The information included in Dear Stephanie posts is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for your own situation, or if you have any questions regarding conception, pregnancy, or your prenatal treatment plan. For more Dear Stephanie posts, click here. Have a question for Steph? Click here to e-mail her.
Dear Stephanie: I have a family history of diabetes and am currently overweight. I know these put me at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes. What can I do to lower my risk?
This is such an important question since gestational diabetes affects the health of both mom and baby. And even though you have risk factors, you are not destined to develop the condition. There are many things you can do to reduce your risk prior to conceiving and during pregnancy. Modifying your diet, engaging in regular exercise (including walking), and supplementing with Vitamin D are effective lifestyle modifications that you can start today.
One of the best things you can do is, you guessed it, modify your diet! Since your level of dietary carbohydrates significantly affects your blood sugar and thus the development and progression of gestational diabetes, you should monitor your intake closely to find the right balance for your body.
Balancing your blood sugar (through diet and exercise) will not only reduce your risk for gestational diabetes, but will make your pregnancy a lot more enjoyable. You’ll experience less morning sickness, food cravings, and mood swings which are commonly associated with blood sugar fluctuations.
So how do you do this?
Following the Whole30 Meal Planning Template is a fantastic way to reset your hormones and stabilize your blood sugar. Our Healthy Mama, Happy Baby program includes a modified version of this template designed specifically with pregnant and postpartum mamas in mind. However, please know that I don’t expect you to Whole30 throughout the entire nine months of your pregnancy. Whole30-style eating is a road-map to a whole-foods diet that is low to moderate in carbohydrates, but your personal plate might include some foods that are not Whole30 compliant, like full-fat dairy or a bit of natural sweetener like honey or maple syrup.
Before we dive deeper, let’s talk about what foods contain carbohydrates. Bread, pasta, rice, and other grains are easily identified as carbohydrate-rich foods, but there are a few other sources that may surprise you. Legumes, starchy vegetables (such as potatoes, sweet potatoes/yam, winter squash, peas, and corn), fruit, milk, and yogurt. Yes, there are are small amounts of carbohydrates in non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, etc.), but they don’t impact blood sugar nearly as much as the other sources listed above.
For optimal blood sugar control, you’ll want to focus on three goals
- Choose high-quality carbohydrates (such as starchy vegetables and fruit), over nutrient-poor, high-glycemic carbohydrates (such as highly-refined grains).
- Ensure each of your meals and snacks have a nice balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
- Understand your personal context. If you’re very active or have high energy demands, you’ll be able to tolerate more carbohydrates than someone who is more sedentary.
A great way to visualize this is to think about a standard plate.
- ½ of the plate should include non-starchy vegetables
- ¼ of the plate should include healthy protein and fat
- ¼ of the plate should include quality carbohydrates
If you find yourself hungry within two hours of eating, you’re probably not eating enough at your meals. Consider upping the protein, fat, or non-starchy vegetables until you find an amount that keeps you full for at least 3-4 hours.
When you consume snacks, make sure you’re getting at least two out of the three macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fat). Pairing a piece of fruit or starchy vegetable with a healthy fat and/or protein will help minimize blood sugar spikes and keep you satisfied for much longer.
Testing Your Blood Sugar
So, how do you know if your blood sugar is under control?
The first clue that you’re on the right track may be a reduction in common symptoms associated with blood sugar swings such as becoming hangry (hungry + angry), mood swings, feeling shaky or lightheaded between meals and brain fog.
However, the only way to truly know is to test. Since it’d be pretty inconvenient to run to your provider’s office multiple times a day to have them check your blood sugar, you can do this from the convenience of your home. You simply need to purchase a test kit from your local drug store and test a few times each day. With a prescription from your doctor, your insurance company may even pay for the test kit.
At home testing puts you in the driver’s seat of your health. With testing, you’re on your way to developing an understanding of how specific food affects your body. Consider testing your blood sugar as soon as you wake up (fasted) as well as 1-2 hours after your meals.
Your fasting blood sugar should be less than or equal to 95 mg/dL and your 2-hour post-meal blood sugar should be less than or equal to 120 mg/dL. Some providers have even suggested lower blood sugar ranges than those for optimal health, so discuss your results with your provider.
Modifying your diet to reduce your risk of gestational diabetes is a fantastic place to start. This is why our monthly webinar is focusing on gestational diabetes. We’ll be diving deeper into diet and lifestyle modifications, alternatives to the standard Glucola test, and options to manage the condition.
We’ll be diving deeper into this topic throughout August. For more personalized pregnancy support, join our Healthy Mama, Happy Baby VIP program. In addition to lifetime access to our virtual pregnancy handbook, you’ll also have access to our private VIP Facebook group and monthly webinars with me and other experts.
Stephanie Greunke is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition who specializes in women’s health. She is a certified personal trainer and prenatal and postnatal corrective exercise specialist. Stephanie guides and supports women locally and globally through her web-based private practice, RockYourHormones.com.