As many of you know, I’m currently pregnant. (So far, so good, in case you’re wondering…)
I’m now at that point in my pregnancy where most women are asked to take a glucose tolerance test (GTT), otherwise known as the glucola, which screens for gestational diabetes.
I’ve been anticipating this moment for a while. Maybe “anticipation” sounds a bit bizarre in this context, especially if you don’t know my background, but as a specialist in gestational diabetes, I’ve been a bit torn about whether or not I would consent to drinking the glucola.
By the title of the post, you know that I DID, in fact, drink the super-concentrated sugar drink and some of you might be surprised.
Here are a few of the reasons I’m not a fan of the glucola (I assure you, this is the short list…):
- It only measures blood sugar, not insulin levels, so it gives an incomplete picture of what’s going on metabolically.
- The 1-hour screening (the one I just drank) is not a fasting test, so what & when you eat beforehand or even the time of day, can skew the results. (Why they don’t do this test fasting – or at the very least measure your blood sugar prior to drinking the glucola – is beyond me.)
- The standard glucola often contains food dyes, preservatives, and ingredients sourced from genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), which I normally avoid consuming. (Thanks to my MRT food sensitivity test, I know that I personally react to food dyes, benzoic acid, and sorbates. One or more of these ingredients is present in almost all glucola formulas.)
- Who says it’s natural for your body to tolerate 50-100g of pure glucose all at once? If you thrive on a moderately low-carb, low-glycemic diet, you might get a false positive. (Listen to my gestational diabetes interview with Robb Wolf for some really interesting research on that.)
However, this test remains the most widely used and accepted way to screen for and diagnose gestational diabetes (the exact methods of the test vary and are hotly debated in the field, but that’s for another post!).
Part of the reason I agreed to the glucose tolerance test is circumstantial.
At the time of writing, I live in a very remote area of Alaska. My choices for prenatal care are limited to that of conventionally-minded docs who err on the side of “routine care.”
[In case you’re wondering, there are no licensed midwives in my area – unless I want to travel hundreds of miles via plane or boat. Even though I would have preferred the care of a midwife, given my circumstances, the stress, time, and cost were just not worth it to me. (Believe me, I’m a fan of midwives. I’m the proud product – erm, not sure product is the right word, but I’m gonna go with it – of a midwife-attended homebirth.)]
The local hospital is refreshingly “baby friendly” and is undoubtedly pro-natural birth (I will likely have the entire L&D unit to myself, so no being pushed towards an unnecessary induction or “emergency” C-section just to open up beds for other soon-to-be-mamas).
Needless to say, it’s a good place to give birth. Even though I don’t always see eye-to-eye with my providers, I’ve made the choice to compromise in certain areas.
We did discuss alternatives to the glucola (some of which I describe here), and given that I’m low-risk, they were happy to let me choose a screening method – or even opt out of the test entirely. The open dialogue and acknowledgement of my choices in my medical care ironically made me more open to take the test.
In the end, the decision was mine.
(Reminder – you always call the shots when it comes to your healthcare. You just have to speak up!)
Which brings me back to my point – why did I agree to the test?
Why I drank the glucola:What it came down to was my own curiosity.
1. Would My Diet Screw Me Over?
One of the major limitations of glucose tolerance tests is that your diet can skew the results.
Would my moderately low-carb, low-glycemic diet mean my pancreas wouldn’t be primed to pump out a huge surge of insulin fast enough to bring my blood sugar down in just 1 hour? (the classic reason people used to be instructed to eat a high-carb diet a week or so before a GTT).
Or would the opposite be true?
Maybe my metabolism would be in tip-top shape because I hadn’t “abused the system” by loading up on tons of refined carbs all those years. Perhaps it would have no problem with all that glucose?
I was truly curious.
Yes, I could have requested a blood sugar meter and just tested my sugars 4x per day to see where I’m at (actually, I opted for that as well), but I was genuinely interested in seeing how my body responded to the test.
(I also found out they had a dye-free glucola available. It’s still a sugar bomb, but at least it has less junk in it…)
2. No One is 100% “Immune” to Gestational Diabetes
Sure, there are things you can do to reduce your chances of having gestational diabetes (and I’m pretty sure I’ve done all of them), but I still have risk factors for GD – almost all women do.
- I’m over the age of 25
- I have a family history of type 2 diabetes
- I’m part Native American (one of many ethnicities that face a statistically higher risk for diabetes, including GD)
So although I had good health pre-pregnancy, started my pregnancy at a normal weight, have not gained excessive weight, have exercised regularly (just recorded some pregnancy Pilates videos and added them to my online gestational diabetes course!), had normal first trimester A1c & vitamin D levels (had to request those, by the way), and continued to eat a super nutrient-dense, real food diet (basically, what’s described in my book, Real Food for Gestational Diabetes), I wasn’t necessarily in the clear.
Sure, I’m low-risk, but I’ve had a handful of clients (certainly <1%) who match my risk factors who still had GD. Maybe I’d be in that 1%.
Carbohydrate tolerance, insulin levels, metabolism – all this stuff shifts during pregnancy – and sometimes in unexpected ways.
3. I Wanted to Test My Limits
Though I gravitate towards lower-carb meals, it’s really easy to eat a meal that has 50g or more of carbohydrates. It adds up super fast. (You know this if you’ve ever tracked your macronutrients.)
Having awareness for how my body responds to high levels of sugar would give me extra incentive to keep on keepin’ on – or maybe make some changes to my diet.
4. I Always “Walk the Walk”
Finally, it would seem a bit hypocritical for me, knowing all that I do about this diagnosis, to go the route of “ignorance is bliss” and skip out on screening, especially when it’s something you can be proactive about.
Nearly all of my clients have done this same test. YES, it’s ridiculous to chug a bunch of sugar (that doesn’t even taste good!), and NO, the test doesn’t tell me what’s going on with my insulin levels, but I still wanted to know.
Plus, I wanted to feel first-hand what it felt like. (When in Rome?)
I “talk the talk and walk the walk” in all other areas, so I may as well do so here.
So… I drank the glucola.
And it was bad.
Stink face bad.
Not like I’m-gonna-hurl-right-now-bad, but close to it. Just two sips into the lemon-lime drink and my taste buds were already done with sugar.
–> Dark chocolate with 90% cocoa tastes sweet to me, so I can assure you that 50g of pure glucose crammed into 10 oz of water is sickeningly sweet. (By comparison, a Coke is more diluted than the glucola with ~40g of sugar per 12 oz.) <–
After 4 minutes, I had only gotten through maybe ⅓ of the bottle. The lab technician urged me to chug the rest (they wanted me to drink it in <5 minutes), so for the sake of science – and most certainly against my body’s wishes – chug, I did.
I was left with a sugar-induced sore throat, something I don’t think I’ve experienced since I was a child. That burning sensation brought me right back to drinking Sunny-D at a friend’s house in Elementary school. (Needless to say, I did not like Sunny-D, fruit punch, or soda and still do not.)
Ok back from memory-ville…
With a full, gurgly belly and a racing heart (too much sugar gives me palpitations), I sat down in the waiting room, as instructed. Every fiber of my being wanted to get up and walk around.
My body was screaming to burn off some of this sugar, but obviously that would be cheating the test, so I diligently sat in my chair for an hour before getting my blood drawn.
Was it miserable?
Am I glad I did it?
I haven’t made up my mind yet.
Will I pass?
Will I fail?
I’ll report back with my glucose tolerance test results in my next post.
UPDATE: Read Part 2 of my experience with the gestational diabetes screening test and get my glucola results here.
Until next week,
PS – Before you go, I’d love to hear from you:
- Have you done a glucose tolerance test before? What did you think of the glucola?
- If you were in my shoes, would you have chosen to drink the glucola? Why or why not?
See you in the comments!
PPS – If you drank the glucola and failed, don’t freak out. You’re probably worried that having gestational diabetes means you’ll have to starve yourself, take insulin, or both.
But that’s not always true! Trust me – You can turn gestational diabetes into a blessing in disguise.
I share my secrets for a healthy GD pregnancy in this FREE, 3-part video series. Watch it now.