Registered dietitian Lily Nichols joins the Nutrition Diva with expert advice on how to deal with this common condition and how to prevent it from happening in the first place.
If you are expecting a baby, you can also expect to be tested for gestational diabetes somewhere around your 24th week of pregancy. About 1 in 5 women develop high blood sugar during their pregnancies, a complication that—if it arises—needs to be carefully managed, both for your sake and for the baby's.
See also: Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy
Lily Nichols is a registered dietitian who specializes in the treatment and prevention of gestational diabetes. She is the author of a new book called Real Food for Gestational Diabetes and I've asked her to share some of her tips on how to handle this increasingly common diagnosis—and even how to prevent it from happening in the first place!
Nutrition Diva: First, Lily, will you tell us what gestational diabetes means?
Lily Nichols: Gestational diabetes (GD) is usually defined as diabetes that develops or is first diagnosed during pregnancy. However, it can also be defined as “insulin resistance” or “carbohydrate intolerance” during pregnancy.
I prefer to rely on the latter description because, at the end of the day, gestational diabetes is the result of insulin resistance, which means a woman is unable to tolerate large amounts of carbohydrates without experiencing high blood sugar.
ND: Being diagnosed with GD causes a lot of anxiety, but you suggest that this is not cause for panic or despair. Can you explain?
LN: Getting gestational diabetes is often scary and overwhelming for women as there are risks to both mom and baby if it’s not well controlled. However, moms that learn to control their blood sugar (the majority of which can be done with simple diet, lifestyle, and exercise changes) have no higher risks of complications.
We need to re-frame how we look at gestational diabetes. It’s a unique opportunity for moms to focus on self-care and make healthy lifestyle changes they can continue for life. GD is now the most common complication of pregnancy, affecting up to 18% of pregnant women, so it’s time we lose the stigma and focus on what we can do.
See also: What Is High Glucose?
ND: How do women with GD go wrong in their dietary approaches?
LN: Many women are told to eat a fairly high carbohydrate diet, which is perplexing given that GD is “carbohydrate intolerance” and carbohydrates are the primary macronutrient that raises the blood sugar. So often, it’s not the moms that go wrong, but the advice they receive that’s misguided and outdated.
ND: What makes your diet plan different than the conventional gestational diabetes diets?
LN: Well, first off, the carbohydrate recommendations are different. I don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all diet for pregnancy, and that includes the whole notion that there’s an “ideal” level of carbohydrates for all women to consume. It should be personalized to the woman and to her blood sugar & activity levels. Often, that will mean a lower carbohydrate diet compared to conventional guidelines, but not always.
Second, I emphasize the importance of quality fats in a prenatal diet, rather than a low-fat diet. There are numerous nutrients found in fatty foods that are key for fetal development. This whole notion that “fat is bad” is extremely outdated. It inadvertently leaves women deficient in a variety of nutrients, including choline, glycine, and fat-soluble vitamins. I cover why these nutrients, and others, are key to a developing baby in Chapter 5 of my book and in more detail in Module 2 of my online gestational diabetes course.