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Keto Diet During Pregnancy: Safety And Risks Involved

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The Keto diet has gained popularity presently as an effective weight loss strategy. But, the keto diet while pregnant is something to think about carefully. This is because the Keto diet focuses on consuming fats and restricting carbohydrates, the primary fuel source. In the absence of carbohydrates, the body is forced to burn fat for fuel (natural ketosis) (1).

Since there is not enough information about the long-term benefits and side effects of the keto diet, pregnant women should ensure careful consideration and medical supervision before opting for the keto diet. In this post, we talk about the keto diet and pregnancy and whether or not to include it during this crucial stage of life.

What Is The Keto Diet?

The keto diet is high in fats, moderate in protein, and low in carbohydrates. Around 70–80% of the calories in a typical keto diet are derived from fats, 10–20% from protein, and the remaining 5–10% from carbohydrates (2).

The theory behind the keto diet is simple. Our body survives on glucose obtained from carbohydrates. However, in a state of starvation, our body obtains glucose from non-carbohydrate sources such as fats or proteins. Hence, in the keto diet the body breaks down fats for energy by limiting carbohydrates.

Is The Keto Diet Safe During Pregnancy?

The keto diet is not safe during pregnancy. During pregnancy, the fetus derives nutrients from the mother for organ development and growth. The keto diet restricts many nutritious sources of carbohydrates, including whole grains, pulses, and fruits and vegetables with higher sugar content. Therefore, the diet poses the risk of several deficiencies, which could cause congenital disabilities in the fetus (3).

Although there are insufficient scientific studies on the potential effects of the keto diet on the fetus, a study on pregnant adult mice published by the National Institutes of Health revealed fetal physiological changes following the maternal ketosis of mice (4).

What Are The Risks Of The Keto Diet During Pregnancy?

Observing the keto diet could pose the following risks to the mother and the fetus (3):

For the mother

The keto diet focuses on excess fat consumption with little emphasis on the type of fat consumed. Hence, you may consume excessive saturated fat, which is bad for your heart and pregnancy, to meet the high demand.

For the fetus

As mentioned, the keto diet could cause several nutritional deficiencies. The lack of essential nutrients, such as folic acid derived from cereals, could result in neural tube defects during fetal development and adverse health effects in postnatal life.

It is widely believed that restricting foods during pregnancy can be harmful to both the woman and baby. A true keto diet, in which you severely limit carbohydrates, is not recommended.

What Are The Side Effects Of The Keto Diet?

The long-term effects of following the keto diet are unknown. The short-term side effects are conjointly termed “keto flu” and may include (5) :

The breakdown of fat releases a metabolite called ketone. The accumulation of ketones in the body is called ketosis. Usually, healthy individuals occasionally produce ketones. But excess ketone production, as observed in the keto diet, may put the body in a state of ketoacidosis, a toxic condition. As a result, the body’s pH levels may fall below normal, and ketone bodies are excreted in the urine.

Although ketoacidosis is normally seen in individuals with uncontrolled diabetes, in rare cases, it is seen in non-diabetic individuals (2).

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What if I am pregnant and overweight?

If you’re pregnant and overweight (body mass index is 25.0 to 29.9 before pregnancy), do not start a weight loss regime unless your doctor specifically requests it. During pregnancy, the primary aim is to provide sufficient nutrients to you and your fetus. Hence, monitor your pregnancy closely and consult a medical professional if any issues arise (6) (7).

  1. Is the keto diet bad for fertility?

A study conducted by McGrice M. and Porter J. suggests that a low-carb diet may improve fertility in overweight and obese women by reducing hormonal imbalance. However, the study doesn’t particularly focus on the keto diet. Hence, it is difficult to determine if the keto diet affects fertility (8).

Due to the risk of developing nutritional deficiencies, keto and pregnancy do not go well with each other. If excess weight has been causing issues in pregnancy, consult your doctor. They may suggest healthier alternatives to high-fat, low-carb diets that are good for you and your growing fetus.

References:

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  1. What Is The Ketogenic Diet?
    https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/fad-diets/what-is-the-ketogenic-diet
  2. Diet Review: Ketogenic Diet For Weight Loss.
    https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/diet-reviews/ketogenic-diet/
  3. Keto Diet Risk To Pregnant Women And Kidney Disease Patients.
    https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/keto-diet-risk-to-pregnant-women-and-kidney-disease-patients/116722/
  4. Effects Of A Ketogenic Diet During Pregnancy On Embryonic Growth In The Mouse.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3685567/
  5. Ketogenic Diet
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499830/
  6. Overweight and Pregnant.
    https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/related-conditions/existing-health-conditions/overweight/
  7. Being Overweight During Pregnancy.
    https://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/being-overweight-during-pregnancy.aspx
  8. The Effect Of Low Carbohydrate Diets On Fertility Hormones And Outcomes In Overweight And Obese Women: A Systematic Review.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5372867/
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Sindusha MS

Sindusha is a clinical nutritionist with over two years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She did her Masters in Food Science and Nutrition and has qualified UGC-NET. She interned as a quality control analyst and as a dietitian during her graduation. She was a part of several community nutrition projects and a phytochemical-based nutrition study during the same... more