Eating well with diabetes

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You probably already know that making good food choices is one of the most important things you can do to have a healthy pregnancy. But if you have diabetes, it's especially important.

Eating well when you have diabetes will help keep your blood sugar in the normal range during your pregnancy. It will also provide your growing baby with balanced nutrition.

Nutrition basics

Pregnant woman holding an apple near her bellyYou may be experiencing cravings and that's okay. So long as you have good healthy eating habits in place, it's fine to indulge in the occasional treat.

A dietitian can help you make a food plan that will help control your blood sugar and provide good nutrition for you and your baby.

Eat better with these bite-sized tips:

  • Carbohydrates: During pregnancy, about 40 to 45% of calories per day should come from carbohydrate foods. Recommended carbohydrate foods include beans, lentils, vegetables, fresh fruits, and whole grains. Whole grains like brown rice, 100% whole-wheat bread, whole grain pasta, and oatmeal contain protein, fiber, and many important vitamins and minerals. Milk and yogurt also count as carbohydrates.
  • Protein: When you're pregnant, you need more protein than usual. Be sure to include lean proteins, such as lean beef, lean pork, skinless chicken or turkey, fish, soy, and nonfat or low-fat dairy products.
  • Fat: Choose healthier fats in small amounts, such as nuts, seeds, avocado, canola oil, and olive oil.
  • Eat often: Eat every 2 to 3 hours, which could be 3 meals and 3 to 4 snacks daily. Do not let more than 10 hours pass between your bedtime snack and breakfast the following day. Spread out the carbohydrates you eat throughout the entire day.
  • Serving sizes: Eating the right amount during pregnancy ensures that you'll get enough food to help your baby grow, without overeating. Using measuring cups and spoons will help you pay attention to portions.
  • Breakfast: Avoid milk, ready-to-eat cereal, and fruit first thing in the morning since your body may not be able to handle the sugars in these foods. Instead, choose starches that are high in fiber such as 100% whole-wheat toast or English muffin, corn or wheat tortillas, or oatmeal and lean protein, such as egg whites or lean ham.
  • Calcium needs: Calcium is very important for bone health, especially during pregnancy. Include 3 to 4 servings of calcium-rich foods per day. One serving equals 8 ounces (1 cup) of nonfat or low-fat milk or calcium-enriched soymilk, or 6 ounces of light yogurt, or 1.5 ounces of reduced-fat cheese. Remember to count milk and yogurt as carbohydrate foods. A calcium supplement (1,000 to 1,200 mg) may be necessary if you are lactose intolerant.
  • Purchasing packaged foods: Be sure to read the food labels when you buy foods that have already been prepared, such as frozen meals, packaged foods, and snacks. Ingredients are listed in the order of amount. If any of the first 4 ingredients are sugar, corn syrup, honey, fructose, or any word ending in "-ose," then that product probably contains too much sugar for someone with diabetes. Whenever possible, eat fresh food that you prepare at home.
  • Fast food and restaurant food: Think carefully about your choices and ask questions. If you know that the portions are too large, ask for a to-go container and fill it with half of the food before you start eating. Be aware of ingredients — many sauces have extra sugar, fat, or starch that you may not know about unless you ask. You can also use HealthyDiningFinder.comKaiser Permanente is not responsible for the content or policies of external Internet sites, or mobile apps. to find healthier menu selections and nutrition information.
  • Empty calories: Limit sugary desserts and snacks that can raise blood sugar. Do not eat or drink products with saccharin (Sweet'N Low). Artificial sweeteners with aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet) or sucralose (Splenda) are safe in moderation (3 to 4 servings a day) during pregnancy. Learn how to avoid drinking your calories.

Sample menu

For each meal, choose 1 item from each column.

Note: This is a quick reference guide and does not replace meeting with a dietitian, who will personalize this plan and give you other food choices.

Free foods:

  • Lettuce
  • Cucumber
  • Cabbage
  • Radishes
  • Celery
  • Mushrooms
  • Zucchini
  • Bell peppers
  • Chili peppers
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Garlic
  • Unsweetened mustard
  • Unsweetened lemon/lime juice

Foods to avoid:

  • Sugar
  • Jam
  • Honey
  • Syrup
  • Regular sodas
  • Kool-Aid
  • Lemonade
  • All juices including orange, apple, cranberry, grape, etc.

*Starchy vegetables are corn, peas, winter squash, potatoes, beans, plantains, and yams.

**This combination of foods equals 2 starch and 2 protein.

*** Do not eat swordfish, shark, king mackerel, tilefish or raw fish. Limit canned white albacore tuna to 6 oz per week only. These fish may contain dangerous levels of mercury, which may be harmful to your baby. Eat up to 12 oz per week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.

Source: Adapted from copyrighted material of The Permanente Medical Group, Inc.

Reviewed by: John P. Martin, MD, June 2019

Reviewed by: Jeff Convissar, MD, November 2015
Additional Kaiser Permanente reviewers

© 2015 Kaiser Permanente

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