Maternal nutrition is incredibly important during pregnancy, for both the mother’s health and the child’s. With the prevalence of the ketogenic diet, especially among those of child-bearing age, researchers have become inquisitive about the possible effects of the ketogenic diet on gestation.
Does the Fetus Prefer Ketones?
It is first important to understand that ketosis is a natural metabolic state in which the body burns fat when it does not have enough of its primary fuel source, glucose. This occurs naturally in the human body – whether it be through purposeful fasting or not having any food for a number of hours.
There is evidence to suggest that the prenatal infant prefers and thrives off ketones. First of all, the fetal brain derives about 30% of its energy from ketones.1 The fetus uses ketones in order to create important lipids for the brain. This is probably why ketosis is most common in the third trimester.2
In fact, it’s likely that the fetus makes its own ketones. There are significantly higher ketone levels in the umbilical cord blood compared to that in the mother’s blood. This tells us that ketones are more useful to the fetus than the mother.3 Before and immediately after birth, the fetus utilizes ketones to make essential fats in the brain during growth.4
Mice, Keto, and Organ Growth
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the landmark controversial 2013 study where researchers studied mice whose mothers were fed a ketogenic diet while pregnant. The researchers compared images of mice embryos to a control group of mice whose mothers were fed a standard diet. They found that the ketogenic mice embryos ended up being smaller, yet having an enlarged cervical spine, midbrain, and thalamus, the gray matter in the brain responsible for pain reception and sensory information.5
In this study, they found that the growth of the brain of the ketogenic infant shifted toward late pregnancy, compared with the brain’s growth rate during standard diets. Does this mean that human fetus whose mothers are on the ketogenic diet will see altered brain growth? Does this suggest that these infants could see an increased risk of organ dysfunction and behavioral changes after birth?
So far, there is no evidence that the ketogenic diet has the same negative effects on human children that it does on mice embryos. In fact, some doctors report that expectant mothers experience much smoother pregnancies upon following the ketogenic diet and that it’s all about nutritional balance and good choices.
Balance is key
If you take a look at the foods that make up the ketogenic diet, you will find eggs, avocado, fresh vegetables, animal protein, olive oil, berries, and nuts and seeds. These are all fantastic foods for pregnancy.
It’s important to remember balance. What’s best for the mother is typically what’s best for baby. Women who are interested in following a ketogenic diet during pregnancy should first speak to their doctor, begin the diet a couple of months before conception, and to remember to get enough calories and nutrition during this important time.
The content on this website should not be taken as medical advice and you should ALWAYS consult with your doctor before starting any diet or exercise program. We provide nutritional data for our recipes as a courtesy to our readers. We use Total Keto Diet app software to calculate the nutrition and we remove fiber and sugar alcohols, like erythritol, from the total carbohydrate count to get to the net carb count, as they do not affect your blood glucose levels. You should independently calculate nutritional information on your own and not rely on our data. The website or content herein is not intended to cure, prevent, diagnose or treat any disease. This website shall not be liable for adverse reactions or any other outcome resulting from the use of recipes or recommendations on the Website or actions you take as a result. Any action you take is strictly at your own risk.
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