What You Need to Know About Gestational Diabetes and Nutrition


Eating well helps all women stay healthy during pregnancy, but if you have gestational diabetes, choosing the right food to eat is even more essential. That’s because high blood sugar levels can be dangerous for your health and your baby’s health. The good news is that many women with gestational diabetes are able to effectively manage their condition by following a special meal plan and exercising regularly.

What You Need to Know About Gestational Diabetes and Nutrition

Written by Lauren C. Srdoch, MS, RD, LDN on behalf of Tennova Healthcare.

Approximately one in every 20 pregnant women develops gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) during pregnancy. GDM is a condition characterized by increased blood sugars and the body’s inability to make or use all of the insulin it needs. The condition is diagnosed with an oral glucose tolerance test and is treated with proper nutrition, exercise and, for some women, medication such as insulin injections.

GDM is the most common complication during pregnancy. However, by making healthy choices and keeping blood glucose within the target range, the risks associated with GDM during pregnancy and birth may be prevented.


WHAT, HOW MUCH and WHEN you eat can affect your blood glucose, so following a well-balanced eating plan is important for pregnant women with GDM.

WHAT: Women with GDM should choose a variety of foods at meal times in order to balance blood glucose levels, and provide satiety and satisfaction. Choose carbohydrate foods that are rich in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains that will fill you up without providing an excess of calories or added sugars. Fiber-rich carbohydrates should be paired with protein sources (such as eggs, lean meats, seafood, poultry) and healthy fats (such as olive oil, nuts, seeds) to provide balance. Foods and beverages high in added sugars as well as fried or processed foods should be limited to allow blood glucose to be managed, as well as to allow weight to be gained slowly and gradually.

Sample meal ideas include:


1 slice whole wheat toast with 1 tablespoon peanut butter

1 cup skim milk

1 egg


1 whole wheat wrap with 2-ounce grilled chicken, lettuce, tomato and 1 teaspoon mayo

Raw carrot and celery sticks

1 cup Greek yogurt


3-ounce baked fish

1 cup brown rice

1/2–1 cup cooked broccoli


1 medium apple with 1 tablespoon peanut butter

or 6 crackers with 1-ounce cheese

or 1/4 cup cottage cheese with 1/2 cup peaches

Adequate amounts of water should be consumed with meals and between meals

HOW MUCH: A registered dietitian can help a pregnant woman with GDM to know how much she should consume. This will be done using an individualized approach based on various factors, including age, height, weight and activity level. Carbohydrate counting may be a useful tool as well, especially if the pregnant woman is taking insulin. Also, creating an insulin-to-carb ratio can help to determine the dosage of insulin required pre-meal if necessary.

Additionally, women with GDM should read the nutrition facts label (noting recommended serving size) and use measuring cups and spoons to ensure proper portions.

WHEN: It is recommended to keep meal times consistent. Eating at the same times every day—and every few hours—may help manage blood glucose more efficiently. For some pregnant women, this may translate to eating meals every 4–5 hours with snacks in between as needed. Skipping meals is not recommended.


Exercise can help complement nutrition during pregnancy. It is advised to check with your physician first, but most pregnant women benefit from physical activity. The American Diabetes Association suggests about 30 minutes of brisk walking 3–4 times per week.


In most cases, gestational diabetes will resolve after pregnancy, but women should be screened for diabetes 6–8 weeks postpartum and every year following. New moms should continue to follow a healthy, balanced diet if they are breastfeeding, and to promote general wellness and the reduced risk of reoccurring GDM in subsequent pregnancies.

For more information about nutrition counseling, or for a referral to a women’s care specialist, call 1-855-TENNOVA (836-6682) or visit Tennova.com.

About the Author:Lauren Registered Dietician Tennova

Lauren C. Srdoch is a registered dietitian with Tennova Healthcare. She offers one-on-one outpatient nutrition counseling at North Knoxville Medical Center in Powell and Turkey Creek Medical Center in Knoxville. Sessions can be tailored to disease-specific needs for those who have been prescribed a special diet by a physician to address diabetes, kidney disease, food allergies or other chronic conditions. Wellness, weight management, and sports nutrition counseling are also available. To schedule an appointment, call 865-545-7771.





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