To help keep blood sugar levels nice and stable, it’s advisable to incorporate gestational diabetes snacks between meals. This can help blood sugar levels from dropping too low, which means you can avoid the liver dumping stored glucose into your bloodstream, spiking levels high.
Eating little and often of the right kind of foods will help achieve blood sugar levels which are more like gentle rolling hills, than spikes and crashes of a rollercoaster
“I’m so hungry” vs “I have no appetite”
We all have different experiences in pregnancy and may even fluctuate between times where we could literally eat anything and everything in site, to times where we can’t think of anything worse than trying to force some food down.
Gestational diabetes snacks are important in both instances and can be adjusted to suit.
Insatiable hunger strikes, then as long as you are outside of your test window, you can munch on your safe gestational diabetes snacks. This refers more to post prandial (post-meal) testing, where you eat and then test levels after 1 hr, 90 mins or 2 hrs. If you start snacking before your test your time, then this will obviously impact the result and may encourage you to over indulge in carbs which your body will struggle to process (you’ll see higher levels) which will not be an accurate account of how well you tolerated the previous meal.
If you really don’t feel like eating, then eat a very small little something just to keep you ticking over. Don’t feel you have to force down 3 big meals plus 3 snacks every day. Break it right down into smaller, manageable amounts.
Gestational diabetes snacks for pre-meal testers
Snacking may prove harder for those that have pre-prandial (pre-meal) test targets as eating too much, or too close before the test will obviously cause a rise in blood sugar levels.
Pre-prandial test targets are much lower than post-prandial and so you don’t want to be testing a pre-prandial target, when your blood sugars are actually in a post-prandial state.
It’s important to make good choices which do not contain too much carbohydrate and to leave enough time for your body to process the snack before testing. 90 mins – 2 hours is a good amount of time.
Not enough time to eat snacks due to testing times
If you having difficulty in waiting 2 hrs after eating to be able to test and then snack, or because you are a pre-prandial tester, then speak to your diabetes team and discuss the possibility of changing to 1 hr post-prandial testing.
All our National guidelines (NICE, SIGN and HSE) have targets for testing blood sugar levels in gestational diabetes at 1 hr post-prandially and so unless there are other medical reasons to do so, there is no reason you couldn’t change to 1hr post-prandial testing: –
1.3.5 Advise pregnant women with any form of diabetes to maintain their capillary plasma glucose below the following target levels, if these are achievable without causing problematic hypoglycaemia:NICE Guidelines, NG3 Diabetes in pregnancy – 1.3.5 Target blood glucose levels
fasting: 5.3 mmol/litre
1 hour after meals: 7.8 mmol/litre or
2 hours after meals: 6.4 mmol/litre. [new 2015]
Postprandial glucose monitoring should be carried out in pregnant women with gestational diabetes and may be considered in pregnant women with type 1 or 2 diabetes. ; In people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, as long as hypoglycaemia can be minimised, aim to achieve blood glucose:
SIGN Guidelines 116 – Management of Diabetes – 7.5.1 C GLUCOSE MONITORING
- between 4 and 6 mmol/l preprandially, and
- <8 mmol/l one hour postprandially, or
- <7 mmol/l two hours postprandially
- >6 mmol/l before bed.
5.3.6 Blood glucose targets during pregnancy The following target values are recommended for optimum maternal and fetal outcome:
HSE Guidelines for the Management of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus – 5.3.6
- Fasting capillary glucose level: 3.5-5.0mmol/L
- 1 hour post-prandial capillary glucose level: <7.0mmol/L (√).
Don’t get caught out. Just like you would (or will soon need to) with young children, you need to plan and take snacks with you! If you don’t then you may be faced with things which you know will cause high blood sugar levels. So plan and prepare to make sure you have suitable gestational diabetes snacks to hand!
Use food pairing to make sensible choices for snacks, so if eating something that is higher in carbohydrates (starchy carbs, fruit, a piece of chocolate) then add natural fats and protein to make it more tolerable e.g.
- Crackers or crispbreads on their own will be hard to tolerate – add butter and plenty of cheese and you will turn it into a better gestational diabetes snack
- Apple on it’s own may raise blood sugar levels too high, but add a handful of nuts or dip it in peanut butter and it becomes a more tolerable gestational diabetes snack
Don’t forget to have a drink with your snack. Hydration is also important for keeping blood sugar levels stabilised
Fruit is called natures natural sweets for a reason. Fruit contains high amounts of fructose which is a type of sugar. Fruit is also full of vitamins, minerals and fibre, but unfortunately the high sugar content can make fruit a tricky food to tolerate with gestational diabetes.
Some ladies worry about reducing and limiting fruit on a gestational diabetes diet in case they are missing out essential nutrients, but you can actually get any nutrient found in fruit from vegetables instead, just without all the sugar!
Some fruits are better than others. The lowest sugar (lowest GI) fruits are berries.
This picture shows examples of better fruits to try, but it is always advisable to pair fruit with fat to help slow down the release of sugar:
Gestational diabetes snacks shopping list:
*Items listed in green are foods which are safe GD foods, you can snack on these and they will not raise blood sugars significantly and in some cases, due to high protein, they may lower levels. If you are hungry then these are your go to ‘safe foods’ that you can eat freely
- Nuts; in their natural form without added salt, flavourings or coatings. Salted and flavoured nuts can be eaten but can have a very high salt content. Good nut choices are: Mixed nuts, almonds, brazils, macadamia, peanuts, pecan, pine nuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts. Cashew nuts in smaller amounts as they are higher in carbs – Avoid dried fruit at all costs – it is VERY high in sugar!
- Seeds; Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, linseed, flaxseed, chia seeds, soya beans
- Cheese; all full fat cheeses including cheddars, cream cheese, cottage cheese, soft cheese, halloumi, feta, Babybels or cheese portions (avoid unpasteurised cheeses which should not be eaten in pregnancy unless cooking)
- Yoghurts – Full fat Greek style yoghurt – Fage Total or shops own brand. Full fat natural yoghurt – shops own brand, or any branded. Arla SKYR with added protein. Alpro Soya yoghurts
- Cream; double cream and Anchor thick spray cream (other spray creams contain added sugars)
- Milk; gold top, whole (blue top), unsweetened almond, unsweetened soya, lacto-free whole, or hazelnut milk
- Cooked meats or Quorn slices; ham, turkey, chicken, beef, pork, high meat content (90%+) sausages, Mattesons smoked sausage & fridge raiders, Peperami
- Cooked fish; salmon slices, mackerel, prawns, seafood sticks, tinned tuna in spring water (no more than 4 cans per week)
- Sandwich/Deli fillers; full fat and avoid any containing fruit or added sugar such as pickle
- Hummus (full fat) or make your own
- Sour cream dip (full fat)
- Vegetables; avocado for topping crackers etc. and cucumber, celery, peppers, carrots – cut into sticks and eaten with hummus or cream cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, rocket
- Peanut butter
- Almond butter
- Crisps; (usually fried and contain transfats, so these should only be an occasional treat) real potato crisps, pombears, lentil crisps and pea snacks
- Pork scratchings (usually fried and contain transfats, so these should only be an occasional treat)
- Popcorn; popcorn made at home from popcorn kernels with some butter is the best option. Avoid toffee or sweetened flavours which contain added sugars. Watch out for microwave popcorns which may contain high levels of transfats
- Wholegrain crispbreads or crackers; Ryvita crackerbread, Ryvita crispbread, Jacobs crispbreads, shops own brands – it’s important to choose wholegrain versions!
- Wholewheat crackers; shops own brand or Hovis, wholegrain, mutigrain seeded cracker thins
- Scottish oatcakes; shops own brand oatcakes, Nairns plain, superseeded or cheese flavoured
- Nature Valley Protein cereal bars (please note: these are not tolerated by all) and should be paired to check your tolerance
- Sweet biscuits; Nairns oat biscuits or gluten free biscuit breaks. Hobnobs, digestives, rich tea
- No added sugar jelly; Hartley’s or Chivers no added sugar jelly pots, 10 cal pots, or sugar free jelly packets to make at home
- No added sugar angel delight; Branded no added sugar angel delight or shops own brand no added sugar ‘delight’ (eaten in small servings, made with whole milk or a milk alternative)
- Hot chocolate; Real cocoa powder, Options, Highlights or Sweet Freedom Choc Shot with spray cream and nuts
- Mini milk ice cream lollies
- Chocolate; dark chocolate, treat/fun size chocolate bars, Cadbury’s Freddo, half a Kinder Bueno
- Fruit; avocado, granny smith apple, clementime, satsuma, cherries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries, red currants, blackcurrants, strawberries, kiwis, grapefruit, pomelo, plums
Savoury snack ideas
- Hummus dip with cucumber celery carrot & pepper sticks
- Celery sticks filled with cream cheese
- 2 oatcakes with almond butter & a small glass of almond milk
- Mattessons smoked sausage chopped up with cheese
- High meat content sausages, pre-cooked and eaten cold
- Chicken thighs or drumsticks, pre cooked and eaten cold
- seafood sticks dipped in mayonnaise or balsamic vinegar
- Lettuce, Quorn or ham & cheese wraps (use the a lettuce leaf instead of a tortilla wrap)
- Roast chicken flavour Mattessons fridge raiders
- Boiled egg & cheese or ham
- 20g popcorn with butter
- A handful of salt & vinegar popcorn with nuts
- Homemade scotch eggs
- Homemade mushroom pâté on Ryvita
- Plain salted potato crisps and a lump of cheese
- Crustless mini quiches
- Breakfast muffins
- Wholemeal cheese scone
- 2 x Ryvita crispbread, crackerbread, thins or 3 wholewheat crackers or oatcakes topped with:
- cream cheese & smoked salmon
- cottage cheese
- hummus and sliced peppers
- peanut butter
- cheese & ham
- cream cheese, ham & sliced pickled gherkin
- egg mayonnaise or sandwich filler
- butter, marmite & cheese
- avocado & curried tuna
- cream cheese, chicken slices & cucumber
- tuna mayonnaise
- cheese, cherry tomato & rocket
Sweet snack ideas
For sweet snack ideas, please take a look at the desserts page. Desserts are better tolerated when eaten as ‘snacks’ as opposed to straight after your meal.
Bedtime snacks can help with some peoples high fasting blood sugar levels, as they can help counteract the Dawn phenomenon or Somogyi effect. If you would like to know more about high fasting levels and these phenomena then please read more here.
Any of snacks above may be suitable bedtime snacks, but if you find you are still struggling with high fasting levels then try a snack which is high in protein and natural fat as these are believed to have a better effect than those which include carbohydrates. Things like nuts, cheese & cooked meats are good things to try.
We often get ladies in our support group saying “I’ve tried a bedtime snack but it doesn’t work for me”, yet when asking what they’ve tried they’ve had fruit or toast e.t.c.
The best things to eat are high protein and natural fat. Bedtime snacks may take some playing around with to find what works best for you. As your pregnancy progresses and your insulin resistance increases, you may need to change to find things that work better and many ladies may need the extra help of medication or insulin to lower fasting levels.
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Thanks, Jo (Founder and Author of Gestational Diabetes UK)