How To Prevent Gestational Diabetes With Diet - Baby Chick
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How To Prevent Gestational Diabetes With Diet

Discover risk factors for gestational diabetes and foods that may prevent or lower your risk, including what to eat during each trimester.

Updated June 6, 2024

by Dr. Nicole Avena, Ph. D.

Associate Professor of Neuroscience
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During pregnancy, a woman’s body produces more hormones and undergoes various changes.5 An increasingly common phenomenon with pregnant women is the development of gestational diabetes, even if the mama-to-be did not previously have diabetes.6,7 Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes caused by some hormones produced during pregnancy that make insulin less effective, a condition referred to as insulin resistance. Insulin’s job is to regulate blood sugar and help the body use sugars and carbohydrates for energy. Poor diet and abnormally high weight gain can be causes of the development of gestational diabetes, along with other risk factors.1 But the good news is that you can learn how to prevent gestational diabetes!

Who Is at Risk for Developing Gestational Diabetes?

Although any soon-to-be mama can develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, some risk factors may play a role. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these risk factors include:2,3

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having a family history of diabetes
  • Living a sedentary lifestyle or physical inactivity
  • Advanced maternal age (women older than 25 are at higher risk)
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • Race (African Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders are at higher risk)
  • A diagnosis of prediabetes

Can Your Diet Lower Your Risk or Prevent Gestational Diabetes?

What you eat before and during pregnancy can contribute to developing gestational diabetes, but your diet is not a direct cause.8,9 As mentioned above, pregnancy hormones play a huge role in developing gestational diabetes.1 However, managing your diet may be an effective way to lower your risk or even prevent it.8,10

Foods That Can Help Prevent Gestational Diabetes

First and foremost, the most important thing you can do as a mama-to-be is to pay attention to your blood sugar levels to prevent episodes of hyperglycemia. This can look like eating a high-fiber diet of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. It also means avoiding concentrated sweets (soda, candy, cakes, etc.) or eating them sparingly, as well as eating meals at regular times.3,4

Eating regularly can be essential to maintain steady blood sugar levels throughout the day, especially for avoiding those large dips or increases in blood sugar. Also, incorporating physical activity into your routine is crucial. Some ideas include going on a scenic walk, gentle stretching, prenatal yoga, running, or, in some cases, resistance training. Regardless of your preference of movement, find an activity you enjoy and can see yourself doing regularly!3,4

Your Calorie Needs Vary Each Trimester

The stage of your pregnancy plays a role in your daily calorie needs, what foods you should eat for optimal baby growth, and the prevention of gestational diabetes. However, each trimester will bring different symptoms and experiences that may impact your ability to eat optimal foods. But don’t worry; it’s normal. Here are the foods to focus on during each trimester:

1. First Trimester Foods

You may experience nausea during the first trimester.5 So, you may want to stick to foods easy on the stomach, like pureed or mashed whole grains and starchy vegetables paired with healthy fat or protein to maintain steady blood sugar levels.11 This might look like mashed potatoes with chicken, oatmeal with nuts, rice and beans, hummus, or bananas with peanut butter. Other foods you may include are leafy greens, fresh fruits, and other veggies you enjoy.12 Remember to maintain a regular eating schedule, and consider eating small, frequent meals.13 During this trimester, there is no increase in caloric needs.16

Here are some other foods to eat in the first trimester.

2. Second Trimester Foods

In the second trimester, your caloric needs increase by 200-300+ more calories per day.14,15,16 This can look like adding an extra protein or granola bar, one serving of nuts, two to three hard-boiled eggs, apples with cheese, etc., to your diet. Generally, following the guidelines above for maintaining blood sugar, eating fiber with meals, and limiting concentrated sweets is the best way to prevent gestational diabetes.3,4

Here are some other foods to eat in the second trimester.

3. Third Trimester Foods

Guess what? Caloric needs increase again during the third trimester! Your body needs 300-400 more calories daily than your pre-pregnancy caloric needs.15,16 You can add snacks like hummus, roasted veggies with olive oil, blended soups, protein bars, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and more. During this time, digestion may slow, so consuming enough fiber to regulate blood sugars and aid in gastrointestinal motility and regular bowel movements is extra important.17 Large meals may be uncomfortable, so eating smaller meals every two hours can be helpful.18

Here are some other foods to eat in the third trimester.

Additional Tips and Tricks

Here’s some additional advice on lowering your risk of developing gestational diabetes:

  • Limit or avoid processed foods.9
  • Balance your meals and incorporate protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and healthy fats at each mealtime.4
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals.19
  • Maintain a regular eating schedule, and don’t skip meals.20

Hopefully, the tips shared in this article can help you better prevent, reduce your risk of, or manage gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes may not cause symptoms; however, some women experience frequent urination, nausea, thirst, and tiredness. Always consult your doctor if abnormal symptoms arise.3

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Nicole Avena
Dr. Nicole Avena, Ph. D. Associate Professor of Neuroscience
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Nicole Avena, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Visiting Professor of Psychology at Princeton University. She is the author of several books, including… Read more

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