So maybe you’ve been on the keto diet for a while and are absolutely loooving it. You’re not alone! The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat way of eating and has helped many people lose weight while feeling more confident than ever.
But perhaps you’re at a stage in your life where you’re ready to start a family and are considering trying to get pregnant.
You don’t want to give up the keto diet but are wondering ... “Is it safe to do keto while pregnant?”
Doctors often suggest most pregnant women eat a diet filled with a variety of foods, and ketogenic diets can be a bit limiting. Because of this, adding pregnancy to the conversation makes the decision to go or stay on keto difficult for expectant moms.
While pregnant women should always consult their doctor for medical advice, we’ve compiled some useful information to help inform the questions you should ask in getting that conversation started.
What is the Keto Diet?
If you’re not familiar with the keto diet, here’s a quick refresher!
Keto is a low-carb, high-fat diet, which means cutting out all carbs from your diet–aka no white rice, pasta, bread, cereal, potatoes, and so on. Unlike other low-carb diets, like the Atkins diet, keto has calorie restrictions and requires those on it to eat real food–no processed or junk food is allowed!
Many studies have shown that the ketogenic diet diet is a proven way to lose weight, limit appetite, regulate hormones, and help build muscle.
The main goal of the keto diet is to put your body in a state of ketosis, which affects the way we get energy. Usually, our body burns glycogen, which comes from consuming carbs, for energy. By limiting carbs, the body burns stored fat for energy instead of glucose and this is how ketosis is achieved–by prompting the body to use ketones for fuel.
Here’s a great beginner’s guide into the keto diet, but in a nutshell, an ideal keto diet should consist of about 75% fat, 10-30% protein and no more than 5% or 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day.
The keto diet focuses largely on high-fat, low-carb foods such as eggs, meats, dairy and low-carb vegetables, plus sugar-free beverages. Restricting highly processed items and unhealthy fats is important, too! Consumption of healthy fat is prioritized on the keto diet because it helps you stay full and provides enough calories for the body to function efficiently.
Still have questions about keto? We’re obsessed and have written about it LOTS ;) Here are a few more resources on the Proper Good blog:
- How much sugar can you have on keto?
- How much water to drink on keto
- Getting back on keto after a cheat day
- Common ketosis diet mistakes
Can I do keto while pregnant? Is it safe?
So on to the main point–is keto while pregnant actually safe?
There isn't a concrete answer to definitively say yes or no, but most research indicates that keto while pregnant is not advisable.
Evidence suggests there are risks of doing keto while pregnant, and overall, it is not wise to go on the ketogenic diet diet while pregnant unless your doctor has instructed you to do so.
Nutrients needed during pregnancy
According to WebMD, the foods eaten during pregnancy are extremely important because your body is working harder than ever to maintain a healthy weight. It is also supplying the nutrients needed for the fetus to develop!
On average, a fetus requires 340 calories per day in order to promote healthy growth and development. The nutritional makeup of these calories is vital and include these nutrients:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Folic Acid
Healthy Pregnancy Diet
Health.gov states that it’s important to get a nutrient dense diet while pregnant, including protein, iron, folic acid, and iodine.
It’s also key to eat a variety of foods in order to get all necessary nutrients. The recommended daily intake includes 6-11 servings of breads and grains, two to four servings of fruit, four or more servings of vegetables, four servings of dairy products, and three servings of protein sources (meat, poultry, fish, eggs or nuts).
Risks of doing keto while pregnant
In contrast to a typical diet while pregnant, doing keto while pregnant presents a couple of risks.
Folic acid is crucial to the fetus’ brain and spine development, and folic acid is found in carb-rich foods such as cereal, bread, and beans. The keto diet doesn’t allow for these carb-heavy ingredients, and because of that, removing them from a pregnant woman’s diet can be dangerous.
Most doctors recommend limiting saturated fats to control pregnancy weight gain, which helps avoid pregnancy-related high blood pressure.
For a majority of healthy people, a short-term keto diet is harmless. However, in the case of pregnant women, it's thought that restricting foods can be dangerous to both the woman and baby. A true keto diet, in which you limit carbohydrates, is not recommended.
While there are always exceptions to the rule, in general, women should avoid a keto diet when they're trying to conceive, pregnant, or lactating.
People who start the keto diet may experience the “keto flu.” Symptoms typically pop up 2-7 days after beginning the keto diet and include headaches, foggy brain, fatigue, irritability, nausea, and insomnia.
For an expecting mother and her baby, these symptoms can be dangerous. For instance, if a pregnant woman is experiencing dizziness and falls, there is a risk of harming both mother and child.
In addition, some research suggests that women who don't get enough sleep during pregnancy may have higher risks of developing pregnancy complications including preeclampsia, high blood pressure, or gestational diabetes.
Weight loss during pregnancy
It's important to watch your calorie intake and exercise during pregnancy. But overdoing it to an extreme could potentially harm your baby. This is why most doctors don't recommend weight loss during pregnancy, unless the expectant mother is significantly overweight.
At the end of the day, always consult your doctor with questions about weight loss and pregnancy. Your doctor is the best person to help you make the safest decision for you and your baby. And keep in mind that while weight loss during pregnancy isn’t typically advisable, you can always revisit an overall healthy weight loss plan after your baby is born.
Low fiber intake
The recommended daily amount of dietary fiber for pregnant women is 28 grams. Dietary fiber is the part of the plant that the digestive system cannot break down. However, rather than simply building up in and clogging your system, fiber moves rather easily through the digestive tract and helps to ensure that all is running smoothly.
Although fiber is quite important for the digestive health of all men, women, and children, getting enough fiber becomes absolutely necessary for pregnant women. Consuming lots of fiber helps control pregnancy weight gains, keeping them within a healthy level. Fiber can also help clear your colon of the waste products that could be detrimental for your health, whether pregnant or not. Just remember that it’s a best practice to drink a lot of water if you’re eating a lot of fiber!
High saturated fat intake
Protein is part of the keto diet, but most keto diets don’t differentiate between healthy, lean protein and the kinds with lots of saturated fats like beef and pork. Since fat is encouraged, the diet can actually lead people to eat more unhealthy meat, plus oils, butter, and lard.
Healthy fats ARE an essential part of your diet to encourage growth of your baby. But too many saturated fat can cause health problems like higher cholesterol, which puts a strain on a pregnant mom’s heart and therefore the pregnancy.
Severe nutrient deficiency
According to Healthline, studies have found that many pregnant women are deficient in many important vitamins, including vitamins D, C, A, K, B-6, and E, plus iron, folate, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and choline.
Nutrition is critical during pregnancy because it helps support the lifelong health of mothers and babies. Health experts recommend pregnant women consult their doctors, who can recommend a custom eating and supplement plan.
Keto and gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy in women who don’t already have diabetes. Every year, 2 to 10 percent of pregnancies in the United States are affected by gestational diabetes. It’s important to manage gestational diabetes in order to ensure you have a healthy pregnancy and a baby.
A few ways to stay on top of gestational diabetes are:
- Know your blood sugar level and keeping it under control
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Get regular, heart-pumping physical activity in
- Maintain a healthy weight gain
- Keep daily records of your diet, physical activity, and glucose levels
In summary, the keto diet is a great way to boost metabolism and reduce appetite. However, for women who are pregnant, the keto diet is not advisable and one should always consult their doctor when considering what options are best for themselves and their baby.