A sample 7-day meal plan for people with gestational diabetes designed to regulate blood sugar

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A sample 7-day meal plan for people with gestational diabetes designed to regulate blood sugar
If you have gestational diabetes, focus your meals around fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. Prostock-Studio/Getty Images
  • Gestational diabetes is thought to be caused by pregnancy-related hormone fluctuations.
  • If you have gestational diabetes, follow a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.
  • This 7-day gestational diabetes meal plan includes three meals and two snacks a day.

It's important for people with gestational diabetes to adopt a certain diet because your blood sugar can often be controlled just by eating healthy foods and regular exercise. Following such a diet may even help prevent the need for insulin injections or further medical intervention.

Here's what you should and shouldn't eat with gestational diabetes and a healthy 7-day meal plan you can follow throughout your pregnancy.

What is gestational diabetes?

When diabetes is diagnosed for the first time during pregnancy, it's known as gestational diabetes. It occurs in about 1 in 10 pregnancies in the US and is generally resolved once the baby is born.

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Hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy sometimes cause insulin - the hormone that regulates your blood sugar - to not work properly. This can lead to gestational diabetes.

Some people are more at risk for developing gestational diabetes. Major risk factors include:

  • Being overweight or obese prior to becoming pregnant
  • Having a lack of physical activity
  • Previously having gestational diabetes or prediabetes
  • Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Having an immediate family member with diabetes
  • Previously delivering a baby weighing more than 9 pounds

It's important to exercise and eat a healthy diet before, during, and after your pregnancy to help regulate your blood sugar and reduce your risk of future health complications. Half of all women who have had gestational diabetes develop type 2 diabetes later in life, but continuing these habits after you have your baby can help prevent or delay this from happening.

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Gestational diabetes diet

Eating a balanced diet of healthy foods is important to help you manage gestational diabetes by keeping your blood sugar stable.

For example, fat and protein affect your blood sugar over many hours, but carbohydrates affect it much faster, resulting in spikes. Because of this, it's helpful to regulate your intake of carb-rich foods. Keeping the amount and types of food - carbohydrates, fats, and proteins - about the same from day to day can also help maintain consistent blood sugars.

It's particularly helpful to eat three solid meals and two or three snacks a day so you're not going too long without eating, which would cause a drop in your blood sugar.

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Foods to eat

Certain foods are especially helpful because they contain complex carbohydrates that your body digests more slowly, which helps maintain a healthy blood sugar level:

  • Whole fruits and vegetables
  • Lean proteins
  • Healthy fats
  • Whole grains

Foods to limit or avoid

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You should limit your portions or avoid eating refined carbohydrates and foods high in sugar if you have gestational diabetes because they can cause unsafe spikes in your blood sugar levels:

  • White bread, white rice, or non-whole wheat pasta
  • Soft drinks
  • Fruit juices
  • Sweets and desserts

7-day gestational diabetes meal plan

Here's what a full week of healthy eating on a gestational diabetes meal plan could look like, according to Kimberly Trout, PhD, assistant professor of women's health at the University of Pennsylvania with research expertise in nutrition for gestational diabetes.

Trout recommends following this diet throughout your entire pregnancy:

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Day 1

A sample 7-day meal plan for people with gestational diabetes designed to regulate blood sugar
A veggie burger with lettuce and tomato is a healthy Monday lunch. Getty Images

Breakfast:

  • 2 eggs, scrambled
  • 1 piece toast
  • 1 cup milk
  • Decaf coffee or tea (no sugar)

Mid-morning snack:

  • ½ banana
  • 1 string cheese stick

Lunch:

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  • 3-ounce veggie burger with lettuce and tomato on hamburger bun, 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 1 cup baby carrots and broccoli
  • Sparkling water flavored with lemon slices

Mid-afternoon snack: 1 orange and ½ cup milk

Dinner:

  • 4 oz. steak
  • ⅔ cup broccoli
  • 1 large baked potato and 2 tablespoons sour cream

Bedtime snack (your bedtime snack should be timed so that overnight fast is no longer than 8 to 10 hours):

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  • 2 tablespoons of natural peanut butter and 2 graham crackers
  • ½ cup milk

Day 2

A sample 7-day meal plan for people with gestational diabetes designed to regulate blood sugar
Try a grilled chicken salad for lunch on Tuesday. kajakiki/Getty Images

Breakfast:

  • 1 cup Cheerios
  • 1 cup milk
  • Decaf coffee or tea (no sugar)

Mid-morning snack:

  • 1 small apple
  • 10 oyster crackers

Lunch:

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  • Grilled chicken salad: 2 ounce shredded chicken strips, 1 ½ cups chopped lettuce, tomato, cucumber, broccoli, spinach, bell pepper and 2 tablespoons ranch dressing
  • 1 cup noodle soup
  • ½ cup unsweetened canned apricots

Mid-afternoon snack:

  • ⅓ cantaloupe
  • 1 rice cake

Dinner:

  • 2 crab cakes
  • ⅔ cup collard greens
  • ¾ cup blueberries
  • ½ cup milk

Bedtime snack:

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  • 2 cups popcorn topped with ½ ounce grated Parmesan cheese

Day 3

A sample 7-day meal plan for people with gestational diabetes designed to regulate blood sugar
Go with grapes for a healthy mid-afternoon snack on Wednesday. Diana Miller/Getty Images

Breakfast:

  • 1-ounce vegan sausage
  • 1 English muffin
  • Decaf coffee or tea (no sugar)

Mid-morning snack:

  • 1 orange
  • 3 saltine crackers

Lunch:

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  • Rice and beans: ½ cup cooked rice and ½ cup pinto beans in 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • ⅔ cup green beans

Mid-afternoon snack:

  • ¾ cup fresh grapes
  • ½ cup of milk

Dinner:

  • 4 ounces of chicken strips
  • 1 cup broccoli
  • 1 large baked potato and 2 tablespoons sour cream

Bedtime snack:

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  • Cheese sandwich made with 1 ounce cheese and ½ slice whole wheat bread
  • ¼ cup pineapple

Day 4

A sample 7-day meal plan for people with gestational diabetes designed to regulate blood sugar
Have some non-fat yogurt and blueberries for an energy boost on Thursday. Westend61/Getty Images

Breakfast:

  • 2 hard boiled eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ grapefruit

Mid-morning snack:

  • 3/4 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup non-fat yogurt

Lunch:

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  • Turkey sandwich on 2 slices of whole-wheat bread
  • 1 side salad with vinaigrette dressing

Mid-afternoon snack:

  • 2 small plums
  • ½ cup milk

Dinner:

  • 1 4-ounce grilled chicken breast
  • 1 cup steamed butternut squash

Bedtime snack:

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  • 1 stick of string cheese
  • 3 saltine crackers

Day 5

A sample 7-day meal plan for people with gestational diabetes designed to regulate blood sugar
Salmon makes for a healthy Friday dinner. Nigel O'Neill/Getty Images

Breakfast:

  • 1 whole-wheat English muffin with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
  • Decaf coffee or tea (no sugar)

Mid-morning snack:

  • 3/4 cup berries with 2 tablespoons of chopped walnuts and 1 cup low-fat plain yogurt

Lunch:

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  • Caprese chicken sandwich: 2 slices 100% whole-wheat toasted bread, 1 ½ ounces rotisserie chicken with skin removed, sliced ½ medium tomato, 2 tablespoons mozzarella cheese, 1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil, 2 slices medium avocado

Mid-afternoon snack:

  • ⅓ cup of hummus with 1 cup veggie sticks of your choosing

Dinner:

  • 5 ounces of salmon with grilled peaches and goat cheese over arugula
  • ½ cup brown rice

Bedtime snack:

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  • 3 Crackers topped with ½ cup low-fat cottage cheese

Day 6

A sample 7-day meal plan for people with gestational diabetes designed to regulate blood sugar
Try vegetable soup for a hearty lunch on Saturday. Harald Walker/EyeEm/Getty Images

Breakfast:

  • 3/4 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt

Mid-morning snack:

  • 20 pistachios
  • 1 medium pear

Lunch:

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  • 2 cups vegetable soup topped with 2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese

Mid-afternoon snack:

  • 1 slice whole-wheat bread with 1 tablespoon of almond butter

Dinner:

  • 1 ⅓ cups chicken sausage & peppers
  • ½ cup cooked brown rice tossed with ½ teaspoon each olive oil and no-salt-added Italian seasoning
  • 2 cups mixed greens topped with 2 tablespoons Italian vinaigrette dressing

Bedtime snack:

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  • 1 medium apple sprinkled with cinnamon
  • ½ cup cottage cheese

Day 7

A sample 7-day meal plan for people with gestational diabetes designed to regulate blood sugar
Wake up on Sunday with oatmeal and raspberries. Arx0nt/Getty Images

Breakfast:

  • ½ cup oats topped with 3/4 cup raspberries and 1 tablespoon chopped pecans
  • 1 cup milk

Mid-morning snack:

  • 1 cup of cherries

Lunch:

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  • 1 veggie and hummus sandwich on 2 slices whole wheat bread
  • 1 cup noodle soup

Mid-afternoon snack:

  • 2 tablespoons natural peanut butter
  • 1 apple

Dinner:

  • 1-1/2 cups Spaghetti squash, plus meatballs and marinara sauce
  • 1 ½ cups mixed greens topped with 1 tablespoon Italian vinaigrette dressing

Bedtime snack:

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  • 1 string cheese stick
  • 10 oyster crackers

Gestational diabetes diet benefits

There are many health benefits of following a healthy diet when you have gestational diabetes, for both you and your baby.

  • It helps prevent the need for medication. Research suggests that about 80% of women with gestational diabetes can manage the condition with diet alone, without requiring the use of medication, Trout says. While the data don't support one specific diet over another, the most common recommendation is moderate carbohydrate restriction with lean protein and healthy fats.
  • It keeps your blood sugar at a healthy level. Women who follow this type of dietary regimen generally experience a drop in their blood sugar levels and, ultimately, healthy deliveries. Managing gestational diabetes with a healthy diet that controls your blood sugar level helps prevent health complications for the mother and baby.
  • It lowers your risk for type 2 diabetes. Eating a healthy diet, keeping your weight within a healthy range, and getting regular physical activity after your baby is born can help lower your risk for type 2 diabetes.

However, it's important for those with gestational diabetes to not overly restrict their diet, says Trout. For example, if you consume too few calories or carbohydrates and are losing weight, you may not be receiving adequate nutrition for you and your growing fetus.

To help avoid this risk, Trout recommends following the advice of your health care provider and asking for a nutritional consult with a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator if you need additional nutritional guidance beyond what's offered in the course of your routine prenatal care.

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Insider's takeaway

Overall, a gestational diabetes diet is worth following because it encourages eating a variety of healthy foods and helps to safely manage your blood sugar levels.

A gestational diabetes diet is also helpful well after your pregnancy. You might want to stick to it because these healthy choices may reduce your risk of developing it again with future pregnancies or developing type 2 diabetes in the future.

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