January 13, 2018
I used to spend a lot of time working in the fitness and health blogging industry, and many of my friends are still working in this arena. In our circles, there is one diet that has swept the industry more than any other — the keto diet. I know many people who’ve had tremendous success losing and maintaining their ideal weight with this diet. I also know moms who’ve used ketosis to help get pregnant, and kept a keto diet during their pregnancy, but is it safe? Can you do keto while pregnant?
The science surrounding the keto diet is still in its nascent stage, given that the diet’s popularity is so recent. However, there have been studies completed that highlight its effectiveness as a treatment for mothers who suffer from epilepsy or diabetes. Unfortunately, another study showed that it’s possible that women who follow a strict ketogenic diet while pregnant could give birth to babies with larger hearts and smaller brains, although it’s important to note, this study was only looking at the effect of a ketogenic diet on mice, and not humans. But it’s also important to remember that almost all studies begin the same way and have a measure of translatable consequences for the human population.
The diet is more controversial than you might think given its popularity. Last week, in US News and World Report’s yearly rankings of the best diets overall and the best diets for weight loss, keto came in dead last. The explanation given for such a low rank included the difficulty to maintain the diet, the lack of support and community for people on the diet, the lack of nutrition counseling, and the overall healthfulness of a diet stacked with fats and meats which have long shown to impact health negatively.
Simply put, it’s hard to stay on the diet, expensive to eat that way, and really easy to eat nothing but bacon and steak. Also, there are little to no grains allowed on the ketogenic diet, and decades of research has shown that whole grains are linked to a healthy life and lower risk of premature mortality, according to Harvard University. Not only that, but studies suggest that the resistant starches found in some whole grains, like barley, brown rice, and in other carbs like bananas and potatoes, can combat the fatigue and nausea associated with pregnancy, as well as aiding in digestion.
I asked a friend and nutritionist Kristan Albany, MPN, RD, about trying the keto diet during pregnancy. She tells Romper that it’s not the best idea, but that you can keep certain aspects of the keto diet while you’re pregnant. “It’s always a good idea to load up on veggies, and the keto diet really stresses the need for a lot of greens and a ton of veg, which is excellent.” She says that where keto becomes problematic is in the amount of fat consumed and the lack of carbohydrates. “If you’re pregnant, you need carbs. Unless your doctor has you on an extremely restrictive diet for a reason, carbohydrates are your first line of defense against lagging energy and nausea.” That’s not to say that you should eat them in an unlimited supply — quite the contrary. Albany notes you should be picky about the carbohydrates you eat, and choose the ones that are healthiest and that you can stomach.
Albany also explains that the fat intake that accompanies a ketogenic diet is often from saturated sources like bacon fat and beef fat. While there is some research that grass-fed beef and pork fat isn’t as troublesome as grain fed, many dieters aren’t making this distinction, and even then, the difference is negligible. “Calories add up, and you want them to be as nutritious as possible,” Albany implores. You might not want to give up your morning bowl of Cheerios while you’re pregnant, but instead do the bacon and avocado switch postpartum.
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