Is Keto Diet Safe When You’re Pregnant?
Also referred to as ketogenic diet, keto diet is generally a high-fat, low-carbohydrate, moderate-protein diet plan. It was once used to for controlling refractory epilepsy in children. The goal is to send the body into ketosis and the accumulation of acids called ketones, hence the name keto, or ketogenic diet.
How Does Keto Diet Work?
Before going to the discussion on whether or not keto diet is safe for pregnant women, it’s important to discuss how this diet works. In keto diet, carbohydrate intake is reduced to low amounts. Doing this compels the body to use fats for energy instead of carbohydrates.
The body normally breaks down carbohydrates in food into glucose, which is then circulated throughout the body to fuel various processes, especially brain function. Through the liver, the fats in the body are converted to fatty acids and ketone bodies. These take the place of glucose as energy source.
The classic ketogenic diet usually uses a 4:1 ratio of the weight of fat to the combined weight of carbohydrate and protein in food. This entails increasing the consumption of high-fat foods such as cream, butter, and nuts while taking away high-carbohydrate food products such as bread, grains, pasta, and starchy fruits and vegetables. When it comes to dairy, it is recommended to use full-fat dairy products. Sugars are also to be avoided, with beverages limited to water as much as possible or juices with stevia-based sweeteners.
Is This Safe For Pregnant Women?
Unfortunately, there have been no human studies conducted on the effects of a ketogenic diet on pregnant women. As such, claims affirming or refuting the safety of keto diet during pregnancy cannot be scientifically substantiated for now.
There was one relevant clinical study published in 2013, but it used an animal subject (mice). This study explored the effects of a ketogenic diet during pregnancy on embryonic growth. The findings do not bode well with the idea of having keto diet during pregnancy.
Accordingly, keto diet during gestation leads to anomalies in embryonic organ growth. These anomalies or alterations are linked to organ dysfunction and possible behavioral abnormalities in postnatal life.
Some may argue that the harmful effects found in mice don’t necessarily apply to humans. It’s important to note, though, that most results of animal clinical trials similarly hold true when the tests are conducted on human subjects. The risk exists and should not be ignored.
In almost all cases, pregnant women are told not to engage in any weight loss or dieting program unless the diet plan is specifically designed to address specific health issues. The safety of ketogenic diet during pregnancy is dubitable, so it would be safe to presume it may not be safe.
For those who really want to try it, it is advisable to be mindful of the effects of the diet on their bodies and on the children they are conceiving. It may be necessary to monitor the blood oxygen of the mother using a pulse oximeter like Nellcor SpO2 sensor and examine the heartbeat of the fetus, for example, to check for immediate and short-term effects of a keto diet.
If anything untoward is noticed, the ketogenic diet must be stopped. Sleep problems, muscle cramps, and the inability to maintain proper hydration and mineral balance may also be experienced. These can directly affect the fetus, so appropriate actions should then be taken.
Doctors Giving Approval
While the prevailing opinion among health professionals is that pregnant women should avoid diet plans, there are doctors who claim that keto diet during pregnancy is safe.
Dr. Michael Fox, a fertility expert at the Jacksonville Center for Reproductive Medicine, says that it is completely safe for pregnant women to follow a ketogenic diet. He claims that women in ancient times were ketotic during pregnancy. For more than a dozen years, he has been recommending ketogenic diet to his patients and claims that his patients have been completely ketotic throughout their pregnancy without unwanted effects.
Similarly, Dr. Robert Kiltz of CNY Fertility has been recommending keto diet for better fertility and pregnancy. He has been posting videos online supporting the idea of eating low-carbohydrate and high-fat diets to get pregnant and while pregnant.
Additionally, diet doctor Maria Emmerich has been counseling hundreds of women to try keto diet during pregnancy. She claims that those who have tried it have achieved great results. She also cites evidence that fetuses are naturally in a frequent state of ketosis. Ketosis is supposedly vital in the development of organs and structures that naturally have a lot of fat, like the brain.
American dietitian Lily Nichols is also promoting ketogenic diet during pregnancy. She specializes in gestational diabetes or carbohydrate intolerance during pregnancy. She laments the “irony” when doctors say it is unsafe to take a low-carb diet during pregnancy while saying that following a diet made up mainly of meat, fish, dairy, fresh vegetables, nuts, and seeds is okay.
To emphasize, the opinions of the health professionals cited here are minority opinions. They don’t represent the consensus of large and established health organizations or practices. It’s just worth pointing out that they have been advocating keto diet for pregnant women and have so far not been pestered by lawsuits and complaints from patients.
Pregnant women are often emphatically told to think of the child they are bearing and not to be bothered by how they look. Good health is always the top priority during pregnancy, not curbing weight gain, addressing aesthetic issues associated with pregnancy, or observing “vanities.”
Unless there are authoritative human studies on keto diet safety during pregnancy, perhaps the smart decision for now is to avoid it. The lack of human studies that say it’s dangerous does not equate to saying it is safe: better be safe than sorry.