Gestational diabetes is on the rise: here are nutrition tips to prevent and treat it

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Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that can occur during pregnancy in women who did not have diabetes before.

It’s on the rise – and experts are concerned.

Just last week, in a new study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) pointed to a 30% increase in gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) — the official term for gestational diabetes — in women who gave birth between 2016 and 2020.

The agency noted that the rate of gestational diabetes has risen with increasing maternal age, pre-pregnancy body mass index, and plural, meaning the number of live births per pregnancy (twins, triplets, etc.)

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Rates of gestational diabetes ranged from 4.7% in Mississippi to as much as 12.6% in Alaska in 2020, according to the CDC study.

“About 50% of women with gestational diabetes develop type 2 diabetes,” the CDC pointed out.

A pregnant woman visits the doctor.  The rate of gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) varied by a mother's race, the CDC said in a new study.

A pregnant woman visits the doctor. The rate of gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) varied by a mother’s race, the CDC said in a new study.
(iStock)

It also said the percentage of GDM varied by a mother’s race, with the highest rate in non-Hispanic Asians at 14.9% and lowest in non-Hispanic black women at 6.5% among the six largest races studied and groups of Hispanic descent, according to the report. to the recent report.

Insulin activity is weakened

“During pregnancy, the maternal hormones ‘compete’ with the hormones produced by the placenta, weakening or desensitizing insulin activity,” said Sue-Ellen Anderson-Haynes, national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. , which is headquartered in Chicago.

“If this happens, the mother cannot keep blood sugars within a normal range and often needs medical intervention to keep it stable during pregnancy.”

“This is called insulin resistance,” she added.

“If this happens, the mother cannot keep blood sugars within a normal range and often needs medical intervention to keep it stable during pregnancy.”

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There are important steps that can be taken to prevent this in advance.

Research has shown that some ways to reduce the risk of developing GDM include seeking guidance from a registered dietitian-nutritionist (RDN) to assist with diet and lifestyle changes to safely lower blood sugar, said Anderson Haynes.

Maintaining a healthy weight is key

She encourages women — before becoming pregnant — to maintain a healthy weight “by eating nutritious foods and getting regular exercise most days of the week,” which “can reduce the risk of developing GDM.”

“Also watch the food you eat,” she said.

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Try “limited fried foods, ultra-processed foods like potato chips, french fries, refined carbohydrates like white rice, foods high in fat — especially saturated fat — processed meats, and foods high in added sugars, such as sugar-sweetened drinks,” Anderson-Haynes added.

Food is always wise

It is always wise to eat “a balanced diet of grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy or dairy alternatives, and high-protein foods.”
(iStock)

“Instead, look for a balanced diet of grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy/dairy alternatives, and high-protein foods.”

She said the nutritional management of GDM is somewhat similar to that of type 1 diabetes mellitus (caused by an autoimmune reaction in which the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin) — as well as type 2 diabetes mellitus (caused by insulin resistance due to weight gain and lifestyle factors).

The types of foods she recommends are high in fiber, healthy dietary fats, low-fat dairy (or dairy alternatives), and lean protein with an emphasis on a low glycemic index.

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She also recommended eating carbohydrates that slowly raise blood sugar — certain starchy vegetables, fruits, whole-wheat bread, rice pasta, etc. — as well as plenty of non-starchy vegetables like leafy green vegetables, carrots, peppers, and more.

“Food individualization is key,” she said. “There is no exact number of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, etc. that everyone should eat. This also applies to people with diabetes or pre-diabetes.”

A full health team may be required

But if mothers develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, Anderson-Haynes says their OB-GYN can refer them to a multidisciplinary team that includes an endocrinologist, a maternal-fetal health specialist, and an RDN who is also a certified diabetes care and education specialist.

A nurse takes a blood sample from a pregnant woman.  Sometimes insulin is needed if diet and lifestyle medications fail to control blood sugars.

A nurse takes a blood sample from a pregnant woman. Sometimes insulin is needed if diet and lifestyle medications fail to control blood sugars.
(iStock)

“For many women, GDM can be managed with diet and lifestyle interventions.”

However, sometimes insulin is needed if these changes don’t control blood sugars, according to the American Diabetes Association Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes.

After pregnancy, those women with GDM should contact a diabetes health care team at their postpartum visit, which is usually 6-8 weeks into the pregnancy.

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The team should ideally include an endocrinologist and an RDN who specializes in women’s health and diabetes.

Both healthcare providers and patients must act quickly when diagnosed with GDM to prevent the development of type 2 diabetes.

Treatment therapies are individualized.

While some women need medication to manage their high sugars, others may just need diet and lifestyle management, she noted.

The good news is that type 2 diabetes is preventable — with research showing it can go into remission with medically supervised intensive treatment, Anderson-Haynes said.

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She recommends some “pearls” of wisdom to follow to stay healthy.

Do you follow these nutritional gems?

“Simple tips include: focus on plant foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains), limit fried and ultra-processed foods, foods with added sugar, and sugar-sweetened drinks.”

Mother and baby are doing well, a pregnant mother learns during a doctor's visit.  The CDC's new study found that about 50% of women with gestational diabetes develop type 2 diabetes.

Mother and baby are doing well, a pregnant mother learns during a doctor’s visit. The CDC’s new study found that about 50% of women with gestational diabetes develop type 2 diabetes.
(iStock)

And don’t forget to exercise most days of the week, have good sleep hygiene, and manage stress appropriately.

Adults should aim for a daily intake of 1.5-2 cups of fruit or its equivalent, according to the Dietary Guidelines of America 2020-2025.

And women should limit their intake of added sugars to 6 teaspoons (25 grams of sugar), while men should limit their intake to 9 teaspoons (36 grams of sugar) each day, according to the American Heart Association.

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“Dried fruit contains more sugar than whole fruit because the sugar is more concentrated because the water is removed,” Anderson-Haynes said.

“Fruit has natural sugars and is good for you because it contains many nutrients, such as fiber and antioxidants.”

“Take it easy with smoothie bowls and fruit drinks.”

However, too much fruit, especially in one serving, can lead to spikes in blood sugars if it’s not balanced with other nutrients.

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“So go easy on smoothie bowls and fruit drinks,” she advised.

Finally, she said that both healthcare providers and patients must act quickly when there is a diagnosis of GDM to prevent the development of type 2 diabetes.

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For more information, she recommends the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website, the American Diabetes Association site, or the “How an RDN can help with Diabetes” website when seeking the guidance of an RDN.

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