Learning to eat in a way that keeps your blood sugar levels balanced is vital for your optimum health and functionality. During pregnancy your increased blood supply and levels of certain hormones mean you are more likely to experience dips in blood sugar (energy lows). This makes that balance harder to achieve.
Excessive sugar in the blood can cause damage to your arteries and organs. When you eat foods containing sugar your body releases a hormone called insulin to pull excess glucose from the blood. The higher the sugar content, the more insulin is released causing your blood sugar levels to plummet suddenly. Since you do need some sugar to fuel your cells you will crave sweet treats and pick me-ups to relieve your symptoms. This triggers yet another spike followed by a drop in blood sugar.
Short term symptoms of blood sugar level imbalance
- Sugar cravings
Long term symptoms of blood sugar level imbalance
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
Constant fluctuations in blood sugar places unwanted stress on the pancreas and leads to the over-production of cortisol, a hormone which has a direct effect on the ageing process.
Why is a blood sugar balance important for your baby?
Babies born to mums with poor blood sugar control are often bigger. Macrosomia is a condition where a baby grows excessively large, it is more likely to be result of maternal obesity, excessive weight gain in pregnancy and diabetes. This condition increases the risk of delivery complications such as shoulder dystocia and cesarean section.
Large babies of mothers with elevated blood sugar levels have a higher risk of childhood obesity and are more likely to develop other health conditions in later childhood. Your midwife will monitor your blood-sugar levels during the third trimester as gestational diabetes is becoming more and more common in the UK.
How can you balance your blood sugar levels?
Try and avoid refined sugar
Simple carbohydrates (sweets, chocolate, cakes etc.) and refined carbohydrates (white and whole wheat flour, bread, pasta, white potatoes etc.) release sugar very quickly into the blood stream and cause it to spike. Replacing these with complex carbohydrates (vegetables, fruit, brown rice, oats, quinoa etc.) which contain fibre and release energy slowly will keep your blood sugar balanced.
Leaving large gaps between meals causes blood sugar levels to drop leaving you feeling tired and low in energy. In this state you are more likely to make poor food choices. So prevent this dip by eating three meals and two or more snacks daily. Eating a little and often will also be beneficial in the third trimester when there is not a whole lot of room in your stomach; and will help to relieve heartburn.
Balance your meals
Combining carbohydrates with healthy fats and protein on the one hand and fibre on the other ensures a slower release into the blood stream. This is why an apple and a piece of chocolate may contain the same amount of sugar but only the chocolate will spike your blood sugar. Eating a handful of nuts with your fruit or having a tablespoon of humus with your crackers will blunt the sugar spike.
As a general rule all meals should contain carbohydrates, protein and fat and snacks should contain carbs and protein. This is particularly important for breakfast which tends to be carb heavy, so think natural live yogurt, nuts, seeds, fresh fruits, berries and eggs.
See Foundations of a healthy diet: part one, Foundations of a healthy diet: part two
Stimulants, such as caffeine, have the same effect as sugar on insulin release and should therefore be kept to a minimum or avoided. If you can’t go without your daily coffee try taking it with half a teaspoon of cinnamon which cleverly blunts the sugar spike.
Eat fruits in their whole form rather than juicing
Fruit juice has the same effect on your blood sugar as candy floss. You need the fibre to bind the sugar and slow its release into your bloodstream.
Moderate exercise and relaxation are helpful to even out blood sugar levels. Yoga, walking and swimming are great options, if you don’t already have an exercise routine. See our exercise resources for more information.
Information provided by Bump and Beyond Nutrition.