Women who eat a lot of red meat stand a greater chance of developing gestational diabetes, a condition marked by high blood sugar levels during pregnancy, according to new studies cited by a commentary in the journal Evidence-Based Nursing. These studies show a strong link between gestational diabetes and the consumption of red meat, both during pregnancy and before conception. The commentary, written by researchers at the University of Adelaide's Robinson Institute, discusses this link in detail and reviews ways to reduce the risk of gestational diabetes.

According to the American Diabetes Association, gestational diabetes affects about 18 percent of pregnancies. Blood sugar levels tend to be highest in the later stages of pregnancy after the baby has developed, so gestational diabetes does not cause the same types of birth defects as other forms of diabetes. However, untreated or poorly treated gestational diabetes can cause high blood sugar levels in the unborn baby, resulting in a “fat” baby with an unhealthy birth weight. These babies struggle with a variety of health problems, including unhealthy blood sugar levels, breathing problems, and damage to their shoulders during birth.

Babies with large birth weights and women with gestational diabetes are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes at some point in life. Researchers still do not completely understand the link between red meat consumption and the development of gestational diabetes but they say the association is clear. Scientists need to perform more studies to reveal the mechanisms behind gestational diabetes and any lifestyle factors that increase its risk for development.

The authors of the commentary recommend women who plan to become pregnant increase consumption of vegetable protein and nuts. Eating a half serving of nuts each day, for example, cuts the risk for gestational diabetes by 40 percent. To reduce the risks even further, women intending to have children should replace some red meat with fish and poultry. Obstetricians, midwives, and other healthcare professionals can help women make better dietary choices to reduce the risk of gestational diabetes.

Source: University of Adelaide. "Caution to pregnant women on red meat diabetes link." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 17 Dec. 2013. Web. 31 Dec. 2013.