From Keto and Paleo, to Veganism – what’s the best diet for pregnant women?
Sure, diets have their place, but what about when you’re growing a precious little one?
If you are pregnant, it’s best to not restrict yourself to certain foods groups. But does that mean you need to stop diets like keto, paleo or even being vegan? We took a look at each of these diets and their pro and cons for women that are pregnant.
A strict paleo diet advocates avoiding dairy and healthy carbohydrates like grains, which could be unsafe for a growing baby.
While there’s little research specifically about the effects of a paleo diet on pregnancy, there have been studies about women eating high-protein, low-carb diets (the basic principles of paleo). One study found that women who increased their consumption of meat and fish during late pregnancy gave birth to babies that displayed higher systolic blood pressure later in life. Similarly, high consumption of red meat and red meat products in the early stages of pregnancy and pre-pregnancy have been linked to an increased risk of gestational diabetes, which can lead to an array of complications, including post-pregnancy diabetes.
Other studies have found that eating high amounts of red meat and low amounts of carbohydrates during pregnancy is associated with reduced foetal growth and low birth weight.
On the plus side, the paleo diet isn’t too restrictive, and it does make allowances for some carbohydrates, such as fruit and starchy veggies, healthy fats and grass-fed animal meat. On the whole, it’s preferable that mothers-to-be avoid paleo and enjoy a well-rounded, nutritionally balanced diet that includes all the food groups.
The keto diet is famous worldwide for helping people lose weight. It is a very high fat, very low carb (less than 50 grams per day) diet. The idea to transition the body into a state of “ketosis” – a metabolic state meaning the body starts burning fat, rather than sugar. There are risks associated with very low carb intake during pregnancy, so it is not recommended.
Achieving a state of ketosis doesn’t happen at the flick of a switch. For this diet to be effective, followers need to strictly avoid almost all carbs, including fruit and veggies. Avoiding all the goodness of fruit and veggies is highly discouraged for pregnant women, who – more than most – need the nourishing vitamins, iron and folate that fruit and veg offers.
While healthy fats (which you’ll get plenty of with keto) are essential for a mother and her growing baby, the diet’s emphasis on saturated fats can also cause health problems such as higher cholesterol, which puts a strain on the heart and pregnancy. Studies have also shown links between the ketogenic diet and complications such as altered organ growth, depleted maternal fertility, and damaging effects to an infant’s neonatal brain structure.
Another negative of the keto diet is that it makes no distinction between different types of protein – some of which are considered healthy foods during pregnancy (think lean, clean protein), and some not so good (such as processed meats like bacon, sausages, salami…). To hit the diet’s fat quota, the latter meats are often encouraged, which can send your saturated fat intake to a much higher than healthy amount. For these reasons, say no to keto during pregnancy.
No longer can veganism be considered a fringe movement, it’s everywhere we look, but is it suitable for pregnant women?
A vegan diet during pregnancy can be safe, but mothers who choose to follow it need to very carefully plan to ensure they get all the essential nutrients they need – pass the meal planner, please.
The vegan diet’s strict exclusion of all animal-based products (including all dairy and eggs) means the diet can be naturally lower in certain nutrients, which are especially important during pregnancy. This includes vitamin B12, omega-3 fats, iron, iodine, calcium, and zinc.
A well-planned vegan diet that includes enough of these nutrients should be just as healthy for pregnant women and their babies as an omnivorous diet. However, seeking advice from an Accredited Practising Dietitian with expertise in vegan diets can help to ensure you’re ticking all the nutrition boxes.
So, to diet, or not to diet?
Mother and baby need a huge variety of foods to act as fuel and the building blocks for a new life. Therefore, it’s best to not be restrictive when it comes to pregnancy eating plans. Don’t be worried about gaining some weight while pregnant. It can be scary, we know, but it comes part and parcel with a healthy pregnancy. Instead, focus on eating a varied diet that includes all the protein, carbohydrates, healthy types of fat and vitamins and minerals needed by mothers and growing bubs.
There’s no one size fits all approach. We recommend that you seek personal advice from a doctor or Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) in relation to your own health circumstances.