Through my experience with gestational diabetes, I learned how to lower my fasting blood sugar and manage gestational diabetes through diet.
Being diagnosed with gestational diabetes came as a complete surprise. I remember coming home after having my fasting blood sugar drawn thinking, well that was a waste of time, but at least that box is ticked off the list.
When my doctor called me when my results were in to say your fasting blood sugar results are 1 point within the normal range, I would like you to do the oral glucose tolerance test. I was baffled. I also felt like a hypocrite because I write about insulin resistance and blood sugar balance.
I understand blood sugar well, yet I had so many questions.
Was I really insulin resistant?
What are normal insulin levels in pregnancy?
Were my insulin levels too high or too low?
Or was my insulin resistance due to a fatty liver and the glycogen stores in my liver and muscle being full?
I went ahead and got the oral glucose tolerance test, where I fasted overnight and drank 75 g of the glucose drink in the morning on an empty stomach.
My Blood was drawn before drinking the sugar drink, at the one-hour mark and the two-hour mark.
My results came back, and my doctor called to inform me that I did indeed have gestational diabetes due to my high fasting blood sugar and that she had referred me to the diabetes dietician. Hearing those words was so shocking. But my diet is so good, I told her, she responded by saying it could be genetic or due to placental hormones during pregnancy.
Because I know that a fatty liver is an underlying cause of insulin resistance, I asked her if my results were due to a fatty liver and full glycogen stores in the liver and muscle. She responded by saying no and that it was a receptor issue of insulin resistance and that I should track my blood sugar before meals and 1 and 2 hours post meals.
Here are my blood sugar results from the oral glucose tolerance test:
Fasting blood sugar – 5.2
1-hour post 75g glucose drink – 8.8
2-hour post 75g glucose drink – 6.2
I felt that my results were borderline and a very mild form of gestational diabetes. Although I couldn’t argue the fact that I did have impaired glucose tolerance at the one-hour mark. And my fasting blood sugar was slightly outside of the pregnancy ranges.
Depending on where you live, you may have different diagnostic ranges. I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes on the strictest pregnancy guidelines in Australia.
Immediately I went out and bought a blood glucose monitor and test strips to analyze what was going on with my blood sugar. I was mainly concerned with my fasting blood sugar, as my slightly elevated fasting blood sugar is why I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
After tracking my blood sugar at various times starting at 26 weeks gestation, I noted that my fasting blood sugar in the morning was always above 5.0, usually ranging from 5.1 – 5.3 mmol/dl. Initially, my blood sugar levels 1-2 hours post meals were well within range.
4-5 hours after eating, I noted that my blood sugar would drop well into the fasting range with one reading as low as 3.9 but generally between 4.2 and 4.9. I couldn’t help wonder, was I really insulin resistant when my blood sugar would drop this low in-between meals?
I also noted that when I tested my blood sugar in the middle of the night, it was always lower than my fasting morning blood sugar. So my big question was, do I have an insulin resistance issue? Or is this just the hormones cortisol and glucagon causing my liver to release sugar into my bloodstream.
At this point, I was not too concerned as my morning fasting blood sugar was only slightly elevated out of the strictest pregnancy target ranges. It was not like my blood sugar was staying high all night long. I decided not to attend the group diabetes session and continued to measure my fasting blood sugar.
Everything was all good until about week twenty-nine when I noticed that my fasting blood sugar was creeping up. I got a few fasting blood sugar readings that were out of range @ 5.6. 5.7 and 5.8.
I randomly checked my blood sugar for 2 hours posts a meal where I knew I had overindulged. I gave in to those pregnancy cravings where I got my highest post-meal blood sugar reading at 7.7 two hours after eating this healthy oatmeal recipe which I normally metabolize just fine. But then I also ate three rice crackers with brie cheese and cranberry sauce.
I found the combination between high fat and high sugar to elevate my blood sugar the most. (More on this). The combo between high fat and processed sugar are the worst foods for gestational diabetes.
When I started to get these higher readings, I thought FUCK… maybe I am insulin resistant.
I decided to book in for the gestational diabetes education class and chat with the dietician to ask my questions.
At the session, the dietician recommended the basics of avoiding pies, pastries, sugar, pop, etc. She recommended a low-fat diet and noted that dairy causes increased insulin resistance in some people.
The target blood sugar levels were under 5.5 for fasting blood sugar in the am and under 7 mg/dl 2 hours post meals.
Insulin resistance in pregnancy is primarily due to hormones produced by the placenta, informed the dietician. Women who develop gestational diabetes are at increased risk for developing diabetes in the future.
Since I had some readings out of the target range and had already been randomly tracking my blood sugar, the dietician took the time to chat with me privately after the class.
The turn of events that proceeded surprised me. I sat down to ask the dietician why my fasting blood sugar was high yet my post-meal 4-hour fasting blood sugar was well within range.
I also asked if the fats were causing increased insulin resistance as I got my highest blood sugar readings post meals that were high in fat and carbohydrates. The dietician confirmed that yes, the combo between high fat and sugar was not good, but then that was it.
All the dietician was concerned with was my highest blood sugar readings and high fasting blood sugar. Within 10 minutes and no further analysis of what I was eating, I found myself advised to take insulin at bedtime to lower my fasting blood sugar.
I was shocked as I only came for education and wanted to manage my gestational diabetes through diet. I felt pressure from the doctor and dietician to take insulin for the sake of my baby’s health.
The recommendation of taking insulin was frustrating for me as I didn’t feel as though I had a thorough analysis of my diet and all my blood sugar readings. I still had unanswered questions as I didn’t know what my fasting insulin levels were. They couldn’t tell me what normal fasting insulin levels were during pregnancy. But yet, I was told I was insulin resistant.
I argued, is it possible my fasting blood sugar is elevated due to my liver releasing sugar in response to the hormones glucagon and cortisol? Look, I said, I will take the insulin if I need to, but I am concerned about becoming hypoglycemic in the middle of the night if I take insulin. Plus, I want the chance to manage this through diet.
I left the dietician’s office with three days before my next appointment. I knew that I had to keep my numbers in check to avoid the recommendation of insulin.
Through my research, I learned that many pregnant women struggle with their morning fasting blood sugar and that it is the hardest to control. I felt like I was on my own to figure this out if I wanted to avoid taking insulin.
Now for any pregnant mom to be who needs to take insulin, that is ok. I know how overwhelming the diagnosis of managing gestational diabetes can feel. If your blood sugar levels are elevated, and it is best to take insulin, by all means, listen to your doctor or practitioner.
But I would like to share with you what worked for me. The gestational diabetes diagnoses made me put on my thinking cap even though I understand the various causes of insulin resistance outside of pregnancy.
Managing gestational diabetes is a bit of a catch 22. On one hand, eating food is causing elevated blood sugar, yet it is essential to ensure that you are eating enough nutrient-dense whole foods to grow a healthy baby.
Dieting, calorie restriction, fasting, and new supplements were all a no-go in my books. My approach to managing gestational diabetes was through eating a very healthy diet.
How I managed my gestational diabetes with diet
I tightened the rope and focused on eating whole foods with lots of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and legumes such as quinoa and beans. Eating small amounts of healthy fats with eggs and salmon as my primary protein source, along with chia and hemp seeds were other dietary adjustments I made.
Loading up my diet with lots of vegetables such as green beans, leafy greens, mushrooms, tomato, red pepper, artichokes, beets, carrots, celery, and broccoli was the cornerstone to managing gestational diabetes through diet. Vegetables are some of the best foods to eat to reverse insulin resistance.
The portion size was a big one for me as well. When pregnancy hit, I was nauseous in the first trimester and had to eat a lot to curb nausea. I used to practice intermittent fasting in the morning, but that changed very quickly once I fell pregnant. I found myself waking up at 6 am needing to eat otherwise I would feel increased nausea.
During the second trimester of pregnancy, I felt much better, yet still ate a lot of food. I was growing a baby and felt fat, so why not overindulge sometimes. I am meant to be gaining weight. Looking back, I can see that at times I probably was overeating a bit.
I focused on smaller meals yet still ate at least four times a day. Tuning into my body and hunger levels was crucial. Stopping eating at 80 % full was a blessing that also massively reduced acid reflux that returned during pregnancy.
How I lowered my fasting blood sugar
The dietary aspect of managing post-meal blood sugar levels was easy for me. My big problem was my morning fasting blood sugar upon waking, which was harder for me to control. I felt like I did not have control over it as it was hormonal due to my liver releasing sugar into the bloodstream.
I came across a video on youtube where another mom with gestational diabetes shared a tip that worked to lower her fasting blood sugar. She took 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar before bed and said it helped.
After a little more research, I found studies showing the benefit of apple cider vinegar for lowering fasting blood sugar in women with gestational diabetes.
I started to religiously take 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar before bed in ½ a cup of water. To my pleasant surprise, my fasting blood sugar levels began to lower. Within two weeks, I started to get my lowest fasting blood sugar levels where it dropped to 4.8 and 4,9. Yay!
These blood sugar readings were when insulin resistance levels are meant to be peaking for most pregnant women. As the weeks rolled on, I started to get some fasting blood sugar readings as low as 4.4 and 4.6. My protocol was working!
Here is a snapshot of my blood sugar readings starting at week 30/31 gestation. Keep in mind that I previously noted my highest fasting blood sugar levels before keeping track in this blood sugar book for my doctors and midwives. I had 3 fasting blood sugar readings the week prior @ 5.6, 5.7 and 5.8 that were all out of the target range.
Now I have to rewind my story to week 29 as there are other things I did aside from the apple cider vinegar that I also believe impacted my ability to lower my fasting blood sugar levels with gestational diabetes.
At week 29, I got some of my highest fasting blood sugar readings @ 5.6, 5.7, and 5.8. Around this same time, I felt tenderness/pressure underneath my right ribcage, where the liver and gallbladder are located. I didn’t think anything of it as I initially thought it was the baby’s foot wedged up underneath my ribcage.
But then, when I learned about the apple cider vinegar for lowering blood sugar I thought, well that is interesting because apple cider vinegar is also good for the gallbladder.
Maybe my liver and gallbladder are struggling and a bit inflamed. My liver and gallbladder were the two organs that needed the most support in the past. I realized that the baby didn’t have its foot constantly wedged up underneath my right ribcage. I could feel increased pressure under my ribcage anytime I leaned forward.
This is when I started to connect the dots and understand why I possibly had high fasting blood sugar levels and gestational diabetes.
An underlying cause of insulin resistance is a fatty liver. When a liver becomes fatty, there is less storage room available for glucose in the liver.
During the third trimester of pregnancy, there is an increased demand for phosphatidylcholine. Phosphatidylcholine is needed to make up every cell membrane in the body of your growing baby.
Phosphatidylcholine is also crucial for transporting fats out of the liver and keeping bile flowing well out of the gallbladder. I had optimized my liver and gallbladder function in the past but not to 100 percent as my stools would still float, which is a sign of a sluggish gallbladder and poor fat digestion.
Maybe the increased demand on the PEMT gene and phosphatidylcholine needs of the baby was causing a sluggish gallbladder and fats to build up in the liver.
With this information, I decided to naturally support a sluggish gallbladder and promote bile flow by eating beets or artichoke daily.
These were some of my go-to recipes for gestational diabetes that I made during this period.
Supplements I took with gestational diabetes
I knew the importance of phosphatidylcholine during pregnancy and was already taking sunflower lecithin 2-3 times per week, but I decided to up the dosage to 1 capsule daily. I took one capsule of fish oil daily as well to maintain an optimal fatty acid balance between the omega-six fats and omega-three fats.
The optimal multi minus one was the multivitamin I chose to take during pregnancy which contains B vitamins and chromium. These nutrients and magnesium are needed for the utilization of glucose in the body.
Cinnamon also improves insulin sensitivity and the transport of glucose inside the cell. Many studies show the benefits of cinnamon to lower blood sugar levels.
I mixed a tsp of cinnamon in lemon water and would sometimes sip on that before meals.
One of my best blood sugar readings 2 hours post-eating was after eating eggs with artichoke, vegetables, and one potato. I sipped on cinnamon lemon water before this meal and took all 4 of my prenatal supplements at once:
My blood sugar levels were 4.4 2 hours after eating that meal. Pretty darn good if you ask me.
Foods to avoid with gestational diabetes
Some other things that I noticed is that I got my highest readings that were out of the target range after eating a high fat, high sugar combo.
The two meals that elevated my blood sugar the most were when I ate brie cheese with cranberry sauce on three rice crackers after eating oatmeal. My other highest reading was after I ate half of a big vegan chocolate bar before my dinner. When I looked back at the chocolate bar, I realized that it had 20 grams of fat plus sugar plus my dinner.
I would also get my highest post-meal blood sugar reading after dinner. Generally, I eat a late dinner after a 5 pm snack. I focused on eating a lighter and earlier dinner since I wasn’t doing much physical activity after dinner.
A trend I noticed is that I would get my highest fasting blood sugar levels following a previous dinner that contained high amounts of saturated fats or refined fats such as fries, red meat, and coconut cream.
Processed fats, saturated fats and refined sugar are foods that should be avoided with gestational diabetes.
Exercise for gestational diabetes
If you are getting elevated blood sugar levels after meals going for a short walk can do wonders for quickly and naturally lowering your blood sugar. Moving your body and muscles will burn glucose and allow for more absorption of glucose from the bloodstream.
A quick 20-minute walk dropped my blood sugar from 7.9 to 6.7 after my highest blood sugar reading. (This was after eating the chocolate bar plus dinner I spoke about)
Non-starchy vegetables are the best foods to lower blood sugar and fill up on.
These are all the tips and tricks I used to manage my gestational diabetes and lower my fasting blood sugar with gestational diabetes. I feel as though it was the combination of everything that I did that yielded my results.
Diet, lifestyle, and supplements can have profound effects on reducing blood sugar levels during pregnancy.
The diagnosis of gestational diabetes initially felt like a curse, and the last thing I wanted to do was take insulin and count carbs. But then I thought, I am meant to go through this experience with the knowledge that I have to learn, grow and practice what I preach.
As I am coming out on the other side, I want to share what worked for me to manage gestational diabetes with you. I wish you the best through your gestational diabetes pregnancy journey and hope that my story somehow helps you. Soon you will get to meet your baby!
You may also find the following articles helpful