Can I try a low-carb diet when pregnant?

Are the Atkins, Zone, Dukan and South Beach low-carb diets safe during pregnancy?

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In a nutshell

No, you should not follow any restrictive diet during pregnancy

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The expert view

Fans of low-carb diets – such as Atkins, South Beach, the Zone and Dukan – often swear by their ability to help with weight-loss, but restrictive diets are not recommended during pregnancy and your meals should be healthy and balanced.

“An unbalanced diet in pregnancy may act as a stressor to the mother, increasing her production of cortisol and subsequently increasing cortisol production in the offspring,” says Rebecca Reynolds, from Queen’s Medical Research Institute in Edinburgh.

What should you eat?

While cutting down on carbs such as sugar is not a bad thing, the NHS advises that trying to ensure that starchy foods like fruit, vegetables and fibre make up about a third of your diet. The B vitamin, folic acid, which can help prevent birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly is also found in fruits, vegetables, cereals, breads, pastas, and rice, which is another reason not to cut down.

Many low-carb diets also up protein consumption, but UK studies on pregnant mothers whose diets included a high meat/fish intake in late pregnancy found that these women developed high cortisol levels.

Studies have shown this could lead to future hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease.

“Although low carb diets aren’t good for pregnancy, a low GI diet is,” advises MFM’s nutritionist Dr Rana Conway. “This means eating foods with a low glycaemic index (GI) such as oats, brown rice and lentils. These take longer to digest than sugary foods or white bread so they keep blood sugar levels more stable and also help to prevent you putting on too much weight.”

Mums on our forum say

“I ate healthily for a few weeks but then I didn’t eat very well at all & Isobelle was fine! Once I started weaning her then we all started eating healthily together (although that is hit & miss too!)” – Blackkat

Read more about eating healthily during pregnancy

Super snacks during pregnancy

Dealing with your pregnancy cravings

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