Treating Gestational Diabetes Naturally
Guest Post, By: Leslie Vandever
You’re around halfway through your pregnancy when your doctor informs you that your most recent blood tests show that you have gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM).
“How will this affect my baby?” you wonder after you’ve recovered from the initial shock. “Will I have to take medicine for it?” Which makes you question “how will that affect my baby?” And “how can I keep both of us healthy?”
Like other forms of diabetes, GDM causes insulin resistance. Insulin is the substance that unlocks the cells so they can take in blood sugar (glucose) for energy. In GDM, the placenta, the living membrane that transfers nutrients, blood, and water from the mother to the infant, produces certain hormones that interfere with how insulin works. The result is that the cells can’t get the vital fuel they need to function properly.
To counteract this, during pregnancy the mother’s body naturally produces about three times as much insulin as normal to keep her blood sugar—and her baby’s—under control.
But in about 5 percent of all pregnant women, even that isn’t enough. The unused glucose builds up in the bloodstream, and eventually, it can threaten the health of the mother and her baby. Doctors usually test for GDM around the 24th week of pregnancy, when the unused blood glucose builds up to a detectible level.
The good news? Up to 90 percent of women diagnosed with gestational diabetes are able to control it simply and naturally by eating well and getting regular exercise.
How Diet Combats GDM
Your body converts the foods you eat into glucose for use as fuel. Different foods convert in different ways. Simple carbohydrates convert quickly: sugar, high fructose corn syrup, foods made from white flour such as white bread, pastas, and cereals, and white rice. When you eat these foods, there’s a rapid surge of glucose throughout the body for use as quick, short-term energy.
That glucose surge can, however, quickly overwhelm the body’s ability to produce enough insulin to take care of it. Some of it is stored for later use in the liver, and some of it in the form of fat. A lot of glucose stays in the bloodstream, too, eventually causing serious damage.
Fruit, vegetables, and whole-grain foods are complex carbohydrates. They also convert into glucose, but they contain a lot of fiber, which slows the digestion process down considerably. This allows only a gradual trickle of glucose into the bloodstream. Your body is much better able to use all of it efficiently.
So, a healthy GDM diet is balanced, rich in vegetables and fruits, whole grain breads, pastas and cereals; proteins like eggs, milk, yogurt, and cheese; brown rice, beans and legumes; and lean meats such as chicken, and in limited amounts, fish.
Reserve sugary drinks, snacks, and desserts as very rare treats.
And What About That Exercise?
Every move you make requires fuel in the form of glucose. Your body burns more of it, faster, when you exercise regularly. It doesn’t have to be strenuous exercise. A jaunty 30-minute walk, four days a week, will work just fine (though you can do more if you want). You can even break it into two, 15-minute walks each day if you like. You can also go to the gym, swim, do water exercises, dance, hike, or ride a bike. Do what you enjoy so it’ll be easier to stick to and turn into a habit.
Combining a healthy, low-carb diet with daily or near-daily exercise may be all you need to keep your blood glucose under control—and both you and your developing baby healthy—in spite of GDM.
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Leslie Vandever is a professional journalist and freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience. She lives in the foothills of Northern California.
- Dietary Recommendations for Gestational Diabetes. (n.d.) University of California San Francisco Medical Center. (n.d.) Retrieved on May 20, 2014 from http://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/dietary_recommendations_for_gestational_diabetes/
- Gestational Diabetes – Treatment. (2012, July 19) National Health Service. Retrieved on May 20, 2014 from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/gestational-diabetes/Pages/Treatment.aspx
- Managing Gestational Diabetes: A Patient’s Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy. (2011, Feb. 8) Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved on May 20, 2014 from https://www.nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/gest_diabetes/Pages/index.aspx
- Gestational Diabetes. (2009, Aug. 5) PubMed Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved on May 20, 2014 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0004900/
- Gestational Diabetes. (2014, April 25) Mayo Clinic. Retrieved on May 20, 2014 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gestational-diabetes/basics/definition/con-20014854