Experts potentially identify optimal diet for gestational diabetes

Diet for gestational diabetes
© iStock/Rasa Petreikiene

Australian researchers have suggested that employing the 5:2 diet for gestational diabetes may be the most effective method for combatting the condition.

In a study conducted by specialists at the University of South Australia (UniSA), a team of researchers have ascertained that the 5:2 diet or intermittent fasting may be the most optimal diet for gestational diabetes, a common condition that women develop during pregnancy.

The team found that the recently popularised 5:2 diet was equally as effective as a conventional energy-restricting diet, empowering women with a broad range of choices and flexibility to achieve their desired weight loss and manage gestational diabetes.

Previous studies have illuminated that losing weight after developing gestational diabetes can be effective at preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes. However, distinguishing the best protocol for losing weight and keeping it off can be extremely challenging, especially for mothers with a new baby.

Impacts on pregnancy

Previous studies have highlighted that one in five pregnancies are affected by gestational diabetes worldwide, and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases ten-fold for these women, with those who are also overweight being at an even higher risk. These are extremely worrying statistics, as type 2 diabetes has lifelong consequences and can result in a plethora of chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Implementing the 5:2 diet for gestational diabetes

The 5:2 diet permits five normal days of eating per week whilst considerably restricting calories for the remaining two days in the week, in contrast to more conventional diets that promotes a steady and consistent restriction of caloric intake daily.

For example, for five days of the week, an individual will eat regularly, and for two days, they will restrict their caloric intake to a quarter of their usual amount – usually to around 500 calories for women and 600 for men. It doesn’t matter which days of the week are employed as these “fasting days” as long as at least one day of normal eating between them and allows people more flexibility as no food is off-limits.

Examining the diet

To conduct their investigation, the team analysed the effects of the 5:2 diet (in which calories were capped at 500 for two days) and a continuous energy-restricted diet (1500 calories per day). The researchers compared impacts on weight loss and diabetes risk markers in women with previously diagnosed diabetes, with both diets restricting energy by approximately 25% each week.

Dr Kristy Gray, the lead researcher of the study from UniSA, said: “Gestational diabetes is the fastest-growing type of diabetes in Australia, affecting 15% of pregnancies. Healthy eating and regular physical activity are recommended to manage gestational diabetes, with continuous energy restriction diets – or diets that cut calories by 25-30% – is the most common strategy for weight loss and diabetes prevention.

“The trouble is, however, that new mums often put themselves last – they’re struggling with fatigue and juggling family responsibilities – so when it comes to weight loss, many find it hard to stick to a low-calorie diet. The 5:2 diet may provide a less overwhelming option. As it only cuts calories over two days, some women may find it easier to adopt and adhere to, as opposed to a consistently low-calorie diet requiring constant management.

“Our research shows that the 5:2 diet is just as effective at achieving weight loss as a continuous energy-restricted diet in women who have had gestational diabetes, which is great because it provides women with greater choice and control. Of course, women should seek advice from a health professional before commencing this type of diet, to make sure that it is suitable for them.”


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