Low Carb Diet for Pregnant Women
Low carb diets are a popular way to lose weight. Why? Because they work. But when you’re pregnant, the needs of your baby come before your own. While excess carbs can lead to obesity and other health issues, some carb-rich foods contain important nutrients. So, can you follow a low carb diet when pregnant? Here are a few important things you should know before you start a low carb diet when pregnant.
What Are Low Carb Diets?
Low carb diets are exactly what they sound like – diets that restrict your intake of carbohydrates.
Examples of low carb diets include:
- Keto, or ketogenic, diet
How restrictive is the carb intake? That depends on the diet you’re following.
- Keto restricts carbs to less than 50 grams per day
- Paleo aims for 30% of calories to be from carbs
- Atkinsons aims for just 20 grams of net carbs per day
Carbohydrates include a wide range of foods, such as:
- Starchy vegetables
- Baked goods, like bread and muffins
Why Low Carb?
Low carb diets have become a popular way to lose weight, and there is some evidence that they work – at least initially.
The reasoning behind low carb diets is simple:
- Carbohydrates give the body an instant source of fuel.
- Excess carbohydrates get stored as fat for later use.
Lowering your carbohydrate intake may slow the storage of fat. Some diets replace those carbohydrates with protein, which is more energy intensive for the body to breakdown and uses more calories. Others replace carbs with fat, which helps train the body to use fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates.
In either case, many people find that low carb diets help cut back their intake of unhealthy, high-calorie foods that were causing them to gain weight.
Low Carb Diets And Pregnancy
There are many reasons why women may want to stay on or start a low carb diet during pregnancy. They may want to limit how much weight they gain, or they may believe that low carb diets will be healthier for the baby.
It’s important to understand how this type of diet may affect your baby and to talk to your doctor before making any kind of changes to your diet.
Keto While Pregnant
Many women have successfully lost weight on the ketogenic diet, and they’ve maintained that lifestyle to keep the weight off.
But what happens when you get pregnant? Should you stay on the keto diet? Of course, the answer will really depend on what your doctor says, but there are some things to consider.
The keto diet is high in fat and low on carbs – less than 50 grams per day. By severely limiting your carb intake, the body is supposed to go into a state of ketosis, which means that it uses fat for fuel instead of carbs.
The biggest issue here is that keto can severely limit some really healthy foods that are important for pregnant women to eat, including fresh fruits and many vegetables. A cup of broccoli has 6g of carbs, so you can see how it’s easy to go over that 50g limit per day.
Pregnant women should be eating a variety of foods, especially brightly colored fruits and vegetables. The keto diet is also low in fiber because you’re limiting your fruit and vegetable intake. This can make the problem of pregnancy constipation even worse.
Unfortunately, the reality is that the keto diet can leave you deficient in several nutrients, including:
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- B vitamins
- Minerals, like magnesium
These are all nutrients that your growing baby needs to thrive. Healthy fats are also important for your baby, but excessive fat intake or choosing the wrong types of fat may not be great for your little one.
That being said, we really don’t know for sure whether keto is good or bad for pregnancy. The research is lacking, and the potential benefits of keto also can’t be ignored.
It’s best to follow the advice of your doctor. Every person is different, and your healthcare provider can help determine whether it’s safe for you to be on the keto diet during pregnancy. In addition, make sure to read this article about the best prenatal vitamins for pregnant women.
Is Low Carb Safe While Pregnant?
The answer may depend on your definition of “low carb.” Again, it’s important to talk to your doctor about diet changes. Only your doctor can tell you whether it’s safe to lower your carbohydrate intake during pregnancy.
That being said, there are some things that need to be considered.
Research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that following a low-carb diet during pregnancy can increase the risk of birth defects.
Compared to women who didn’t lower their carbohydrate intake, those on a low-carb diet were 30% more likely to give birth to babies with neural tube defects, such as spina bifida or anencephaly.
There is speculation that these risks were higher because of a lack of vitamin B9, or folic acid. Women who were following low-carb diets in the study had less than half the folic acid of women who didn’t limit their carbs.
As a general rule of thumb, doctors usually recommend that women take a multivitamin with at least 400 mcg of folic acid before and during pregnancy. Low levels of folic acid can greatly increase the risk of neural tube defects.
Ultimately, diets without complex carbs (not necessarily simple carbs like white bread and pasta) can leave you deficient in important vitamins your baby needs for development. Complex carbs include whole grains, oatmeal and brown rice, to name a few.
Can You Do a Low Carb Diet While Pregnant?
Whether or not you can do low carb while pregnant really depends on what your doctor says and what your overall diet looks like.
It’s important to make sure that your baby is getting all of the nutrients it needs for healthy growth and development. That’s really the main concern.
It’s likely possible that you can lower your carb intake, but completely eliminating them or reducing it significantly may cause more harm than good.
Talk to your doctor about going low carb, why you want to go this route and whether it’s safe to do so. You may need to take supplements to bridge nutrient gaps, or your doctor may outright advise against it.
Low Carb Diet When Pregnant – Pros And Cons
If you’re considering going low carb while pregnant and your doctor says that it’s okay to do that, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons.
One benefit of going low carb is that you may reduce the risk of gestational diabetes. Pregnant women in their late 20s and up are at a higher risk of developing it because their bodies may have a harder time regulating insulin. Gestational diabetes can lead to higher birth weights and potential complications with delivery. The child may also have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
The cons of a low cab diet are pretty overwhelming. When you lower your carb intake, you’re missing out on vital nutrients that your baby needs, and there’s a greater risk of neural tube defects.
Of course, it’s important to remember that everyone has a different definition of low carb. If you just want to reduce your carb intake – not drastically or completely – that’s probably okay. Your doctor can probably recommend a safe number to aim for if you want to reduce your carb intake without increasing the risk of birth defects.
If gestational diabetes is a concern, your doctor may put you on a diet that reduces your carb intake, but not too drastically.
Low Carb Diet When Pregnant – Risks
As you know, neural tube defects are one risk of consuming a low carb diet during pregnancy. That’s the primary concern with lowering your carb intake too much. Your baby may miss out on vitamins and minerals needed to avoid birth defects.
Another risk may be weight loss. Pregnancy is not the time to be concerned about your weight, and while weight loss may not be the goal of lowering your carbohydrate intake, it may happen. Weight loss during pregnancy has been associated with a higher risk of premature birth and lower birth weight.
How To Do Low Carb Diet When Pregnant Safely?
If you and your doctor decide that a low carb diet is safe for you, then it’s important to make sure that you follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations on how much carbs to eat each day. Otherwise, you have no way of knowing how low is too low, and what’s safe and what is not. Your doctor may give you a target range for carbs to eat with each meal or daily (30g with each meal, for example).
Another option is to trade simple carbs for complex carbs. Complex carbohydrates also contain fiber and starch. The fiber in these foods can help prevent blood sugar spikes, and they also take longer for your body to breakdown. This can help reduce the amount of carbs that are stored as fat. Here are a few more tips on how to lose belly fat during pregnancy safely.
The Bottom Line
Low carb diets aren’t necessarily the best option for pregnancy, according to research. That being said, reducing your carb intake a little may help reduce the risk of gestational diabetes. Talk to your doctor about whether a low carb diet is right for you and how to safely reduce your carbs without putting your baby’s health at risk.