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Is a Keto Diet safe during Pregnancy?

What is a Keto Diet?

A ‘Keto Diet’, short for Ketogenic Diet, consists of 75%  fats, 15-20% proteins, and >10% carbohydrates. While other diets would reduce complex sugars like white bread and pasta, Keto Dieting cuts out all carbs, including most fruit and vegetables, cereals, and grains. 

This diet has become really popular in recent years as it is believed to increase energy and reduce the risk of diabetes while losing weight. This comes about as carbs are the body’s preferred energy source – when we run out of carbs to burn, we instead burn fat to produce ‘ketones’ in a state called ‘Ketosis’. This state can lead to weight loss. 

Is Keto Safe During Pregnancy?

While on paper, this all sounds fantastic, there is still very limited research into how the Keto Diet works in humans and any long-term effects associated with Keto dieting. There is not a lot of clinical research on the effects of Keto Dieting in humans, and no research, at my time of writing, that has involved pregnant women. In animal studies, altered growth rates of organs and structures were observed in the embryos of pregnant mice, fed a Keto Diet. Experts have stressed that the premise of Keto diets – to swap out glucose as energy source for Ketones – is a big ‘red flag’ in child development as glucose is the primary source of energy in baby’s development.

But what about Gestational Diabetes?

As the rate of Gestational diabetes has increased in the past decade in the US, the Keto Diet has been brought into the spotlight for its role in reducing the risk of developing Diabetes. While there is evidence that a Keto Diet can help control diabetes in non-pregnant people, there has been no strong evidence that the diet helps with Gestational Diabetes. If you have Gestational Diabetes, please consult your practitioner or specialist about how best to balance your blood sugar levels by adjusting the frequency, size and content of your meals.

So, how should I approach my diet during pregnancy?

Unless specifically instructed by your doctor, weight loss diets should not be undertaken during pregnancy. As the embryo is growing inside of you, your weight will, and should, go up, so instead of focusing on your weight as an indicator of your personal health, devote your time to increasing the quality of your diet. 

So now that Keto is off the table, what should I look for?

Focus on eating nutrient-dense, whole foods and change the headline from ‘weight loss’ to ‘eat healthy and well’.

The Calorie Count-up

It is generally recommended to increase your daily calorie intake by 300-350 per day in your second trimester and about 500 more than your pre-pregnancy diet by your third trimester.

So what foods? 

Nutrient-dense foods like eggs and lean meats.

Calcium-rich foods like cheese and milk.

Fruit and veggies, like greens, bananas, avocados, 

Low-mercury Seafood like salmon and sardines

Whole grains and legumes like beans and wholegrain bread. 

What to avoid? Simple and refined sugars – cookies, crisps, junk food, etc.