Maintaining a healthy diet is often a challenge for many, especially during pregnancy. Mothers-to-be frequently share in the struggle with a healthy lifestyle-- especially with the cliche cravings.
“One for mommy, one for baby." "You're eating for two now." We often hear these phrases during pregnancy, but Dr. Jessica Tocks, OBGYN with WellSpan says, "Overall in pregnancy, you only need about 300 extra calories each day."
From obstacles like morning sickness to cravings, even women with an overall healthy lifestyle can struggle with balance and nutrition. Prior to pregnancy, some use forms of low carbohydrate eating to lose weight or just maintain a healthier diet. But should that go out the door upon a positive pregnancy result? Taryn Millette, a Registered Dietitian with Penn State Health, says it can be done the right way. "I will often recommend a lower carbohydrate diet for my patients, especially my gestational and pre-gestational diabetics."
Experts emphasize that carbs are not necessarily the enemy. They recommend using the plate method as a rough guide. "A quarter of your plate- meat," Millette explains. "A quarter of your plate- the starch or the carbohydrate component, and then half of your plate the vegetable component." Carbs can be found in healthy places, so you don't necessarily have to choose the rice, pasta or potato. "It might be a glass of milk with your dinner, or it might be a piece of fruit as dessert," she suggests as lower carb options.
Nowadays lower carb diets tend to incorporate more healthier, high fiber, low carb options like berries, leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussel sprouts. But not all low carb diets are the same. Some are more restrictive than others. So how far is too far in pregnancy?
Dr. Tocks strongly cautions against one low carb diet in particular. "The Keto diet makes me cringe in pregnancy." You might have heard of this trendy diet reemerging in popularity. The Ketogenic diet is a high fat, moderate protein, extremely low carb diet many have used to successfully lose weight. But can the diet be maintained during pregnancy? This is where many experts like Dr. Tocks can clearly draw the line. "It's burning your fat to get ketones," Dr. Tocks explains, "which uses it as a fuel source. So it kind of thinks you're in a starvation mode. I can't ever say it's okay for you to put your body into a starvation mode."
It's very easy to consult the internet for positive testimonials of the Keto diet during pregnancy, but experts say the research isn't there to validate it, especially in the long run. "We don't do those types of studies on pregnant women because of the ethical concerns," Millette says.
Plus, the limited carb count makes it more difficult to consume important nutrients firsthand that both fat and protein can't provide. "It's very restrictive and takes out huge food groups," Millette says. "So we have that concern that you aren't getting enough micronutrients." Think calcium, iron, folate and so forth-- prenatal pills cannot be used in place of their direct sources. They are recommended because women always need more during pregnancy.
When in doubt, what experts recommend is nothing new, whether pregnant or not. "Moderation and balance," Millette encourages. "It's important for every stage in life, especially pregnancy." Strive for balance and make quality choices based on nutritional content. And yes, it's even okay to occasionally indulge those crazy pickle and ice cream cravings.
Experts always recommend talking to your doctor or a registered dietitian early in pregnancy about your diet, especially if you already eat low carb. That way you can ensure you and baby are both getting proper balance and nutrition for a healthy pregnancy.