Using Healthy Eating to Manage Diabetes in Pregnancy

Diet and lifestyle are known to be the most important factors in the development of diabetes, and they can also be used to improve the condition in people who are already suffering from it.  While Type II diabetes commonly affects overweight and elderly people, it may also temporarily affect pregnant women.  The added stress to the body of feeding and growing another human being and the pregnancy hormones can interfere with the body’s response to insulin.

For an expectant mother, being told she has developed diabetes may be an anxious time.  But gestational diabetes is easily treated, and because it does not commonly develop until around or after the 24th week of pregnancy, it does not generally cause birth defects in the growing baby.  However, the condition means high levels of glucose may make their way across the placenta and cause the fetus to grow large, with extra fat, which could lead to complications with the birth.  Women with pregnancy diabetes have higher incidences of labor problems and Caesarian sections.

Shortly after the birth, the mother will usually find the condition disappears by itself, although it may carry a warning of increased risk of Type II diabetes later in life.

In the US more than 4% of all pregnant women, 135,000 every year, develop gestational diabetes, causing them to require extra care as the pregnancy progresses.  As with other forms of diabetes, one of the best ways to manage the condition is through improving the diet.  The expectant mom with diabetes should try to eat as little sugar as possible, and change high glycemic carbohydrates for low glycemic carbohydrates, such as brown rice, wholewheat pasta and wholewheat bread.

Eating plenty of lean meat and fish, avoiding fats as far as possible and taking care not to eat products that contain trans fats can all help.  A high intake of fiber is recommended for diabetics, both soluble fiber like that found in beans and oats and the insoluble fiber found in leafy vegetables and fruit.

Sugar cravings may be difficult to suppress – many women suffer from cravings for various foods throughout their pregnancy – but candy and cookies are not the answer as they will elevate blood sugar levels.  The diabetic mother should try to damp down sugar cravings with fresh fruit such as apples, bananas and citrus.  Eating a banana will not cause the blood sugar to spike, but cause a sustained but moderate rise.

The best way to maintain blood sugar at a steady level is to eat several small nutritious meals during the day instead of becoming very hungry and then eating a large amount of food.

Although a woman with gestational diabetes will not usually require treatment with insulin her doctor may send her to a dietician or diabetes educator who can advise her on the best foods to eat, how to prepare food in a healthy way and stick to portion-controlled amounts.  The expert’s advice may include meal plans and strategies for dealing with cravings or low blood sugar symptoms between meals.  Lastly the dietician may advise the mother to take healthy exercise and avoid other health hazards such as smoking and drinking alcohol.

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