High-sugar diet increases pregnant women’s diabetes and liver disease risk

26 July 2022


Pregnant mothers should follow a balanced diet, especially if they want to avoid long-term health risks and any dangers to their unborn child. According to a study published in the Journal of Endocrinology, following a high sugar diet during pregnancy alters levels of progesterone and dopamine in the brain, which may cause behavioural changes that can affect the care of offspring and motivation. A high sugar diet can also increase the mother’s risk of developing diabetes and liver disease.

For the study, lead researcher Daniel Tobiansky and his team examined the effects of a high sugar diet on hormone levels and markers of metabolic function in female rats.

The rats were kept on a high sugar diet, with sugar accounting for 25 per cent of their total calorie intake. The study took place over 10 weeks prior to mating, as well as throughout rat pregnancy and lactation.

Metabolic health and sugar intake
Markers of metabolic health indicated that the glucose regulation of the animal subjects was impaired and that they had fatty livers. However, the researchers reported that their body weights remained similar to those of rats on a normal diet.

Pregnant rats on a high sugar diet that corresponds to the average Western diet had increased progesterone levels. Markers of dopamine function also suggested that their brain activity was altered. Based on the study findings, the researchers said that high sugar intake during pregnancy may have serious, long-term mental and metabolic health risks for both mother and child.

In a statement, Tobiansky explained that progesterone is crucial for a healthy pregnancy and lactation and that dopamine signaling is essential for reward, learning and motivational behaviorus. The changes in both imply that a high sugar diet can negatively impact maternal behaviour. Tobiansky and his colleagues advised pregnant mothers to limit their intake of added sugars to less than 10 percent of daily calories.

For maximum benefits, the World Health Organization and the American Heart Association recommend limiting your added sugar intake to only five percent. While the study was conducted on animal subjects, pregnant mothers and their offspring can benefit greatly from reduced sugar consumption.

Diet tips for preventing gestational diabetes
Following a balanced diet and monitoring your sugar intake is important whether you’re pregnant or not. But pregnant women should monitor their eating habits to prevent gestational diabetes, which occurs when pregnancy hormones make you resistant to insulin.

If left unchecked, gestational diabetes can cause many complications. Fortunately, you can reduce the risk of gestational diabetes by following a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), gestational diabetes affects two to 10 percent of pregnancies annually in the United States. This type of diabetes occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin during pregnancy.

The body will produce more hormones during pregnancy, which may cause weight gain in some people. These changes can make cells use insulin less efficiently, causing insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can lead to high blood sugar levels, which can harm you and your unborn baby.

To manage your blood sugar levels during pregnancy, follow these tips from the CDC:

  • Eat at regular times and don’t skip meals.
  • Keep track of your food and beverage consumption and physical exercise to understand their effect on your blood glucose levels.
  • Drink water instead of artificially sweetened juice or soda.
  • Make healthier food choices. Choose meals and snacks that are lower in calories, salt, sugar, saturated fat and trans fat.
  • When craving something sweet, eat a piece of fruit instead of processed, sugary foods.
  • Plan colorful meals with various dark green and brightly colored fruits and veggies like berries.
  • Make simple dietary swaps. Replace foods full of saturated fats, such as butter and fatty cuts of meat, with unsaturated fats, like olive oil and fish.
  • When buying groceries, choose foods labeled “low in sodium.” Avoid processed or packaged foods like deli meats or pizzas to reduce salt intake.
  • Instead of salt, use herbs, spices and lemon to flavor food.
  • Don’t fry food. Instead, steam vegetables for meals or add half a cup of beans or peas into a salad to boost your intake of dietary fiber.
  • What to eat to prevent gestational diabetes

Here are some foods you should eat more of while pregnant to prevent gestational diabetes:

Non-starchy vegetables:

  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sproutsCarrot
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Mushroom
  • Peppers
  • Salad greens
  • Spinach
  •  Zucchini

Lean protein:

  • Beans
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Hummus
  • Lean cuts of red meat
  • Lentils
  • Nut butter
  • Nuts
  • Salmon
  • Tofu and tempeh
  • Tuna
  • Turkey


  • Brown rice
  • Bulgur wheat
  • Butternut squash
  • Chickpeas
  • Dairy products like milk, yogurt, or milk substitutes
  • Fruits and dried fruit
  • Oats
  • Parsnips
  • Quinoa
  • Sweet potato
  • What to avoid to prevent gestational diabetes

Pregnant women should void these foods because they can cause a spike in blood sugar levels:

Sugary foods:

  • Cakes
  • Candy
  • Cookies
  • Ice cream
  • Desserts
  • Fruit juice or sugary drinks
  • Sweet pastries
  • Soda

High-starch foods:

  • White bread
  • White pasta
  • White potatoes
  • White rice
  • Prevent unhealthy snacking by spacing your meals and snacks evenly throughout the day. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women with gestational diabetes should consume at least three meals and two to three snacks per day. Doing this helps reduce blood sugar spikes after eating.

If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, monitor and log your blood sugar levels at different points during the day and keep a food and activity diary. This will help you understand how foods affect your blood sugar levels.

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Also published on foodscience.news


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