Real Food for Gestational Diabetes by Lily Nichols: A Book Review

Cover photo Real Food for Gestational Diabetes

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Real Food for Gestational Diabetes: Everything you need to know!

I’m not sure why it is so difficult to find good information about gestational diabetes. (Seriously, if you try to search for “books about gestational diabetes” on Amazon, the number of books actually on that specific topic can be counted on one hand.) Enter Lily Nichols’ Real Food for Gestational Diabetes, published in 2015. This book is one excellent source of information, SPECIFIC to gestational diabetes (NOT type 2), that has practical advice and addresses the most relevant topics.

I have been wanting to read Real Food for Gestational Diabetes for years! After hearing so much about it during my pregnancies, I kept thinking, “I should get that book.” Now that I am done with my second GD pregnancy, I have finally purchased it. (Better late than never, right?) I finished it in a couple of hours, stopping periodically to exclaim, “I wish I’d known that when I was pregnant!”

Lily Nichols is a dietitian and certified diabetes educator who has worked extensively with pregnant women. Through her experiences, as well as extensive research, she developed a nutritional program for women with gestational diabetes that focuses on reduced carbohydrates and nutrient-rich foods. For this review, I will highlight what is covered in a few of the chapters of Real Food for Gestational Diabetes.

My diagnosis- is it my fault? Not necessarily.

Real Food for Gestational Diabetes begins with an explanation, in practical and easy-to-understand terms, of what gestational diabetes is and what causes it. I love this clear explanation of the risk factors: “Essentially, everything is a risk factor for gestational diabetes. Unless you’re a thin 23-year-old white woman, you’re at risk. But before you start beating yourself up because you ‘could’ve done this or that,’ know this: up to 50% of women with gestational diabetes have no risk factors at all. Even if you do have some of the risk factors, not all are within your control. You can’t rewind the clock and you can’t change your family medical history, but starting now, you can make different decisions about food and exercise that will ensure you have a healthy baby.”

(I think I’m gonna print this one out and save it on an index card for the next person who tells me I got gestational diabetes from not eating enough vegetables!)

Managing blood sugar levels and what to eat

I appreciated the information about insulin residence and how to check blood sugar levels. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’m going to say this again: I wish I’d had this book when I was pregnant! I received instructions from my doctors about how to check blood sugar levels, but not much else. Who knew that lotion on your hands could affect the results of a finger prick?

Refer to chapter 3 of Real Food for Gestational Diabetes for an explanation of the three macronutrients and how each affects blood sugar, with lists and specific examples of which foods to eat. I’m going to save this quote for the next person who tells me I shouldn’t eat lard or heavy cream. (Hey Mom, the 1980’s called. They want their outdated food pyramid back!) I was also shocked to find cactus on the list of non-starchy vegetables. I didn’t know eating cactus was a thing…and I live in Arizona! Adding this to my bucket list of “weird things to try during the COVID-19 quarantine.”

Chapter 4 of Real Food for Gestational Diabetes covers meal planning and has some sample meal plans. Lily includes three meal plans, one each for 90g carbs daily, 120g carbs daily, and 150g carbs daily. The meal plan should be chosen according to individual needs– for example, someone who is used to eating a higher-carb diet might want to select the 150g carb plan when pregnant.

Again..are you sick of hearing it yet…I WISH I’D HAD THIS BOOK WHEN I WAS PREGNANT. I was never given a specific carb amount to eat each day, so I figured out, through trial and error, which foods were best for me to eat. From looking at the meal plans, I would guess that what I ate fell in the 120g carb range.

Why are my numbers so much higher after breakfast?

“You’ll notice all of the breakfast options are lower in carbohydrates than lunch or dinner. That’s because most women experience more insulin resistance in the morning, partly due to a surge in placental hormones and cortisol early in the day….Also, some women are more sensitive to the carbohydrates in fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose) in the morning, so you may need to omit one or both of these foods from breakfast… Similarly, low-lactose dairy products, such as Greek yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, butter, and heavy cream are rarely an issue (but milk and regular yogurt can be problematic).” Feel free to quote this paragraph to the next person who asks why you aren’t having orange juice and milk with your breakfast! 😉

Seriously though, this was definitely the case in my experience. My best breakfasts (well, best in terms of having good post-meal numbers afterward, with minimal nausea) were things such as unsweetened Greek yogurt, protein bars/shakes, and eggs with a non-starchy vegetable like spinach or cauliflower. I would drink unsweetened almond milk. (TBD: see this link for more on Greek yogurt, and this link for more on my favorite products when I was pregnant.)

Liver and onions (and eggs, and other things that are good for pregnant women!)

See chapter 5 of Real Food for Gestational Diabetes for information about the foods that contain a high amount of nutrients needed during pregnancy. Some of these include eggs (for protein, vitamins/minerals, and choline, an important B-vitamin); liver (for choline, vitamins/minerals, highly absorbable iron, folate); seafood (for omega-3s, DHA, and vitamin D); and full-fat dairy products (for vitamin K2).

And before you say, “WAIT…I was told not to eat liver! Eggs have too much cholesterol, and whole milk has way too much fat! I’m supposed to limit my shellfish!”…slow down, sister. Lily addresses all those concerns in this chapter. Turns out there is updated research on these topics, but the standard nutrition guidelines have not yet been updated to reflect that new knowledge. Who knew? Save this chapter for the next time Aunt Linda says to you, “Why are you drinking WHOLE MILK?! Don’t you know it’s full of fat?!”

Why do fasting blood sugars matter so much?

Chapter 9 is, again, the chapter I WISH I’D HAD WHEN I WAS PREGNANT. Sorry, I just can’t stop saying it. It addresses questions such as how to lower fasting blood sugar (and why it’s super important!), what causes high post-meal numbers, and how to adjust to eating low-carb if you are used to a diet that is higher in carbs. This is the REALLY IMPORTANT STUFF (well, everything in the book is important, but especially this!) that you need to know, and your doctor/dietitian might not know either. If you have gestational diabetes, you really need to read Real Food for Gestational Diabetes.

I recommend this book for anyone who has gestational diabetes, who may be at risk of developing gestational diabetes, or who wishes to understand how to better support their loved one with gestational diabetes. You can get it on Amazon in paperback or Kindle format. It’s a quick read, but extremely informative! You can order it on Amazon, and check out Lily’s website for the book .

Looking for GD meal and snack ideas? Check out these posts!

1 Comment

  1. This is great! I work with diabetic patients, don’t have a lot of pregnant patients but will definitely recommend this book to anyone will gestational diabetes.

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