Unless diagnosed with gestational diabetes (GDM) most women don’t give a second thought to their blood glucose levels in pregnancy. Yet an increasing amount of research is showing that it’s an area that requires more attention. The reason for this is that your blood glucose levels in pregnancy affect the rate at which your baby grows in the womb.
If your glucose levels are too high, then your baby will grow too fast and be born with excessive amounts of body fat. This is exactly the reason why all pregnant women are routinely screened at 26-28 weeks of pregnancy to determine if they have developed GDM (diabetes in pregnancy). However, we now know that even mildly elevated glucose levels during pregnancy (lower than the levels at which GDM is diagnosed) can still have serious consequences.
If your baby is exposed to excess glucose during pregnancy, he or she will not only be born with higher levels of body fat, but while still in the womb, his or her metabolic health may be ‘programmed’ to increase the risk of obesity and diabetes in later life. The good news is that managing your blood glucose levels and weight gain during pregnancy, can significantly reduce these risks and give your child the best start in life.
So what can you do?
If you’re trying to conceive, the first step is optimising your weight, activity levels and eating habits before you fall pregnant. We now know that your weight and lifestyle habits before you even conceive can influence your child’s future health. If you are carrying extra weight, losing even a moderate amount (5% of your weight) can make a big difference. Eating well and being active before you fall pregnant can also reduce your risk of developing GDM. If you are already pregnant, managing your weight gain, staying active and following an eating plan which helps to control blood glucose levels (one with the right balance of protein and carbohydrate and which focuses on low glycemic index (GI) carbs) is the key.
Low GI carbs are those that are slowly digested and absorbed, producing only gentle rises and falls in blood glucose and insulin levels. An eating plan based around low GI foods can help to avoid the glucose ‘spikes’ that can otherwise occur after meals, which will result in excess glucose crossing the placenta to your baby. Low GI foods also fill you up for longer and have been shown to help with weight management and reducing the risk of developing GDM.
Foods with a low GI include dense wholegrain breads (rather than white or wholemeal), traditional rolled oats (not the instant variety), barley, quinoa, cracked wheat, legumes (including lentils, chickpeas and dried or canned beans), corn, pasta, noodles, milk, yoghurt, soy milk and many types of fruit (including apples, pears, citrus fruits, stone fruits and berries). Incorporating these foods into an eating plan that also meets the nutritional needs for pregnancy will give you the best chance of a healthy pregnancy and healthy future for your child.
Want to know more about GI? Download your free GI fact sheet here.