Pregnancy is a delicate and precious time for couples, especially for first-timers. You cannot be too cautious.
Proper nutrition is one of the most important aspects of a healthy pregnancy, as the baby’s growth and development rely on the nutrients that the mother gets with her food.
For Keto moms, the main question is: “Is Keto safe during pregnancy?”
Let’s take a closer look at the matter.
Strictly speaking, there have been no studies on Keto during pregnancy. Hopefully, that will change soon since almost every month there are new studies that show how beneficial the Keto lifestyle is to the majority of people, no matter what stages of life they’re in at the moment.
On the other hand, there are a few reports that sound a bit alarming even though they don’t affirm directly that the ketogenic diet is dangerous during pregnancy.
- One study on mice reported that embryos on a ketogenic diet developed relatively larger hearts and smaller brains, along with minor changes in other organs as well.
- Statistical studies reported that there is a direct relationship between maternal fish and meat consumption during pregnancy and cortisol levels (the body’s main stress hormone) in her offspring. The same study reported an inverse association between cortisol levels in the offspring and maternal consumption of green vegetables.
- One old study from 1991 reported an association between ketonemia (ketone bodies in the blood) in diabetic pregnant women and a lower level of intelligence in their offspring. However, this effect could be a complication of the disease and doesn’t exactly mean that the ketone bodies themselves were detrimental to the baby’s intellect.
- In general, studies tend to highlight that ketone bodies could have a different effect on the baby’s maturing brain than they have in adults, and thus should be approached with caution.
In other words, although studies don’t give a direct statement about the dangers of keto during pregnancy, there are plenty of reasons for concern.
But what about the medical opinion on the matter?
In general, the vast majority of doctors agree that carbohydrates should make 45-64% of the daily calories of a pregnant woman—much more than the recommended 5% during keto.
Most doctors tend to have a conservative and cautious point of view on the matter, saying that a pregnant woman would have a hard time getting all the vitamins and nutrients she needs on keto.
Some other professionals, like Ken D. Berry, MD, follow a pro-keto point of view:
”Your baby is built of what you ate while pregnant. In relation to its body size, the baby’s brain is going to be huge. What is the brain made of? Mostly fat. Not carbohydrate.”
Dr. Berry emphasizes the idea that a high-fat diet is appropriate from an ancestral point of view, as pregnant women from ancient times ate mostly fats and protein, with little to no carbohydrates at all. Another important point the doctor makes is that the potentially negative effects of ”keto” during pregnancy could be due to unhealthy fats (synthetic fats, soybean oil, canola oil, etc.), rather than the diet itself.
In other words, if a woman follows the keto diet and focuses on natural, healthy, organic fats and makes sure to get enough vitamins and minerals every day—most likely, her pregnancy won’t be in danger.
Lily Nichols, RDN, CDE, author of Real Food for Pregnancy, is another supporter of the keto diet both during pregnancy and before conception—for women who want to boost their fertility. Being an expert on prenatal nutrition, Lily emphasizes the importance of getting enough of the important micronutrients, fatty acids, and amino acids the baby needs for proper development. Carbs aren’t the main problem: a lack of varied and well-balanced nutrition is.
In her podcast on Healthful Pursuit, Nichols emphasized that the body of a pregnant woman is actually more inclined to produce ketones, especially in the second half of pregnancy. She also highlighted that ketones are an effective energy source for the fetal brain: about 30% of its energy the baby’s brain always gets from ketones.
As you see, the question of following a high-fat low-carb keto diet during pregnancy is somewhat controversial. Some experts are totally against it while others emphasize how healthy and appropriate it is both for the pregnant woman and her baby.
But what’s the public experience on the matter?
Most women give positive feedback on keto during pregnancy, and some of them even believe that it was the ketogenic diet that helped them get pregnant in the first place. This is because keto is sometimes used as a nutritional therapy for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a medical condition that severely impairs female fertility.
The most important goal is to keep an eye on the vitamins, electrolytes, essential fatty acids, and all the vast array of micronutrients the baby needs to grow healthy.
Right now, there is no solid evidence on whether keto is safe or not during pregnancy. Some doctors affirm it’s healthy (almost beneficial, in fact), while others highlight how dangerous this diet could be for the mother and her baby.
And still, women all around the world are choosing to go keto during their pregnancy.
If you want to go keto as well, here are the most important principles to keep in mind:
- The dietary source of your fats is crucial: avoid synthetic fats, opt for organic and healthy fats
- Proteins should also come from a healthy source. Grass-fed beef and free-range eggs are some of the best options
- Make sure you meet your RDA for vitamins, essential fatty acids, and minerals
- Stay hydrated at all times
- In case of any health concerns, don’t hesitate and reach out to a doctor as soon as possible