Guest post by Regina M. Shirley RD, LDN of Serving Up Diabetes
There are a lot of food lists out there: Top 10 Superfoods for Health, Top 10 Foods to fight Cancer, and many more. As someone with diabetes, there are also a lot of lists we can abide by: the low glycemic index list of foods, foods under 100 calories, low-carb foods, etc.
Go ask any dietitian, and we will tell you to eat a balanced diet that contains a food item from each food group at most every meal, with healthy snacks in between. This is a general guideline, and most Americans don’t have enough hours in the day to incorporate all the right food groups into their daily eating plan. I used to be one of those, call me a bit of a hypocrite, but as much as I tell people that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, I was just a coffee girl in the morning, maybe with an English muffin thrown in there or a healthy nut bar.
While planning for my pregnancy, I decided I needed to revamp my diet a bit to make sure that I would give my baby the best chance at developing strong organs in the first trimester. I did a lot of reading, and implemented what I already knew as well, and created my own “Top 10” list for baby and me. Here is a list of foods that I have incorporated in my diet that pack the most vitamins and nutrients (folic acid, iron and calcium are of most importance), and are even low on the glycemic index list (helpful for the blood sugars) so are also idea for people with diabetes in general.
Eggs – 1-2 eggs per day in the form of hard boiled, scrambled, or in an egg and cheese whole-grain sandwich that I made myself. I buy the cage-free farm fresh eggs from my local farm. Many people think that whole eggs are bad for you because of the cholesterol in the yolk, and that egg whites are all we should consume. This is true, if you are eating a 5-egg omelet, but if you are only having one egg, the nutrients in the yolk are vital and shouldn’t be avoided. and There are a lot worse foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol that can negatively impact your health, and an egg is not necessarily one of them. Whole eggs are a complete protein (6.3g of protein) and also contain iron. Eggs are high in choline, which help promote babies’ growth and brain development.
Greek Yogurt – Greek yogurt is all the rage right now, but for good reason. It is a natural cultured yogurt that is not only high in protein (double the protein of regular yogurt), lower in carbs than regular yogurt (be careful though, if it’s loaded with fruit or honey, the carbs are still there!), and calcium, but also packs a punch of probiotics, the good bacteria that help your digestion. I eat a Greek yogurt almost every morning, and sometimes I will even sprinkle a few sliced almonds or other nuts in there for extra crunch and extra nutrients. Obviously, calcium and protein are important for the baby’s growth and most important for the mom as she ramps up her bones to start handing over some of her calcium to baby.
Bananas – I read somewhere that eating a diet high in B6 vitamins helps to reduce any morning sickness that may come in the first trimester. I wasn’t messing around. I would rather sleep in the snow for an entire winter than throw up once. If there was anything I could do to avoid nausea, than I did it. I am not sure if it was the food I ate, or just pure luck, but I never got sick in my first trimester, not once. I ate a Banana every single morning. The potassium can also help to reduce leg cramps at night, which I was starting to get at one point.
As for the benefit to baby, B6 also helps form new red blood cells, antibodies and neurotransmitters; all vital to babies brain and spinal cord development. On a side note, bananas do have a heavy effect on blood sugars, at least mine anyways, as they are a dense fruit, so make sure you count your carbs correctly depending on the size of the banana.
Salmon– The nutritional value of salmon is amazing, pregnant or not. And for anyone who just can’t stand the taste, I beg you to find a good recipe (or I will give you one myself) and please try it again. You should not avoid this food!
Everyone will tell you “you can’t eat any fish when you are pregnant.” I like to ask them, “When is the last time you looked at any research?” In order to consume high levels of mercury in fish, I would need to eat greater than 12 oz. per week of fish such as shark, swordfish, and king mackerel, none of which I have ever eaten in my life.
We all know wild salmon is the best option, so seek it out while you are pregnant. Besides salmon being packed with protein, Omega-3 fatty acids are so full of nutrition for mom and baby that I made sure I ate a 3-4 oz. portion of salmon at least once per week, sometimes twice.
In a study considering the diets of pregnant women with diabetes, it is actually recommended that you eat 2 servings of Salmon or other fatty fish that is high in Omega-3’s per week to help protect against the cardiovascular issues that women with diabetes are more prone to. As an added bonus; Omega-3’s have been linked to reducing depression (the study was not specific to people with diabetes); so salmon or an Omega-3 supplement is something you should consider in the post-partum period as well (talk to your own doctor first please!). A list of mercury containing list to avoid can be found at www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyhealth/fishmercury.htm
Tomatoes –Tomatoes are so easy to incorporate in just about any meal that I dare you to try not to! They are packed with antioxidants (those excellent components of food that help protect us against disease and illness). The main antioxidant in tomatoes, Lycopene, has been linked to reduction of preeclampsia risk in pregnant women; something that pregnant women with diabetes are at a very high risk of getting. Tomatoes also have high amounts of potassium and Vitamin C, again, very important.
Sweet Potatoes – I’m not going to lie, the baby made me eat French fries on a regular basis during the first trimester. It was not my choice—I was held hostage. (Just kidding.)
But when I did have a French fry craving sweep over me, I tried to sometimes make home-made baked fries myself using sweet potatoes. When I was out at a restaurant, I also tried to order sweet potatoes when they were available. I probably ate at least 1-2 sweet potatoes a week. The benefits of sweet potatoes are the antioxidants, vitamins A, C and B6, folate and fiber content. The folate is important for the risk reduction of neural tube defects. The higher fiber content makes these a good choice for people with diabetes as well.
Spinach (and other dark leafy green vegetables) – These are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and the all-important folic acid. Spinach is also a great source of non-dairy calcium and fiber. I would find many uses for spinach; either as a simple salad with parmesan cheese, walnuts, chicken, fresh strawberries and a homemade white balsamic dressing; or I would even take a small bowl of fresh spinach and melt a slice of American cheese on it and mix it around for a mini-cheesy spinach snack.
Beans – Pregnancy is the perfect excuse to not always be so lady-like. (Just kidding… although you do get a few more ‘get out of jail’ free cards with a baby bump.) What I’m trying to say is, don’t let the side-effects of beans deter you from eating them.
There are SO many health benefits to eating beans; I don’t have enough space here to write them all. I can say that the fiber, protein, folate, iron, calcium and zinc can do nothing but good for your baby and your blood sugars. The fiber helps to not only reduce post-meal blood sugar spikes, but it will also help to keep your system as regular as possible during a time when constipation takes over in the first trimester. Fresh are great, but frozen works too. I look up recipes online to use beans in my slow-cooker, or in other soup or pasta dishes to add variety.
On a side note, and something I just learned of recently, certain white or red beans have a natural toxin that can be harmful to both mom and baby, so make sure to follow the package directions on fresh beans and rinse/soak them overnight to get rid of the natural toxin (always read the labels), or use canned beans to be safer.
Lean Meats – I am no vegetarian by any means. I like my meat. If you are a vegetarian, skip this section and just eat more beans, low-fat dairy, and tofu varieties to get your protein and iron (consult your own dietitian for specifics).
If you are a meat eater as well, you do not need to give it up during pregnancy. In fact you can indulge in it (in moderation of course). I aim to eat meat that is antibiotic/hormone free and grass-fed (when I am able to find it or get to my local farm). Lean meats such as chicken, boneless pork with the fat trimmed, lean ground turkey, a filet mignon here or there, and fish, are excellent sources of iron, protein, B vitamins, and choline (that nutrient in eggs which helps promote babies’ growth and brain development.). Stay away from the deli meats, hotdogs, and processed foods like sausages and salami; they increase your risk of getting listeria during pregnancy and they aren’t your best choices even if you are not expecting.
Whole Grain Bread varieties –High-fiber breads like these are packed with all the good stuff for mom and baby, and the benefits for blood sugars are all there: reduced post-meal spikes and a great feeling of fullness afterward. When I have time in the morning, I make myself an egg and cheese sandwich on whole wheat toast and know that I’ve started me and my baby’s day off good!
Honorable mentions: There are so many other food types that have important nutrients for the growth of baby and to help control mom’s blood sugars; so here are just a few others. Nuts, berries, avocados and almond milk (click here for my take on Almond milk).
(Resources: I obtained bits and pieces of the above information from the following sources: my brain, Today’s Dietitian Magazine, LiveStrong.com, Fitday.com, BabyCenter.com, Fitpregnancy.com, Eatright.org.)
Regina Shirley R.D., L.D.N., has lived with Type 1 Diabetes for over 22 years. She has been a Registered Dietitian for eight years with over seven years of diabetes education experience in the insulin pump, continuous glucose monitoring and insulin training environment. She is the creator of Serving Up Diabetes, an informative and personal blog, which is meant to provide nutrition information, share everyday experiences of living with diabetes and add value to the already extensive online platform of the DOC (diabetes online community).