Pregnancy brings a lot of happiness in our lives, but along with it comes changes in our hormones. These hormones not only cause changes in our bodies, but affects our mood, sleep pattern, aversion to some foods, and extreme craving for some foods. If you have a sweet tooth, these changes become a way to have desserts more often. Hormonal changes coupled with unhealthy eating can result in increased blood sugar levels, leading to gestational diabetes. However, a plant-based diet may help manage your gestational diabetes, and have a healthy pregnancy and delivery.
Before jumping to knowing the benefits of plant-based diet for this condition, let us first understand what gestational diabetes is and what are the risks associated with it.
About Gestational Diabetes
|Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that is diagnosed for the first time during pregnancy. Like other types of diabetes, the way the cells utilize sugar (or glucose) is affected. This causes increased blood sugar levels, which can affect the pregnancy and the baby’s health. It is usually detected in the middle of the pregnancy; women are tested for diabetes between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.|
The exact reason for gestational diabetes is not understood; however, there are various factors that play a role. Usually, blood sugar levels are managed by the hormones. But during pregnancy, the change in the hormone levels, affects the body’s ability to process blood sugar efficiently, which in-turn increases the blood sugar levels.
Gestational diabetes, if not managed can lead to complications like requiring a C-section to deliver, increased risk of excessive birth weight of the baby, preterm birth, breathing difficulties in the baby, low blood sugar of baby, obesity and diabetes in adulthood, stillbirth. Women with gestational diabetes are also at high risk of type 2 diabetes after delivery.
Well, the good news is that gestational diabetes can be managed by eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and taking some medications.
How can a Plant-Based Diet help?
A plant-based diet focuses on foods primarily obtained from plants. This simply means that you are choosing more foods from plant sources than animal sources. This includes proper proportions of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, oils, beans, legumes and whole grains.
Several studies have shown that plant-based diets help to prevent type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. As more of vegetables and fruits are consumed in a plant-based diet, more amount of fibre is consumed. This is known to decrease gastric emptying (the time taken for the food to empty from the stomach and enter the small intestine) and thus reduce glycemic response (reduced blood glucose after eating food), as well as decrease inflammation and fat stored in the liver. The unsaturated fatty acids found in nuts and olive oil improve insulin sensitivity, which means it helps in reducing blood sugar levels. A plant-based diet also enhances insulin secretion, in-turn decreasing blood glucose levels.
Scientific evidence suggests that women with gestational diabetes have increased levels of oxidative stress and inflammatory markers. A plant-based diet may increase the levels of antioxidants which can act against the oxidative stress. It is also known to reduce the inflammatory markers, thereby helping to manage gestational diabetes better.
Dos and Don’ts for Women with Gestational Diabetes
Now that you have learnt how plant-based diet can be beneficial in managing gestational diabetes, here are some general instructions while following a plant-based diet:
- Include more food obtained from plants, and less from animal sources.
- Make sure your food plate is well balanced with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy protein, so that you receive all the nutrients required during pregnancy.
- As a general rule, avoid simple sugars and have more complex carbohydrates; reduce your carbohydrate intake to about 45% calories.
- Limit carbohydrate content of breakfast (such as fruit), as glucose levels are typically high in women with gestational diabetes.
- The main sources of carbohydrates should be whole foods, such as vegetables, whole grains, and beans, which should be eaten throughout the day.
- Have protein- and fat-rich foods for breakfast, and small serving of fruit can be eaten later during the day.
- Have three balanced meals and snacks for 2 to 3 times a day, which may mean that you are eating every 2-3 hours.
- Avoid foods that have high content of sugar such as cake, cookies, fruit juice, energy drinks, candy, soda, sweeteners, etc.
During pregnancy, particularly when diagnosed with gestational diabetes, your loved ones recommend various measures for a healthy pregnancy. Learning the benefits of plant-based diet, why not try it to manage your gestational diabetes. You can always reach out to your doctor or a nutritionist to help you plan a balanced plant-based diet.
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- Schiattarella A, Lombardo M, Morlando M, Rizzo G. The Impact of a Plant-Based Diet on Gestational Diabetes: A Review. Antioxidants (Basel). 2021;10(4):557. Published 2021 Apr 2.
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