Blood Sugar Control During Pregnancy: Can Diet Help?

I am pregnant and had my blood sugar level tested last week. Even though I passed the test, my blood sugar was 131, which I understand to be on the high side of normal. I enjoy eating a lot of fruits and vegetables. What type of diet I should follow to keep my levels normal.

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Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

It is common for pregnant women to develop some loss of glucose tolerance during pregnancy. With the increase in circulating blood volume and metabolites, often the pancreas has a difficult time with the increased demands to supply insulin to help maintain proper blood sugar levels. Therefore, it is not uncommon for sugar levels to rise during pregnancy.

In about 10 to 20 percent of cases, a women will develop a condition know as gestational diabetes, in which blood sugar levels are too high. This condition requires careful medical monitoring and diet control.

Although you have not been classified as having gestational diabetes, it is a good idea for you to keep blood sugar levels within a safe range. Proper diet and daily exercise are important. Here are some suggestions to help you maintain this goal:

1. Avoid sugar and foods high in sugar.
During pregnancy, sugar is rapidly absorbed into the blood and requires a larger release of insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels. Sugar comes in many forms, and you should become familiar with how to identify it on a packaging label ingredient panel. If any of the forms appear near the top of the list, you should avoid that product. Eat unsweetened breakfast cereals and breads without added sugars. Avoid pies, cakes, cookies, sweetened yogurt, fruit drinks, sodas, candy, ice cream, syrup and any sugars such as honey, brown sugar, corn syrup, maple syrup, turbinado sugar, high fructose corn syrup and molasses. Ingredients that end in "ose" contain sugars (e.g., sucrose, dextrose and glucose), should also be avoided. Although some fruit juices contain no added sugar, they still have lots of naturally occurring sugars that are readily absorbed into your blood stream. Therefore, limit your fruit juice intake and drink it only with meals. This will help slow its absorption. It may be a good idea to drink vegetable juices such as tomato juice or V-8. Whole fruit is a better choice than fruit juice, because it contains fiber, which will help slow the absorption of sugar. Be sure to avoid fruit in syrup. Vegetables are a wonderful snack. They are very low in sugar.

2. Concentrate on eating mostly complex carbohydrates.
These include vegetables, whole-grain cereals and breads and whole grains such as brown rice and cracked wheat. Also, eat legumes, such as soy beans, black beans and chick peas. The carbohydrates in these foods will supply you with plenty of energy, but require a longer time to digest and be absorbed into the blood stream, keeping your pancreas from being overloaded.

3. Emphasize foods high in dietary fiber.
A diet with plenty of fiber, which includes vegetables, dried beans, cereals and other whole-grain foods, decreases the amount of insulin your body needs to keep blood sugars within a normal range.

4. Keep your diet low in fat.
Insulin becomes less efficient in a high-fat diet. Some fat is needed to help with the absorption of certain vitamins, and to provide the essential fatty acids necessary for fetal growth. However, you should avoid fatty meats, butter, cream, whole milk, full fat cheeses and foods such as crackers made with coconut, palm or palm kernel oil. Concentrate on consuming foods that contain unsaturated or mono-unsaturated fats such as fish, margarine and vegetable oils.

5. Eat three small meals and three snacks spaced evenly throughout the day.
By eating small meals and snacks that are evenly spaced you are more likely to keep an even blood sugar level.

6. Be sure to include a bedtime snack that offers protein and complex carbohydrates.
A good choice might be an apple and whole-grain crackers with low-fat cheese.

7. Exercise each day.
Thirty minutes of daily aerobic exercise will help maintain proper blood sugar

Below is an example of a healthy daily diet that can help keep your blood sugars within a reasonable range:

Breakfast:
1/2 cup orange juice, 3/4 cup oatmeal with 1/2 cup skim milk, 1 slice whole-wheat toast with 1 tsp. margarine

Morning snack:
Yogurt smoothie made with 1 cup plain yogurt and 1/2 banana

Lunch:
1 cup skim milk, salad with 1 cup fresh spinach, 1/2 cup garbanzo beans, 1/2 fresh tomato, 2 oz. water-packed tuna and 2 tbs. low-calorie Italian dressing, 1 bran muffin, 1/2 cup cantaloupe chunks

Afternoon snack:
6 whole-grain crackers with 1 tbsp. peanut butter, 1/2 sliced apple

Dinner:
1 cup tossed salad with 1 tbsp. low-fat dressing, 3 oz. skinless chicken breast, 1 baked potato, 1/2 cup cooked broccoli, 1 piece corn bread, 1 cup skim milk, 1 fresh peach

Bedtime snack:
Fresh carrot sticks, 2 cups plain popcorn, 1 oz. low-fat cheese

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