If gestational diabetes strikes during pregnancy -- as it does in approximately 9 percent of women -- you must change your diet for your health and that of your baby. However, that doesn't mean a vegetarian needs to start eating meat products; rather, you should focus on a high-quality, well-balanced diet overall. If gestational diabetes is left unchecked, it increases the risk of pre-eclampsia and Cesarean delivery as well as Type 2 diabetes later in life.
Pros and Cons of Vegetarian Diets
In most cases, vegetarian diets have plenty of benefits for all stages of life, including during pregnancy, writes registered dietitian Constance Brown-Riggs in "Today's Dietitian." Vegetarians often have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels and blood pressure and less risk of hypertension and Type 2 diabetes. Vegetarian diets are often higher in whole grains, legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables -- all highly nutritious foods. However, Brown-Riggs states, strictly vegetarian pregnant women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing nutritional deficiencies, which can affect their pregnancy and baby.
Generally speaking, pregnant vegetarians consume less of vitamins B-12 and C, as well as calcium and zinc. A pregnant woman needs 2.5 micrograms of B-12 and 80 milligrams of vitamin C, as well as 1,000 milligrams a day of calcium and 11 milligrams of zinc. Additionally, according to Brown-Riggs, pregnant vegetarians tend to eat less protein and more carbohydrates than nonvegetarians. Although pregnant women need extra carbs for the development of the baby's brain, they also need plenty of protein -- around 1.1 grams per kilogram of body weight, or an extra 25 grams per day when compared to standard recommendations. After a diagnosis of gestational diabetes, a pregnant woman should meet with a registered dietitian for nutrition counseling.
Macronutrients for Vegetarians
Vegetarian diets are inherently high in carbohydrates, but a pregnant woman should consume at least 175 grams of carbs a day from sources such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. However, total carb intake should be less than 45 percent of total calories to prevent hyperglycemia. Letting blood glucose levels get too high increases the risk of infants large for gestational age and higher chance for a C-section. Protein from sources such as canned or dried beans, lentils, nuts and soy products should provide between 10 percent and 35 percent of calories, while healthy fats should provide 20 percent to 35 percent of calories.
Meals for a vegetarian diet for gestational diabetes should be based on your weight, height, activity levels, stage of pregnancy and your glucose levels, according to BabyCenter. A sample plan based on consuming 180 grams of carbs per day features three meals and three snacks. A potential breakfast includes a slice of whole-wheat toast with almond butter, while lunch could be a sandwich made with baked tofu and a side of green salad with nuts and low-fat dressing, as well as a cup of nonfat yogurt. Dinner could consist of vegetarian chili, half a tempeh wrap and a vegetable wrap. Snacks could include grapes with cheese, an apple with soy nuts and pretzels, and a glass of milk with whole-wheat crackers and cheese.