The keto diet (high fat, low carbohydrate) is popular among both men and women. Keto diets are attractive because they can result in significant and fast weight loss, but there are some health concerns associated with this, the most important being the lack of good sugars in the diet.
The body requires sugar from glucose and other carb sources to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the main energy-transporting molecule in your body.2 Although low-carb diets during pregnancy are thought to be associated with lower maternal weight gain, there are some notable risks.
What are the potential risks of a low carbohydrate diet during pregnancy?
According to a study conducted in Switzerland that looked at the diet of 626 women, a low carbohydrate diet during pregnancy was associated with low birth weights. The research had a longitudinal component, and these children were assessed at an average age of 29.
The study reported increased blood pressure among these individuals.1 The increase noted later in their lives is thought to be caused by the initial fetal malnutrition associated with the mothers’ carbohydrate-poor diets, as other risk factors were analyzed such as the individual’s health and dietary habits.
A low-carb diet during pregnancy was also associated with low weight gain for the mothers in this study, which can lead to a loss of energy as well as fetal vitamin and mineral deficiency.1
What are the findings on the risks of low-carb diets in pregnancy?
It was reported that diets that included high protein and low carbohydrate intake were associated with cases of higher systolic blood pressure among the children, later in life during the follow-up study.1 Conversely, diets with high fish intake but low carbs and red meat showed increased diastolic blood pressure levels among offspring.
Adequate maternal nutrition is extremely important for the future of their children’s health, and high blood pressure can become extremely dangerous and even life-threatening. According to this study, sufficient carbohydrate intake during pregnancy is important for ensuring the good health of the offspring.
What about a high fat intake?
A high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet intake, also known as a keto diet, has been reported to have negative health effects in mice offspring.2 A study conducted on maternal mice undergoing a keto diet made associations between low carbohydrate diet during pregnancy and a low birthweight of offspring, changes in heart mass, enlarged spinal cords and skeletal organs, and misshaped brain regions, which can potentially affect behaviour.2
The mice in this study also had decreased triglyceride (stored fat) levels, and high cholesterol, which is known to be dangerous for heart health. Blood sugar levels were also lowered in offspring, due to the lack of available sugars from the diet.
The body primarily burns fat during a keto diet, instead of carbs, so fat stores and available sugars both reduce. This leads to increased nutritional demands of the fetus, resulting in smaller organs and low birth weights.2
Glucose is the preferred energy source and growth molecule for most organs, so decreasing the available supply can affect organ size and development. Carbohydrates are an essential fuel source for the body of the pregnant mother and the developing baby, and with increased nutritional demands, carbs are nutrient-dense and should be a macronutrient that is included in a balanced diet during pregnancy.
- Shiell A W, Campbell-Brown M, Haselden S, Robinson S, Godfrey K M, Barker D J P. 2001, December 1. High-Meat, Low-Carbohydrate Diet in Pregnancy. Hypertension, (38)6:1282-1288. https://doi.org/10.1161/hy1101.095332
- Sussman D, van Eede M, Wong MD et al. Effects of a ketogenic diet during pregnancy on embryonic growth in the mouse. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth 13, 109 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2393-13-109