Carbohydrates have gotten a bad reputation when it comes to diabetes (including gestational diabetes), obesity, and weight management. In a gestational diabetes carb counting diet, there are ways to enjoy eating carbs and still have a healthy pregnancy, which is the ultimate goal.
The basic theory of a gestational diabetes carb counting diet is that you’re counting the number of carbohydrate servings to make sure that you’re not overloading your body with too many carbs at one time. Too many carbs (or sugar) at once will make your blood sugar spike…and we don’t want that!
Rule #1 – Eat carbs in consistent amounts throughout the day.
Here’s the reason: your body can only handle a certain amount of carbs at a time. If you eat approximately the same amount of carbs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, your body knows what to expect and can process those carbs. This approach is commonly referred to as a gestational diabetes carb counting diet. A good guideline to follow is to eat the amounts listed in the table below:
To determine how many grams of carbohydrate are in an item, you basically have a few ways of doing it:
(1) Look at the Nutrition Facts Panel. Grams of carbohydrate will always be listed. Each serving of carbohydrate is approximately 15 grams. So, if you’re eating something with 30 grams, just count it as 2 carbohydrate servings.
(2) Look it up in a book, such as CalorieKing Calorie Fat & Carbohydrate Counter (affiliate link). This one is the pocket-sized version so it’s easy to toss in your purse and carry with you.
(3) Look it up in an app, such as GoMeals.
(4) Look it up on this great printable carb list from Indiana University Health.
Are you picking up on a trend? You have to look it up somewhere! Find a way that works for you. Over time, if you eat a lot of the same foods, you’ll start remembering how many servings of carbohydrate each item has. Until then, you need to look it up!
Rule #2 – Choose complex carbs over simple carbs.
Here’s the reason: Although both types carbs will turn into sugar, the complex carbs will do it more slowly. And when it comes to managing your blood sugar, that’s a good thing.
Look at the list above. Are there any surprises? Are you wondering why fruit and milk are on the simple list? Defining a carbohydrate as simple or complex has to do with the chemical structure of the sugars. Although fruit is technically a simple carbohydrate, it is still something you should include in your diet. Fruits are often high in fiber and contain important vitamins & minerals that your body needs. Just make sure to follow rule #1 and include some protein with them. Cottage cheese and strawberries, anyone?
I can actually speak from personal experience on this one. I had gestational diabetes when I was pregnant with my twins. I was in the hospital on bedrest when I was diagnosed, and they were checking my blood sugar 4 times/day. I am kind of a creature of habit, so I tended to eat the same thing for breakfast every day. I had egg beaters, two pieces of white toast, sliced tomatoes, and skim milk. When they checked my blood sugar two hours after breakfast, it was high. The next morning, I had the same thing except that I substituted two pieces of wheat toast for the white toast. When they checked my blood sugar, it was fine. The only difference was the toast! The whole wheat toast had more fiber, and it made a difference!
Rule #3 – Add protein to your carbs.
Here’s the reason: carbs raise your blood sugar. That’s just the way it is. Combining carbs with protein will help your blood sugar level not to spike as high. Let’s look at an example. Eating an apple by itself will make your blood sugar level go higher than if you had the same apple but spread 1 tablespoon of peanut butter on it. Another example is instead of having a few crackers for a snack, add a slice of cheese to the crackers for some added protein.
Following the three rules listed above will give your body the best chance of managing your gestational diabetes without needing additional medications or insulin. Sometimes diet is enough, and sometimes it isn’t. It just depends on your your body responds. Even if you do need medications, the most important thing is a healthy baby!
What tips & tricks have you found to help manage your gestational diabetes? Let me know in the comments below.
Hi, I’m 28 weeks pregnant and been diagnosed with gestational diabetes at 24 weeks. I was put on metformin 850mg 3 times a day but was suffering with severe stomach cramps and diarrhea. I have since been put on 500mg twice a day. My sugar levels are at their highest 1 hr after breakfast. I’ve changed my diet but I’m still finding sugar levels fluctuate and there is no real pattern. I have also lost my appetite and the nurse us thinking of starting me on insulin injections. I really don’t want this. Any advice on meal plans and managing gestational diabetes would be greatly appreciated.
Amber Franklin, RD says
Hi Rubina! Most women are diagnosed with gestational diabetes somewhere between 24 and 28 weeks. It’s not uncommon to have higher blood sugar levels in the morning. This is caused by hormone levels, which are naturally higher in the morning. Sometimes having a snack before bedtime that has some protein in it can help. Make sure to keep really good records of what you’re eating and the resulting blood sugar results. This will be a big help for the nurse!
I’m 34 weeks tomorrow and I have gestational diabetes as well. I was having a similar problem. The biggest thing that helped me was making sure that I saved my one portion of fruit for lunch instead of breakfast. Only eating one serving of carbs (15g) and eating the other serving for my snack 2 hours later. I usually eat half of a whole wheat bagel with peanut butter for my snack. Also be sure not to drink milk in the morning but save that for your lunch as well. I hope this helps.
I was diagnosed at 32 weeks with gestational Diabetes. I have found meal planning to be the most helpful for me. If I know what I will be eating for each snack, meal the day before I can plan for my day. I am an organized kind of person and need to know all the information up front. This has helped with the grocery shopping as well. I call it a lifestyle change. Remember it is all for the good of the baby and it will go away.
This was by far the most helpful and clear article I’ve found. So many sites (medical ones no less!) just give guidelines on “eat healthier” or “have more complex carbs.” Thank you for breaking it down clearly. Having actual numbers to shoot for and go by is essential.