Carbs in pregnancy
Read time: 5 minutes
Carbohydrate recommendations during pregnancy
Carbohydrates are made up of starches, sugars and fibre and are a main source of energy during your pregnancy1-2. Starches and sugars get broken down into simple sugars like glucose, which pass easily across the placenta and provide energy to support your growing baby during your pregnancy. Many carbohydrates also provide other important nutrients for your baby’s development, including calcium, iron and B vitamins1. Read about the other key vitamins and supplements you need during your pregnancy.
While we can survive without sugar, a deficiency in carbohydrates during your pregnancy could mean you do not get enough nutrients2. It may also be hard to get enough fibre, a type of carbohydrate which is important for your health2.
Good carbohydrates for pregnant women
While eating carbohydrates is vital for your baby’s health, not all carbohydrates are created equal.
Foods that are broken down by the body slowly and cause a steady increase in blood glucose and insulin levels are categorised as low GI foods – these keep blood sugar levels more stable and score low on the glycaemic index – the rating system that indicates how quickly food affects your blood sugar3. Low GI foods are generally considered to be healthier and should be selected over refined, high GI options3.
Examples of low GI carbohydrates include3:
- Sweet potatoes
- Porridge made from rolled oats
- Chickpeas and other pulses
- Wholegrain breads, cereals and pastas
A diet based on these healthier starches can help ensure your blood sugar levels remain steady, reducing your risk of gestational diabetes, as well as other pregnancy complications4.
High GI foods are carbohydrates, especially sugars, that are broken down quickly by the body and can cause a rapid increase in blood glucose and insulin levels. These foods score highly on the glycaemic index.
High GI foods include3:
- White bread
- White rice
- Sugary treats such as cakes and biscuits
But it’s best not to base your pregnancy carbohydrate intake solely on the glycaemic index, as it can be misleading3.
Some foods with a high GI are healthier than those with a low GI. For instance, watermelon and parsnips are high GI foods, while chocolate cake has a lower GI value3.
A sensible approach is to eat a wide variety of slow-release, fibre-rich low GI carbohydrates, balanced with some higher GI foods to provide an energy boost every so often5. Read more about creating a balanced, healthy pregnancy diet.
Carbohydrate deficiency in pregnancy: the importance of fibre
Fibre is a carbohydrate which plays an important role in the function of your digestive system. Including good sources of fibre in your diet when you’re pregnant helps to keep your digestive system healthy and regular, which is especially important during pregnancy, when constipation can be a problem6.
Good sources of fibre include:
- Bananas, oranges, apples, mangoes, strawberries, raspberries
- Dark, leafy vegetables,
- Wholegrain breads, cereals and pasta
- Potatoes, particularly when eaten with their skin on
- Pulses like beans, lentils and chickpeas
Cooking rice and grains safely
Cooked rice and grains left at room temperature can be a breeding ground for bacteria that can make you ill1. To minimise any risk, cook these foods when you want to eat them, rather than preparing them in advance.
If you do need to prepare rice or grains ahead of time, or if you have leftovers you’d like to use, make sure you refrigerate them within an hour of cooking and eat them within 24 hours. You should throw away any rice or grains that have been left at room temperature overnight and never reheat them more than once1.
Always follow best before dates and storage guidelines on pre-prepared foods made with rice and grains.
- NHS. Starchy foods and carbohydrates [Online]. 2017. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/starchy-foods.aspx [Accessed February 2020]
- NHS. The truth about carbs [Online]. 2020. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/loseweight/Pages/the-truth-about-carbs.aspx [Accessed February 2020]
- NHS. What is the glycaemic index (GI)? [Online]. 2018. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/1862.aspx?categoryid=51 [Accessed February 2020]
- Moses RG et al. Effect of a low-glycemic-index diet during pregnancy on obstetric outcomes. Am J Clin Nutr 2006;84(4):807-812.
- Clapp III JF. Maternal carbohydrate intake and pregnancy outcome. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 2002 61(1);45-50.
- NHS. Why is fibre important? [Online]. 2018. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/1141.aspx?categoryid=51 [Accessed February 2020]
Questions about feeding and nutrition?
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