The role of sugar during pregnancy
Sugary foods have little nutritional value. Learn how sugar can affect you and your growing baby, and get some healthy alternatives.
Sugar and your pregnancy diet
Sweet, sugary foods and drinks can be hard to resist. Yet, with very little nutritional value, they are not great for you or your developing baby.
Most sugary foods and drinks are made with sucrose, otherwise known as table sugar. Sucrose releases energy quickly, causing blood glucose to spike. This triggers a rapid release of insulin to absorb it. You’ve probably experienced the boost of a sugar rush, followed by a dramatic slump in energy. It can leave you feeling more tired than you were to begin with.
By reducing your sugar intake, you keep your blood sugar more stable, along with your energy levels. A low-sugar diet can also help with:
- Healthier pregnancy weight gain
- Reduced risk of gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia
- Reduced risk of your baby becoming overweight later in life
It doesn’t mean you have to cut out sweet foods entirely. Try to limit your intake of sugar by replacing sweet treats with naturally sweet, nutritious alternatives.
In pregnancy, eating a low GI diet can have benefits for your developing baby. Eating high GI foods leads to spikes in your blood glucose levels after meals, which in turn means that your baby gets more glucose and grows bigger. A large baby can mean a more difficult delivery and may be at a higher risk of becoming obese and developing diabetes in future.
Healthier alternatives to sugary foods
Fruits like mango, pineapple and berries help to satisfy sweet cravings while providing a variety of vitamins, minerals and fibre. If you prefer tinned fruit, look for options in natural juice or water, with no added sugar. Try to spread out your fruit intake during the day for a steadier release of natural sugars.
Dried fruit is another option. Try dried apricots and prunes for an extra dose of iron. Again, buy varieties that don’t contain any added sugar.
Other great alternatives to sugary foods include:
- Carrot sticks with hummus, instead of biscuits
- Fresh fruit on your cereal or porridge, instead of sugar
- Homemade popcorn, instead of a shop-bought sweet varieties
- Dried fruit or nuts, instead of sweets
- Carbonated water with added fresh juice, instead of soft drinks
- Greek yoghurt and berries, instead of ice cream
Understanding gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes specific to pregnancy that tends to develop after 20 weeks. It occurs when the body can’t produce enough insulin to regulate the level of glucose in the blood.
A low-sugar diet and regular exercise during pregnancy can help reduce your likelihood of developing the condition. Yet some women are more susceptible than others. A test is usually done between 24 and 28 weeks, and involves a blood sample being taken before and after you consume a glucose drink.
If not managed correctly with a low-sugar diet, mums-to-be with gestational diabetes may give birth to heavier babies or face other complications.