balanced ADA diet, you should successfully control your sugar levels and deliver a happy, healthy baby into the world.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.