Common Health Issues / Nutrition / Pregnancy

What is the Gestational Diabetes Diet?

Gestational diabetes is a diagnosis that can overwhelm even the calmest mother-to-be. The term can sound scary and may conjure concerns that the baby is hurt or in harm’s way. 

The good news is that many women who have gestational diabetes give birth to completely healthy babies. Following a gestational diabetes diet can help ensure that both you and your baby are getting the correct nutrients and are staying healthy for the remainder of the pregnancy. Knowing which gestational diabetes bedtime snacks, beverages, and meals you should be focusing on can help guide you as you navigate the remainder of your pregnancy journey.

What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a condition that can occur during pregnancy, and often goes away once a woman is no longer expecting. Women do not do anything to cause gestational diabetes, and getting a diagnosis is nobody’s fault

Let’s think about a body that does not have gestational diabetes. Normally, carbohydrates are converted into glucose in the body. The body releases insulin to trigger the cells in the body to take in the glucose from the blood. This allows for the body to use glucose for energy. 

When a woman is pregnant, her placenta releases hormones during pregnancy that can cause insulin resistance.  This situation can result in high blood sugars, or gestational diabetes, since the insulin is not helping the cells take in the glucose from the blood.  Over time, the high blood sugars can lead to pregnancy complications. 

How can diet help manage gestational diabetes?

Many women are able to manage and control their gestational diabetes by making some simple changes to their diet. The goal is to eat in a way to keep blood sugars stable, and to avoid sugar spikes. To do this, many women find success by implementing the following tips:

  • balance the right amounts and types of carbohydrates, protein, and fat 
  • avoid foods and drinks that are made of only simple sugars, like candies and sodas
  • include fiber-rich food with every meal and snack, like whole grain crackers, beans, and produce with skin
  • do not overeat at mealtime
  • do not skip meals
  • drink plenty of water
  • practice light exercise if it is ok with your doctor
  • get quality sleep every night

Which Macronutrients help manage gestational diabetes? 

The three macronutrients, or macros, that everyone needs are carbohydrate, protein, and fat. All three play an important role in your body during pregnancy and should not be eliminated. However, there are better-for-you choices within each category:


It is not necessary to cut out carbohydrates and go “low carb” or “keto” for blood sugar management. In fact, making sure that you are eating a small amount of certain carbohydrates throughout the day may actually result in better blood glucose control. 

Focusing on whole-grain or fiber-rich carbohydrates will be the best choice for managing gestational diabetes. Some examples of good choices include:

  • Beans and peas
  • Whole grain bread
  • Quinoa
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Popcorn
  • Fruit with skin
  • Starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes with skin.

Carbohydrate sources that are refined or made with high amounts of real sugar should be avoided, as eating them can lead to blood sugar spikes. Some examples of foods to avoid include:

  • Table sugar
  • Honey
  • Agave syrup
  • White rice
  • White bread
  • Regular soda
  • Lemonade
Latest Stories


Pregnant women should aim for eating two to three servings of protein each day. With a diagnosis of gestational diabetes, choosing to eat protein-rich food like nuts, eggs, and meats with carbohydrates can help stabilize blood sugars and help keep you satisfied for a longer period of time.

Therefore, if a whole-grain pasta dish is going to be consumed, eating a smaller pasta portion and combining it with lean turkey meatballs will be a more balanced meal that has a combination of protein and carbohydrate. 


Healthy fats are important for all pregnant women, and especially for women who are managing gestational diabetes. Foods like olive oil, seeds, nuts, and avocado should be included in the diet to help manage blood sugars and help keep the pregnancy healthy. Saturated and trans-fats, often found in processed foods, should be limited or avoided. 

Bedtime Snacks for Gestational Diabetes

One part of managing gestational diabetes that may come as a surprise to many is the need to include snacks into your diet. The term bedtime snackmay not be something you have heard since you were a child, but it is time to bring it back into your routine. 

Some women will experience what is called the dawn phenomenon, which is essentially an early morning increase in blood sugars. This happens naturally and is quite common. 

To combat this effect, eating a high-fiber, low-fat snack before bed can help. Some bedtime snack ideas include:

  • whole-grain crackers with cheese 
  • an apple with almond butter
  • avocado slices and nori snacks
  • small cup of cottage cheese 

Meal suggestions for gestational diabetes

Balancing carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and healthy fats to manage gestational diabetes can be simple with a little pre-planning and know-how. Skip the donut and fast food meals, and try these out instead:


1 slice whole grain toast

½ avocado

1 cooked egg

Sliced tomato


½ cup full-fat Greek yogurt



Mixed greens topped with grilled chicken and balsamic dressing. Apple slices and peanut butter on the side


½ turkey sandwich on whole grain bread with a cup of vegetable soup


4 ounces grilled salmon with ½ baked potato and steamed broccoli


½ cup whole grain pasta with 3 ounces of lean turkey meatballs and homemade marinara sauce. Side-salad with balsamic dressing

Final Thoughts

Eating while managing gestational diabetes does not mean that you have to starve yourself or cut out every carb out of your diet. Focusing on an overall balanced diet that consists of healthy carbs, proteins, and fats will help keep you and your baby safe. Generally speaking, three means a day with small snacks in between is what helps most women manage their symptoms. 

Hearing the words gestational diabetes does not have to be associated with moans and groans. With the right tools, it is completely manageable by making some small swaps in your diet during the rest of your pregnancy. 

This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.


This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

NOTE: Some of the links in this post might be affiliate links.  This means that if you click on the link and make a purchase, we’ll receive a small commission – at no extra cost for you, which helps us cover the costs for the blog.

Lauren Manaker About Author

Lauren Manaker is an award-winning registered dietitian, certified lactation counselor, and book author. She sits on the executive committee of the Women's Health Dietetic Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and is on the Breastfeeding Advocacy committee. Lauren is an infertility survivor, mom-of-one, rescue pup lover, and wife to a very lively husband. She lives in Charleston, SC.