If you're pregnant or hope to become pregnant, you might be concerned about a possible complication: gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes causes high blood sugar during the second half of pregnancy.
Because gestational diabetes is common, most pregnant women are routinely screened for it between weeks 24 and 28 of their pregnancies, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. If you are diagnosed with the condition, there are a number of things you can do to keep your blood sugars within the target range — including managing your diet.
Eating a healthy breakfast is a smart start to every day, but it's especially important for pregnant women who are concerned about their blood sugar levels. Here's what you need to know about healthy breakfast choices for a gestational diabetes meal plan.
Read more: Sample Diet Plans for Gestational Diabetes
How Does Food Affect Blood Sugar Levels?
Blood sugar, also known as blood glucose, is the body's most important form of energy. The body gets most of its glucose by metabolizing the carbohydrates in food, according to Kaiser Permanente. This is why diet and blood sugar are so closely linked.
Normally, the body relies on the hormone insulin to control blood sugar levels. But during pregnancy, the placenta releases certain hormones that impair insulin action, according to the Mayo Clinic. This can cause high blood sugar, which can lead to complications for both mother-to-be and child.
Overall, the best way to prevent high blood sugar is to avoid foods that elevate glucose levels in the first place. The body metabolizes some types of carbohydrates (i.e., simple and refined) faster than others — and the faster the body converts carbs into glucose, the more sharply blood sugar levels will rise. If gestational diabetes is a concern for you, it's best to avoid easily metabolized carbs, such as those found in white breads, many cereals, sodas, juices, syrups and baked goods.
For better blood sugar control, opt instead for complex carbs such as whole-grain breads, oatmeal and whole-grain cereal. Complex carbs contain more fiber, which slows the body's ability to convert carbs to glucose and results in a gentler rise in blood sugar.
Limit Carbs at Breakfast
If you have gestational diabetes, it's wise to keep carb counts low at your morning meal, according to Elizabeth Halprin, MD, clinical director of adult diabetes at Harvard's Joslin Diabetes Center. The reason? Your blood sugar levels may already be elevated in the morning, since the liver releases glucose during the night.
"Patients [with gestational diabetes] should eat a max of 30 grams of carbs at breakfast," Dr. Halprin says. "[They should also] avoid milk [and yogurt] in the morning" because they tend to be particularly sensitive to the carbs in dairy at that time, she adds.
Add Proteins and Vegetables
It's important that pregnant women get enough protein, because protein is essential to the healthy growth of a fetus, according to the Mayo Clinic. Protein-rich foods such as eggs, poultry, tofu and fish are especially good choices for women with gestational diabetes, because protein doesn't elevate blood sugar much. Dr. Halprin says that eggs are a particularly good breakfast food; moderate portions of nuts and/or seeds are also great choices, but be mindful of their high fat content.
Vegetables may not seem like a traditional breakfast food, but according to the American Diabetes Association, non-starchy veggies are among the best foods for those looking to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Picks such as leafy salad greens, broccoli and cauliflower are very low in calories and carbohydrates. Another plus: Their high fiber content can help you feel full for longer.
Gestational Diabetes Breakfast Ideas
Dr. Halprin acknowledges that it can be tricky to choose healthy breakfast foods when you have gestational diabetes. "Breakfast is hard, because it is usually a carbohydrate-laden meal," she notes.
According to the University of California San Francisco, the best breakfast choices for women with gestational diabetes are those that include a small serving of a whole grain or starch (such as whole-wheat toast or potatoes). While still healthy choices, whole fruits, milk and plain yogurt are better tolerated later in the day.
Here are some good breakfast ideas for healthy blood sugar levels. Check with your obstetrician or a registered dietitian for help developing the best gestational diabetes meal plan for your pregnancy.
Is This an Emergency?
- Mayo Clinic: "Gestational Diabetes"
- American Diabetes Association: "Non-Starchy Vegetables"
- Kaiser Permanente: "How Our Bodies Turn Food Into Energy"
- Mayo Clinic: "Pregnancy Diet: Focus on These Essential Nutrients"
- UCSF Health: "Dietary Recommendations for Gestational Diabetes"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Tests & Diagnosis for Gestational Diabetes"