Eating away at gestational diabetes
Can the Mediterranean diet prevent this pregnancy condition?
Vikki Mioduszewski Published: December 04, 2019
The Mediterranean diet has been praised for its ability to keep illness at bay, like lowering the risk of heart conditions, type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. And now, it has even been linked to reducing the risk of gestational diabetes. But when should an expectant mama begin eating this way? And do OB-GYNs really recommend the Mediterranean diet to their pregnant patients?
Tiffany Wells, MD, an OB/GYN at River City OBGYN and Baptist Health, says this way of eating is something she believes in for anyone, pregnant or not.
“People hear diabetes and they think, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m going to have to give myself shots of insulin.’ Most of the time, patients can manage it with diet or oral medicine. There are other things you can do to manage it prior to getting to that step,” said Dr. Wells. “I talk to my pregnant and non-pregnant patients about the Mediterranean diet all the time. You’re focusing on your protein coming from poultry and fish rather than red meat. You’re choosing good fats rather than butter, whole grains over white potatoes, and prioritizing vegetables. It’s a heart-healthy diet and is always at the top of the best diet lists. It’s not as restrictive as other diets so it’s easy to maintain, especially when you’re pregnant.”
An ounce of prevention
Taking preventive measures, like choosing a doctor-approved, healthy diet, is especially important for women with a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes.
“A big risk factor is obesity, as well as a history of having gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy,” Dr. Wells explains. “Being 35 and older, and having a family history of diabetes, especially type 2, also put you at increased risk. With those women, we’d take a look at their diet — not looking to calorie restrict, but also watching your carbohydrate intake. In pregnancy, when you’re feeling sick, that can be difficult. I tell them to stick with lean meats, fruits and vegetables, and exercising to help bring down our risk of gestational diabetes.”
And, as with any healthy diet choice, exercise goes hand in hand. Most exercises are safe while pregnant, and can encourage a healthy pregnancy while reducing the chances of gestational diabetes.
“As far as exercise, a lot of your standard things you do in a gym will be fine, like using the treadmill, weightlifting, and riding the stationary bike,” says Dr. Wells. “I tell people to avoid things that will throw them off balance and anything that will put increased pressure on the pelvis. Most standard programs will be fine unless your physician tells you differently.”
Diet and morning sickness
Since the Mediterranean diet isn’t a carb-heavy way of eating, women in their first trimester may have some difficulty when it comes to dealing with their nausea. Certain textures and smells aren’t appealing either. Dr. Wells encourages her patients to do their best to deal with morning sickness and find foods that will stay down.
“I think early on, women have difficulty with either the texture or smell of meat, so it’s a matter of finding good protein sources. Their sense of smell can make it tough to eat some foods, so test around to find what you can tolerate and what you can’t. Often the morning sickness improves, so do what you can for calories in the first trimester, then reassess to eat healthily in the second.”
Monitoring your health
It’s important for pregnant women to keep the signs and symptoms of gestational diabetes and mind, and know their risk. It’s not always obvious when you have it, so keeping an eye out for increased thirst, more frequent urination can be the first sign. If you’re concerned about gestational diabetes before the standard testing, which occurs between 24 and 28 weeks, be sure to discuss this your OB.
“With gestational diabetes, it’s not always obvious you have it," said Dr. Wells. "Certainly, increased thirst or urination could be a tip-off, but those are signs of pregnancy as well and therefore hard to rely on. But we test for gestational diabetes, and if someone is at an increased risk we’ll do testing earlier in their pregnancy. Otherwise, standard testing is between 24 and 28 weeks, which is usually when we find out.”
If you’re looking for a provider who can help you manage gestational diabetes, call 904.202.4her (4437) to make an appointment. Also, if you're looking for a great tool to help you stay healthy throughout your pregnancy, check out the MyFamily app from Baptist Health and Wolfson Children’s Hospital. MyFamily offers health tips to guide you during all stages of your pregnancy. MyFamily compiles vetted content from trusted health professionals to answer all your gestational diabetes questions and more. MyFamily is free and available for download on Apple and Android devices.