Gestational Diabetes Meal Plan & Diet Guidelines

Getting a gestational diabetes diagnosis can feel overwhelming. Here's what you need to know for planning a gestational diabetes meal plan that will work for you.

During pregnancy, you're already adjusting to multiple changes in your body. Adding a diagnosis of gestational diabetes can add to the overwhelm. Take heart that not only will you be able to sustain a healthy pregnancy, but you'll be able to do it without following a strict meal plan.

Keep reading to learn what causes gestational diabetes, how to eat healthy with gestational diabetes and how to create an easy-to-follow diabetes meal plan guide. The goal is to implement sustainable habits that feel manageable and stress-free, and still help keep your blood sugars in a healthy range during this exciting time.

What Is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is diabetes that occurs during pregnancy, even if you didn't have diabetes before pregnancy. It's routine for your prenatal healthcare team to test for it between weeks 24 and 28 of pregnancy.

Any woman can get gestational diabetes; however, you may be at increased risk if you are overweight, have had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy or have relatives with diabetes.

Like other forms of diabetes, gestational diabetes impacts how your cells use glucose. When you eat carbohydrates, they are broken down into glucose in your bloodstream. Insulin is then released from the pancreas to take glucose to your cells so it can be used for energy.

Hormonal shifts during pregnancy can cause insulin resistance, meaning glucose levels stay high in your blood instead of being taken to your cells to be used. The risks of gestational diabetes can include complications for mom and baby, such as a larger baby, which can increase the risk of needing a cesarean section.

Uncontrolled blood sugar can also lead to high blood pressure in the mother. In a 2022 review in Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine, researchers state that there is a correlation between gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia, a condition in which a mother's blood pressure soars too high (among other things, like having protein in the urine).

Can You Reverse Gestational Diabetes?

While you probably can't reverse gestational diabetes while pregnant, the good news is that you can keep your blood sugar levels in check through proper nutrition, physical activity, managing your stress, getting plenty of quality sleep and working closely with your prenatal healthcare team.

Having gestational diabetes does not necessarily mean that you will have diabetes forever. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) confirms that gestational diabetes typically goes away after pregnancy, especially for those without a prior diabetes diagnosis. But once you've had gestational diabetes, there's a 2 in 3 chance it could return in future pregnancies.

Having gestational diabetes may also increase your risk of type 2 diabetes down the road. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 50% of women who have had gestational diabetes go on to have type 2 diabetes years later.

Gestational Diabetes Symptoms

Some women may notice gestational diabetes symptoms before being tested by their healthcare practitioner. Some of the typical symptoms include increased thirst and urination, blurred vision and fatigue (which can be masked by normal pregnancy fatigue). However, most women will experience no symptoms at all, which is why it's important to go to all of your prenatal appointments.

Risk Factors for Gestational Diabetes

Aside from having a family history of gestational diabetes or type 2 diabetes, there are several other risk factors that may increase your chances of having gestational diabetes. According to a 2019 Cochrane Review, these risk factors include advanced maternal age, what your birth weight was when you were born (low birth weight and high birth weight both put you at higher risk), polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a past history of gestational diabetes, being overweight, not engaging in enough physical activity before or during early pregnancy, gaining more than the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy, and having a previous stillbirth or giving birth to a large baby.

Interestingly, there have been studies, like the 2022 longitudinal study in Nature and Science of Sleep that suggest lower sleep quality in the first trimester may increase your risk of gestational diabetes.

And a 2020 review in Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research & Reviews suggests that perceiving higher levels of stress during pregnancy may also be a risk factor for gestational diabetes.

How to Prevent Gestational Diabetes

Considering the risk factors for gestational diabetes, there are a few things you can do to help reduce your risk of getting it. It's important to remember, though, that if you do get diagnosed with gestational diabetes, it's not your fault. Some women seemingly do everything "right" and still end up with it.

If you are overweight or have obesity, you can lower your risk of gestational diabetes by making dietary changes that keep your blood sugar levels normal and help you gain less weight throughout pregnancy. It's important to note that regardless of what your weight was prior to pregnancy, your healthcare practitioner will most likely recommend that you still gain some weight during pregnancy.

A 2022 study in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth suggests that a 12-week lifestyle intervention program helped reduce the risk of getting gestational diabetes by 41% in women at high risk for the condition. The program included in-person and virtual dietary consultations with a licensed dietitian, encouragement to increase physical activity to 150 minutes per week and behavior change coaching.

If you have risk factors for gestational diabetes, ask your healthcare practitioner for a referral to a registered dietitian to help you design a healthy gestational diabetes prevention plan.

Gestational Diabetes Diet Guidelines


If you're wondering what the best diet for gestational diabetes is, the answer is that it's not one-size-fits-all. The overall goal is to incorporate foods that support healthy blood sugar levels.

Follow these general guidelines and then customize your meals based on the foods you like. Check out the sample gestational diabetes meal plan provided below as a guide. You can also schedule a meeting with a registered dietitian to determine your exact carbohydrate needs and to get an individualized gestational diabetes meal plan.

Choose Complex Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates raise blood sugar more than fat and protein, so it's important to pay attention to the type and amount of carbohydrates you're eating. Aim for about 30-45 grams of carbs per meal and 15-30 grams per snack, but check with your dietitian for your specific needs.

Choose complex carbohydrates most of the time—these have more fiber, which slows digestion and prevents blood sugar from spiking. Beans, whole grains and vegetables are complex carbs.

Follow the "Plate Method" for Easy Portion Control

The plate method lets you eyeball appropriate portions without having to actually pull out a measuring cup or count calories, which makes plating out a balanced, healthy meal simple and easy. Aim to make half your plate nonstarchy vegetables, a quarter of your plate lean protein, and a quarter of your plate whole grains at each meal. It's important to eat a consistent amount of carbohydrates at each meal.

Pair Carbohydrates with Protein and Healthy Fats

Pairing carbohydrates with protein and healthy fats prevents spikes in blood sugar. It also keeps you full, since protein and fat are digested more slowly than carbohydrates. For example, instead of just having an apple for a snack, pair it with peanut butter, which provides protein and healthy fat.

Eat at Regular Intervals throughout the Day

Eat three meals and two or three snacks each day. Do not skip meals. It deprives you and your baby of nutrients and could cause your blood sugar to drop too low.

What Can I Eat If I Have Gestational Diabetes?

diabetes picnic spread

Pictured: The Perfect Summer Picnic Menu for Diabetes

The answer: lots of delicious foods! Nothing is off limits per se if you have gestational diabetes, but some foods will better help control blood sugar than others.

Because refined grains like white pasta, white rice, white bread, crackers and tortillas will spike blood sugar quicker than their whole-grain counterparts, choose the whole-grain options more often. The same goes for simple carbohydrates like sugary desserts and juice—go for fruit-forward desserts that contain less added sugar and more fiber. And choose whole pieces of fruit instead of juice.

That said, if you're really craving that cookie or brownie, just stick to one serving and plan to move a little afterward to help your body use up the sugar. And, in line with general healthy eating guidelines, avoid trans fats, opt for lean meat or plant-based proteins, and keep sodium in check by limiting processed foods.

Read More: What to Eat (and Avoid) When You're Pregnant

Choose More Often

  • 100% whole grains
  • Nonstarchy vegetables
  • Some starchy vegetables (like potatoes, corn and peas)
  • Fruit (1-2 servings per day)
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Tofu
  • Nuts/seeds
  • Popcorn
  • Unsweetened yogurt
  • Avocado oil
  • Olive oil
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Tuna
  • Chia seeds
  • Flaxseeds

Choose Less Often

  • Desserts
  • Soda
  • Juice
  • White bread/pasta
  • Refined grains
  • Highly processed foods
  • Fast food
  • Fried foods
  • Baked goods
  • Candy

Recipe Suggestions for Gestational Diabetes

Salmon Tacos with Pineapple Salsa

Here are some suggestions for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. These recipe ideas make eating with gestational diabetes simple and delicious.


After the long night, your blood sugar levels will be low. Your body will need a healthy breakfast to fuel both you and the baby. Aim for 30-45 grams of carbs.

Recipes to try:


Aim for 15-30 grams of carbs.

Recipes to Try:


These lunches can be made ahead of time to take on the go. Aim for 30-45 grams of carbs.

Recipes to Try:


Aim for 15-30 grams of carbs.

Recipes to try:


Use the principles of the "plate method" to build a balanced dinner that includes healthy carbohydrates, lean protein and plenty of veggies. Aim for 30-45 grams of carbs.

Recipes to try:

Evening Snack or Dessert

If you're still hungry after dinner or are craving a sweet treat, go for something that has around 15 grams of carbs.

Recipes to Try:

3-Day Gestational Diabetes Sample Meal Plan

Roast Chicken with Parmesan-Herb Sauce

This easy gestational diabetes meal plan shows you what a healthy day of eating can look like. Follow along with this plan as is, or use it as a template to create your own healthy gestational diabetes meal plan.

Day 1

Breakfast: Old-Fashioned Oatmeal

AM Snack: 1/3 cup raw almonds + 1/2 cup mixed berries

Lunch: Salmon Salad

PM Snack: Lime & Parmesan Popcorn

Dinner: Zucchini Noodles with Quick Turkey Bolognese

Day 2

Breakfast: Florentine Hash Skillet

AM Snack: 1 small apple + 2 Tbsp. almond butter

Lunch: Cherry, Wild Rice & Quinoa Salad

PM Snack: 1 cup vegetable of choice + 1/2 cup hummus

Dinner: Very Green Lentil Soup

Day 3

Breakfast: 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt + 1/2 cup blueberries + 1 Tbsp. chia seeds

AM Snack: Frozen Chocolate-Banana Bites

Lunch: Veggie & Hummus Sandwich

PM Snack: Guacamole-Stuffed Egg

Dinner: Roast Chicken with Parmesan-Herb Sauce

The Bottom Line

Managing gestational diabetes doesn't have to be daunting. Use the gestational diabetes diet guidelines outlined here to create your own gestational diabetes meal plan based on your tastes and preferences. Also, try to move a little more, get as much quality sleep as you can, and manage your stress to the best of your abilities. Gestational diabetes is no reason to steal the joy from this amazing season of your life.

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