A Ketogenic diet is a high fat, moderate protein, low carb style of eating that conditions our bodies to use fat instead of carbohydrates as our primary energy source. It was originally developed in the 1920’s to address epilepsy but became less popular with the introduction of anti-seizure medication. With a growing epidemic of obesity, increased incidences of type 2 diabetes and hormonal imbalances causing PCOS and infertility the Keto diet is back on everyones radar. Plus who doesn’t love being told they can eat bacon and eggs everyday to lose weight and stay healthy - um yes please!
So how does eating fewer starchy vegetables and fruits and more fats help us to stay healthy and will this work for you during pregnancy?
When carbohydrates are consumed they are converted to glucose. This occurs with ANY carbohydrate not just bread and pasta but includes all our favourite fruits and veggies. As glucose enters our blood stream it stimulates the production of insulin, a hormone that is responsible for keeping blood sugar balanced by sending glucose to our cells as fuel for all the many chemical reactions in the body. If there is more glucose than needed to fuel the body it is converted to glycogen to be stored for use later or converted by the liver into fat. When we consume low carb/ high fat diets the liver is forced to break down fatty acids that we consume and store to produce ketones. These ketones are then transported from the liver to other cells to be used as energy. An accumulation of ketones in the blood is called ketosis and it is a perfectly healthy state for most individuals. We are even seeing improved brain health, an increase in energy levels, a decrease in inflammation and chronic pain, as well as improvement in fertility when some folks start on a Ketogenic diet (again this is individual!)
These benefits hold true for mothers following a Keotgenic diet during pregnancy however it comes with some significant risks to the fetus. Ketones can be easily trasferred through the placenta to the fetus and research suggests that an abundance of ketones can cause more harm than good. One clinical study has shown irregular growth of organs when the fetus is exposed to high quantities of ketones. And other observational studies show a correlation between a child’s IQ and the adoption of a Ketogenic diet by mothers during gestation. So even though we can see how following a Keto diet can go a long way in supporting our health pre and post pregnancy we would not recommend following a Keto diet during pregnancy.
Instead our recommendation is to eat a well balanced diet that includes healthy fats such as avocado and coconut milk, moderate clean protein - think organic, grass-fed, anti-biotic and nitrate free and an assortment of fruits and vegetables. You also want to continue to avoid any refined sugars and processed grains (whole grains are generally ok for most people unless they have issues with blood sugar). Each meal should have a combination of vegetables, clean proteins and quality fats to keep blood sugar balanced and to allow the foods to work synergistically to enhance absorption by the body.
So even though you might not be having bacon on bacon during your pregnancy there are still many healthy, delicious meals that will keep you and baby well nourished!
Author: Erin Freeman
Erin is a student at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition (IHN) in North York, Ontario where she is currently completing a diploma in Applied Holistic Nutrition. Erin is passionate about women’s health and particularly loves supporting families during the pregnancy and postpartum periods to help them feel empowered to make healthy choices for themselves and their children.