My diagnosis of gestational diabetes came with pretty strict instructions for how to manage the disease with diet and exercise. And so far, I’ve been able to do so.
But it’s not always easy. Each day involves at least four finger-pricks to test my blood glucose levels, as well as a strict schedule of meals and snacks, each with its own limit on the number of carbohydrates I can consume.
Now, I’m not a medical professional, and everyone’s body functions differently, so you should talk to your own doctor about your needs. But this is my experience:
Blood Glucose Levels
It’s important to keep my blood glucose levels within reasonable levels, and the gestational diabetes can make that hard.
Each morning, I start the day by pricking my finger and testing my “fasting glucose levels.” For me, the ideal level is below 95. I’m pretty lucky, in that I’ve never had a high test in the morning. I typically come in in the low-70s to low-80s.
My numbers can get a little high if I’m not careful about my evening snack; say, if I indulge in a bit of ice cream. But that’s no reason to skip the evening snack. The dietician I met with pointed out that it’s important to eat shortly before bed, or else you might experience a crash overnight — which could actually cause your body to release more sugar into your blood, ultimately inflating your morning reading. The best best is to choose a healthy, protein-rich snack shortly before bed.
Throughout the day, I test my blood again two hours after each meal, aiming for a glucose level of less than 120. It’s very rare that I exceed the limit, though my readings do vary. I’ve found that my after-breakfast levels are typically about the same as my fasting levels, while I tend to be high after lunch. The evening reading is very dependent on exactly what I have for dinner.
The gestational diabetes diet that was recommended by my dietician is strict. It recommends no more than 180 grams of carbohydrates in a day, and those need to be spread out pretty specifically. For me, that’s:
* 30 grams for breakfast
* 15 grams for morning snack
* 45 grams for lunch
* 15 grams for afternoon snack
* 45 grams for dinner
* 15-30 grams for evening snack
If you’ve ever read your food labels, you’ll recognize that that’s very few carbohydrates. An apple, for example, has about 20 grams of carbs, while a banana is closer to 30. A piece of whole wheat bread ranges anywhere from 15 to 25 grams, while a slice of sourdough is more than 30 grams. A quarter-cup of pasta (and that’s a very small serving of pasta) is about 42 grams, or basically, your entire dinner.
So what do I eat?
I’ve found that routine is my friend. I need to follow my eating schedule pretty precisely, and it’s just easier to develop a set of go-to meals that I can grab at any time.
My typical breakfast is a slice of whole wheat toast (19 grams) with a thin layer of all-natural peanut butter (3 grams), plus a container of light yogurt (16 grams) and a glass of water. I’ve also made scrambled egg sandwiches (one slice of toast cut into a half sandwich, filled with two scrambled eggs, a slice of cheddar and a dash of ketchup) and a cup of milk, but I’m not actually a big fan of eggs and that can cause me some pregnancy nausea. Sometimes I will swap my yogurt out for a glass of milk (also not my favorite) or a small apple. One thing I never have at breakfast: fruit juice, which is lots of carbs and very little fiber, and typically will skyrocket your blood sugar for the whole day. Incidentally, as soon as the gestational diabetes experience is over, I’m chugging some orange juice!
It’s a good idea to bring a little protein into every meal or snack, so I have a few options for my morning snacks. I’ll sometimes eat an apple, sliced up and dipped in all-natural peanut butter. Sometimes it’s a half-cup of baby carrots dipped in a couple tablespoons of hummus. A single container of yogurt is another go-to for me, with the added bonus of providing the calcium my body and baby need.
I’m super lucky that my No. 1 craving this pregnancy has been salad (I know, I’m weird), which is one thing I can eat guilt-free. My daily lunch tends to be a heaping pile of mixed greens with a little ranch dressing. I add in protein and carbs with a couple slices of cheese, a handful of dry roasted peanuts and, sometimes, another slice of whole wheat toast, occasionally topped with a super-fine layer of homemade jam, if I’m really hungry or craving sweets. I tend to come out under my 45-gram carb allotment at lunch, but that’s OK, because my glucose levels also tend to run high in the afternoon. It’s a good balance, so long as I feel sufficiently full.
My afternoon snack comes between 2 and 3 in the afternoon and typically comes from the same set of options as the morning snack, though I try not to repeat the same snack within one day (there is such a thing as too much yogurt, easy as it is).
Easily the hardest meal of the day, as I’m the primary cook for my husband and son, as well, I rely on a pretty meat-centric dinner most days — which is absolutely against my typical habits. I’m not a big meat eater, and I’d prefer to have two or three meat-free days a week, but my body needs the protein and calories right now. I know others have succeeded in finding solutions, but for me, meat is the way to go. Chicken is a popular options in our house, especially grilled or baked. My ideal meal is a grilled chicken breast, a large serving of steamed broccoli, another green salad and a very small helping of a grain, like couscous or quinoa. Technically, either of those tend to carry as many carbs as pasta, but I just feel more full eating a quarter-cup of tiny couscous than a quarter cup (or about 10 pieces) of pasta.
Warning: I may not be a good role model, because the evening snack is where I splurge. If I’m feeling responsible — or in need of belly-filling nutrients — my evening snack might be a couple of whole wheat crackers and some cheese, or maybe another slice of whole wheat toast with some peanut butter. But, more often than not, I don’t really need the food so much as want it at this time of night, so I usually end up with some form of dessert. A serving of sugar-free pudding is about the perfect number of carbs, as is a quarter cup of ice cream (warning: if you’re anything like me, you’ve never even seen a quarter cup of ice cream … it’s a very small serving, but ultimately adequate for that sweets craving). There are some low-sugar fruit-ice-bars that weigh in at 15 grams of carbs, too, and that are absolutely delicious. And, if I really want a treat, a single mini- or fun-size candy bar can usually fit into my daily allotment (though I recognize I’m very lucky and not all women with gestational diabetes can handle such highly refined sugar).
One note about this diet: While it fits within the recommended allotment of carbs, it’s actually pretty low on calories. It’s a rare day that I consume 2,000 calories, which seems pretty low for a pregnant woman. That’s resulted in some weight loss, so I’ve kept in close touch with my doctor to make sure the loss is coming from me and not shorting the baby. I am NOT trying to lose weight, and you shouldn’t during pregnancy either! So far, Little One is growing perfectly. I just get to be one of those rare women who complains about their maternity pants suddenly being way too big. Please don’t hate me.