What is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is much like Type 2 Diabetes and is a disease of insulin resistance. This means that insulin, the hormone that controls glucose in the blood, doesn’t function as it should leading to too much glucose in the bloodstream.

 During pregnancyour body requires more insulin however some women may not be able to produce enough to cope with increased demand or may have become insulin resilient.  This can lead to gestational diabetes.

This can cause several increased risks such as; premature birth, respiratory problems, and low blood sugar for the infant after birth.

Gestational Diabetes  is diagnosedby having a blood test usually between 24 – 28 weeks, however women showing symptoms or those that have higher risks of developing gestational diabetes can be tested earlier.

You may have an increased risk of gestational diabetes if:

  • yourbody mass index(BMI) is greater than 30
  • you are above the age of 35 years
  • you had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
  • your previous baby was over 10 pounds
  • you have PCOS (poly cystic ovarian syndrome)
  • you have a family history of diabetes – one of your parents or siblings has diabetes.

How can you help manage gestational diabetes?

Making some lifestyle changesto help you follow a good gestational diabetes diet will help to achieve lower blood sugar levels which in turn will greatly benefit both you and baby and will reduce the risks of complications that are associated with gestational diabetes.

Diet is as important as medication in Gestational Diabetes; it can help you to control your blood sugars, avoid excessive weight gain and ensure your baby has all the nutrientsit needs for healthy growth and development

 What does eating healthy for gestational diabetes  look like?

Though dietary advice for woman with Gestational Diabetes should be individualised and all woman who have gestational diabetes should be referred to a Dietitian, below are some general tips for managing gestational diabetes.

 #1 Low GI Foods

The Glycaemic Indexis a ranking of how quickly carbohydrates make your blood glucose levels rise after eating them. Different types of carbohydrates are digested at different rates in the body and this in turn influences the blood glucose levels.  The graph below illustrates the impact of both high and low GI in the blood after consumption.

It is advised to swap high GI foods for low GI foods for better control of Gestational Diabetes.  Below is are some examples of Low GI foods to incorporate into your diet and high GI foods to limit and/or avoid.

#2 Timing and Portion Size

It is much easier for the body to cope with having three to four small meals spaced throughout the whole day than one or two bigger meals.  Each meal should contain some starchy carbohydrate food. It’s good to avoid large portions of carbohydrates at one time, as large portions can increase sugar spikes. You can do this by spreading your serving of carbohydrate- containing foods throughout the day. Additionally, it is better to have fruit as a snack 2- 3 times per day than to have a large fruit salad in one sitting.

#3 Food Pairing:

When you consume starches, such as potatoes or white rice, it is important to eat them in small portions in combination with foods that are high in fat, protein, and/or fibre to help slow down the absorption of sugar into the blood stream.

For example, if you are having a serving of carbohydrate (potatoes/rice), pair it with a protein (for example, salmon, chicken, beef, tofu) and perhaps some healthy fats (a small handful of nuts; spinach cooked in a small amount of olive oil).

The Eatwell plate illustrated below shows the type of foods you might include in your diet and will help you with ideas for food pairing.

# 4 Avoid excessive weight gain

Although all women will gain weight during pregnancy, it is important to prevent excessive weight gain, as it can lead to increasing blood sugar levels and can increase risk of Type 2 Diabetes after birth.  Talk to your midwife or dietitian about what an appropriate weight gain is for your size.

Some tips on preventing excess weight gain:

  • use portion control with fats and oils
  • Spread any butter or margarine very thinly or replace with reduced fat spread
  • Grill, bake, stew, boil, dry roast, poach, steam or microwave.
  • Trim the fat off meat and remove the skin from poultry (chicken or turkey) before cooking
  • Use semi-skimmed or skimmed milk
  • Limit high-fat snacks, such as crisps and nuts
  • Opt for healthier alternatives (e.g. handful plain nuts/seeds, fruit, veg sticks with low fat dip, low fat yoghurt, hardboiled egg, sugar-free jelly.

# 5 Get Moving

Current recommendations outline that regular exercise, approximately 30 minutes at a moderate intensity, helps to improve blood glucose control.  A walk at comfortable stroll where you get slightly out of breath will be greatly beneficial, it does not have to be overly strenuous. Exercising has an insulin-like effect on your cells and so will assist in lowering blood sugar levels.

Gestational Diabetes can be quite overwhelming to begin with, so hopefully the above tips have been helpful.  If you want further information on Gestational Diabetes and the role of the diet check out  : https://www.diabetes.org.uk/diabetes-the-basics/gestational-diabetes  or speak to your local dietitian or midwife.


Niamh is currently a MSc Dietetics Student in Kings College London. She completed her BSc in Nutrition in Edinburgh and she has also spent a number of years working in the Food Industry.  Her main interests are maternal and child health, nutritional education and providing evidenced based information in a relatable manner.