Upon learning of my diagnosis of having gestational diabetes I entered my final trimester with a new focus. That of ensuring I did all I could to not end up on drugs to control my blood sugars.
Side note: As this is a long post I’ve broken it down into sections so scroll down to the bits you want to focus on:. The sections are:
- Food Pairing
- A typical day
- Portion sizes
- Food – covers glycaemic index/load and some things I learnt about food
Why you may ask was I so set against having drugs? For the simple reason that I think it is better to avoid medical intervention as much as possible.
As a society are building intolerances to antibiotics etc. and I think that where possible if you can solve something without medical help it’s best.
Also whilst these drugs have been deemed safe they have only been offered to treat diabetes to pregnant women for a number of years and we don’t know if there are any long term implications. I doubt there are, but why take the risk?
However, if after all I had done I still could not control my blood sugars I would of course take the drugs to ensure my unborn Sidekick would be well.
So with my new focus I needed to completely review my diet and exercise.
This again is where my experience of the NHS was poor. The advice they give on gestational diabetes is based on Type 2 diabetes, whilst they have some similarities they have subtle differences which do matter. Additionally the information was out of date and didn’t reflect current research.
For example, it is known that having oats for breakfast is a good diabetic breakfast, they are low GI and won’t cause a blood spike.
This was not the case for me they caused massive spike even after a 20 minute walk.
I investigated this and found that for a yet unknown reason women with gestational diabetes seem to struggle a lot with breakfast cereals and oats specifically to the point that most of us give up eating them.
For three months my breakfast was one slice of brown toast with avocado. At weekends I would go wild and add in some scrambled egg, which I learnt to love.
The thing is with treating diabetes it isn’t just about cutting out sugar and it’s not even just about having a healthy diet, it’s about understanding how food groups work and how they effect each other.
I came to learn about food pairings, and how important these are.
Simply put a food pairing is when you eat a certain food to help control the sugar spike caused by a carbohydrate.
A carbohydrate is a high blood sugar element. Yes some are better than others but they all break down into sugars. But team it with a protein (meat, fish, beans) or a good fat (nut butter (peanut or even better almond), avocado) you can help reduce blood sugar spikes caused by eating the carbohydrates.
Due to the fact that I already had a diet low in sugar and I was already active I couldn’t simply cut out chocolate, cake and start exercising etc. and see an effect. My diet, which was mainly vegetarian, had to be changed to very low carb. This is something very related to me and my body, you might be luckier!
I kept a detailed log of all the food I ate throughout my last trimester and I tested my blood sugars 6 times a day. I also kept a log of the exercise I did.
From keeping these detailed notes (some may say I was a little obsessive) I was able to pin point foods that I could eat and foods that I couldn’t.
The example of oats given above was a good one, however I couldn’t eat tomatoes as they caused a spike, I could eat 3 new potatoes, no more, in a day. Rice was a no go.
The positive of this change in diet was I tried new recipes, for example cauliflower rice became a regular on the dinner table. I even did a pizza base with it! I tried making almond flour pancakes (disaster) but my flax muffins were a success.
My typical day
Also I started eating smaller meals but more frequently so my intake of food was spread out the day. So typically I would:
- Breakfast at 6am
- Exercise 30 mins
- Go to work (40 min drive and a 15 min walk)
- Early morning snack 9am – soya yogurt (Tesco own brand has a low sugar content), 6 blueberries, sunflower seeds and crushed walnuts
- Lunch: salad with cheese, chicken or tuna – usually 12.30pm
- 30 minute walk taken 15 minutes after eating
- Afternoon snack – celery stick with peanut butter – usually 3-4pm
- Dinner 6pm – protein (chicken, fish), huge amount of leafy/green vegetables, small amount of carbohydrates
- 30 minute exercise
As you can see I tried to eat something around the three hour mark. I found for me personally this kept my sugars stable throughput the day. I also exercised 15-20mins after my main meals.
I waited this specific amount of time because I learnt that is the length of time it takes for the sugars caused by carbohydrates to enter the blood. By exercising at that point you can control the spike and ‘burn’ it off, leaving the slower released sugars i.e. those from protein to come through after you’ve stopped exercising. I’m going to discuss exercise a bit more in another post.
Whilst I had a balanced, healthy diet, I had to learn about portion control. I’d always had a good appetite, I like my food. Whilst I knew I ate too much it didn’t bother me because I was always active enough to stay within a healthy weight.
However having gestational diabetes showed me that really I did need to get a grip on how much I was eating.
The advice I was given by the NHS was base your portions on your hands. I think the logic being, your hand size will relate to your body. I don’t know if this is good or not?
So the advice was as follows:
- Carbohydrates are equal to the size of a fist
- Protein the size of your palm
- Vegetables/salads are equal to the size of your cupped hands
- Fats are equal to your thumb pad (not the whole thumb)
To be fair it worked generally for me, except I had to decrease the amount of carbs and up the amount of protein.
I also had to really reduce the amount of fruit I ate. I love fruit, always have. I know the advice is eat 5 portions (actually it should be 7) of fruit and veg a day and I did that easily. The thing is though, it’s better to have more veg than fruit. Fruit by it’s nature is sweet, that’s why we like it, so when you’ve got an issue with blood sugars it’s not the best thing to have.
Through my research I came across Gestational Diabetes UK. This is a brilliant resource and really helped me during this time in my pregnancy. They have lots of information on the condition, recipes, information for families etc.
Additionally Diabetes UK have lots of information about food, exercise, portion control. They also do a good carbohydrates reference list which you can access here.
The first thing you will learn with diabetes is all about the Glycaemic Index (GI). The GI is a system for rating food that contain carbohydrates. It shows how quickly your blood sugar level will change when you eat that food. The higher the GI the quicker you blood sugar will rise. With diabetes you are therefore always looking for a low GI rating. There is another rating system called the Glycaemic Load (GL) this is a similar system as the GI but it takes into account portion sizes. It’s a helpful one to know about and use as there are some random foods that have a high GI but they don’t affect the blood quickly. A good way to remember what each system does is as follows:
GI is a measure of how quickly a food converts to glucose.
GL is a measure of how much a food converts to glucose.
This can be particularly useful with foods such as sweet potatoes vs regular potatoes. Short answer normal potatoes are less sweet but they spike the blood quicker than sweet potatoes.
I also learnt that not all foods are created equal and so through the last 3 months of my pregnancy I learnt more about food than I ever have in my life! Here are some of the key things I found that will help you if you have gestational diabetes:
- How you cook your potatoes will effect the GI rating, baking is the worse, boiling with the skin on is the best
- Blueberries are one, if not the best fruits for diabetics. Research is underway into them as they appear to help control blood sugars
- Sugar is in things you won’t have thought about, i.e. milk. I gave up milk as 100g semi-skimmed milk contains 4.8g sugar. I swapped to unsweetened almond milk (can’t have regular milk now tastes sooo sugary).
- Go for tart apples e.g. granny smith and pair them with a nut butter to help control the sugar spike.
- Embrace celery sticks. These were my go to when I was hungry but knew I couldn’t really eat anything. They have basically a GI of 0!
- Love lemons – they have as much vitamin C as an orange but without all the sweetness. Squeeze lemon into hot or cold water for a drink to have with your meals, there is some research that this simple drink can help control blood sugars.
- Popcorn – if you are craving crisps or just a snack, go for unsalted/unsweetened popcorn as it has a relatively low GI
- Nuts – a healthy snack. Whilst they have carbohydrates they have more protein.
- Eggs – I’m not a fan of eggs but they are a good source of protein and you can make egg muffins and things with them. Learn to love the egg.
Slowly, diet and exercise began to control my sugars.
This post is long for a reason, it is essential when you have gestational diabetes that you get control of your diet, especially if you are trying to keep off the drugs. So here are my top tips:
- Keep a log of the food you eat and your blood sugars. You will then begin to see if there are certain things you just can’t eat
- Use the internet. There are lots of resources out there to help you learn about the GI of certain foods, the carbohydrates in others.
- Be creative. Your meals will change, but that can be a good thing, you can try new things and surprise yourself.
- Try to enjoy the new challenge. I know it sounds silly but if you can try and see this as a way of trying new things then it will make it easier. I had days when I was so p’d off with it (especially as I was diagnosed two days before my birthday) that I just wanted to give up and binge it all the things I couldn’t. On those days I went and found a new recipe and gave it a go.
- Exercise. I know I haven’t said much about it here but it is essential that you exercise not just to control your blood sugars but also to release happy hormones, you’re going to need them!
I was thinking about positing some of the recipes I did during this phase, what do you think?
Did you suffer from gestational diabetes? Were you able to control it through diet and exercise alone?
Next time testing your blood and exercise.