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If you have developed diabetes since you became pregnant, you have what is known as Gestational Diabetes. It will stay with you throughout your pregnancy, but it usually disappears after the baby is born. However, it is likely to return in later pregnancies and there is also a higher chance of developing diabetes in the future, especially if you are overweight. Diabetes is a condition where your body is unable to control the amount of sugar (glucose) in your blood. Gestational diabetes is often diagnosed at a later stage in pregnancy because this is when the levels of pregnancy hormones are very high.
Pregnancy hormones can cause a rise in blood sugar. In pregnancy it is important to keep your blood sugars at a constant level. The doctors or nurses looking after you may advise you to take medication, but the most important thing you can do is be careful with which foods and drinks you have. Here are some basic dietary guidelines to help you do this:
Try to make sure you eat regularly, at least 3 meals a day. If you are feeling sick or find you can’t manage a full meal have smaller snacks more frequently.
How do different foods affect blood glucose?
Foods that increase blood glucose
Bread, chapatti, tortilla
Chocolate and sweets
Fruit and fruit juice
Jam and marmalade
Ice lollies and ice cream
Cereals and cereal bars
Biscuits and cakes
Squash, cordials and fizzy drinks
Sugar, glucose, honey, syrup
Foods that do not increase blood glucose
Vegetables (other than potatoes)
Meat and poultry
Tofu and Quorn ®
Nuts and seeds
Beans and pulses
Marmite and peanut butter
Cream and cheese
Butter and vegetable oils
Sugar free or no added sugar squash, cordials and fizzy drinks
Sweeteners and sugar substitutes
Sugar, sugary foods and drinks with little nutritional value – all these are best avoided.
Fruit – contains natural sugar and so should be eaten in moderation. Aim to keep to 1 or 2 portions of lower sugar fruit a day. Avoid fruit juice, fruit smoothies and fruit tinned in syrup. See snack list for quantities.
These foods are a good source of protein and calcium, but most contain a natural sugar called lactose. Dairy foods are important for strong bones and teeth but should be taken in moderation.
• Milk – use semi-skimmed or whole milk, preferably not more than 1 pint a day. Drink one small glass at a time.
• Yoghurt – plain yoghurt is best, but you can have varieties low in added sugar e.g. Muller light, Shape and Weight Watchers.
• Cheese – eat in moderation unless you are a vegetarian when you will probably need to eat plenty to get sufficient protein.
Starchy carbohydrate foods:
These foods are important as a source of energy but too much will raise blood glucose levels. Therefore, they should be eaten in small to moderate amounts.
• Bread and crackers – It is important to choose unrefined types: whole grain, granary, oatmeal or multiseed, try to avoid white.
• Pasta and rice – choose basmati or brown rice and wholegrain pasta if possible.
• Aim to eat less starchy foods at times when you are less physically active.
• For quantities see meal ideas on the last page.
In African and South Asian diets starchy carbohydrates like rice, wheat, maize, yam, cassava and plantain are generally eaten in large quantities with soup, stew or curry. If you have diabetes or are trying to control your weight, these foods need to be eaten in smaller amounts than traditionally used. It is better to eat smaller amounts of the starchy foods and increase the quantity of stew, soup and curry. In particular, try to add more vegetables.
What should I eat?
Ideas for breakfast:
• 1 slice of whole grain or seeded bread or toast with eggs or lean bacon and tomatoes
• 1 slice of whole grain or seeded toast with a generous helping of peanut butter
• 1 slice of whole grain or seeded bread as cheese on toast
• Plain yoghurt with a handful of berries and nuts
• 1 small bowl of wholegrain cereal with plenty of milk
• 1 small bowl of porridge made with semi-skimmed or whole milk
Portion size for midday and evening meal:
✓ 1 serving of lean meat, fish, cheese, eggs or pulses
✓ As much vegetables or salad as you can eat
✓ 2 portions of starchy carbohydrate – as below.
1 portion is:
• 1 large medium slice of wholemeal or multigrain bread
• 2 whole wheat crispbreads, e.g. Ryvita®
• 75g potato
• 3 small new potatoes
• 15 thin chips
• 2 heaped tablespoons (50g) boiled brown or basmati rice
• 2 tablespoons (50g) boiled whole wheat spaghetti or pasta
• 1 small chapatti
• 1 spoonful (40g) of fufu/eba/gari
• 2 small slices of yam (90g)
• 1 spoonful (60g) of couscous
• ½ large Wrap
Please remember that the above quantities are a starter amount. When you start checking your blood glucose you will see how these amounts affect you. If you are finding that your blood glucose has not risen too high (below 6.5mmol/l) 1 hour after eating you may find you can increase the amounts as long as you do not go above 7.8mmol/l 1 hour after eating.
‘Diet’ food and drinks and artificial sweeteners:
• Artificial sweeteners are considered safe in small quantities and do not raise blood glucose.
• A lot of ‘low sugar’ foods like diabetic chocolate, ice cream and sweets contain a type of sweetener called sorbitol or xylitol which can have a laxative effect.
How much weight should I gain?
If you are a healthy weight and an average height, you should expect to gain around 25-35lb (10-15kg) during your pregnancy. If you are overweight, it is wise to try to limit your weight gain during pregnancy to 15-25lbs (5-10kg), or even less.
One way to lower blood glucose levels is to exercise. When we exercise, our muscles can take in more glucose without the need for insulin. The muscles will continue to take up glucose for a number of hours after the exercise. The end result is lower blood glucose levels. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day. If you can’t manage that don’t worry – the important thing is that you get some exercise, even if it’s a quick 10 minute walk to the shops.