Is the Carnivore Diet Safe For Pregnant Women?
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The perceived extreme nature of the carnivore diet would make the normal human ask, “is the carnivore diet safe during pregnancy?” Current main stream society will say that it’s dangerous but when you dig deep you see that maybe it isn’t.
Could a main-stream diet be worse? Or could a carnivore diet be better? What about keto and low carb? I think you will be surprised by what I found.
When I recently spoke to one of my friends who were pregnant she asked if the carnivore diet would be safe for her and her baby. I honestly didn’t know. Since then I have done a round of research and below you will find some of the intriguing info from various sources.
I gathered info from Lily Nichols, Dr. Ken Berry, The Weston A. Price Foundation, Dr. Shawn Baker as well as stories from women who were/are on the carnivore diet during their pregnancies.
Now I’m not a doctor and I’m not recommending anything but what I am doing is presenting the information I have found so that you are able to make an informed decision for yourself or at least opening your mind to see what’s best for you.
Disclaimer: By using this site, you agree the information contained here is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, consult your doctor. No information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition.
What Does Dr. Shawn Baker Say?
He believes it’s totally fine to partake in a carnivore diet while pregnant and mentions there have been numerous examples of women doing that, both in contemporary times and thousands of years ago.
However, he does reiterate that you need to let your obstetrician know about your diet just in case any modifications and/or supplementation need to be added.
If you want to switch to the carnivore diet during pregnancy he encourages it be done more gradual and not all of a sudden as this is a more stressful event on the body.
What About After Pregnancy?
Dr. Baker says after pregnancy both breast feeding and lactation seem to go smoothly.
Is a Low Carb Diet Safe During Pregnancy? Let’s Ask Lily Nichols, RDN, CDE
First off, Lily is a highly educated and experienced dietician and nutritionist working in diabetes education and prenatal nutrition and this is her take on low carb and pregnancy.
People say ketosis is bad during pregnancy but that’s because they are usually referring to diabetic ketoacidosis. Lily is trying to change the thinking behind the bad wrap ketones get when it comes to pregnancy.
When she first started working in the prenatal field The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics sample meal plan recommended over 300 grams of carbohydrates. Their post, “Eating Right During Pregnancy” even recommended vegetable and canola oil as a source of Healthful Fats. Really?
Lily points out that right now the standard recommendations are to get 45-65% of carbs from calories which amount to 175 grams per day.
What’s Up with Low Carb Data?
Most of her data relating to low carbohydrate diets and their effect on pregnancy come from these studies:
- Dietary Assessment of Indigenous Canadian Arctic Women
- The Effects of Carbohydrate Restriction Patients with Diet-Controlled Gestation
- The Effects of a low-glycemic load diet in Overweight and Obese Pregnant Women: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial
What she found is that women are more likely to be in ketosis when pregnant already. This obviously increases when they are on a high-fat low carb diet such as keto or potentially the carnivore diet.
She goes on to explain there are three types of ketosis.
- Nutritional Ketosis
- Starvation Ketosis
- Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA)
She says this state of ketosis is benign during pregnancy. It’s the basic form in which you have a women that eats a large amount of fats and the body uses that for fuel. Generally the blood sugar stays normal.
She believes this diet is fairly safe as long as there are enough calories and food intake. However, there are essentially no studies on nutritional ketosis during pregnancy.
The doctors and specialists that say ketosis during pregnancy is unhealthy are usually referring to starvation ketosis. According to her, this one is very bad and unhealthy for both mother and child.
She explains when a human is in this form of ketosis the body begins to use its own fat stores for energy due to the lack of sufficient calories.
The body will then become depleted of essential fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins/minerals, and antioxidants. This condition is very unhealthy and can potentially have long term negative metabolic effects on children.
This study documents the caloric effects of caloric deprivation during pregnancy.
Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA)
DKA can happen to those with Type 1 and 2 diabetes. Women with DKA generally have high levels of blood sugar and acidic blood pH as well as high blood ketone levels.
DKA is very bad during pregnancy and can alter the development of the fetus’s brain.
Lily clearly states that ketosis is not ketoacidosis. She also reminds us that urine ketone levels are not the same as blood ketone levels and that only blood ketones are relevant from a clinical perspective.
Late Pregnancy Makes More Ketones
Later on during pregnancy in the late stages, a women’s body is more likely to be in ketosis due to a more catabolic state.
Apparently, the body is more insulin resistant and all nutrition is diverted to the baby.
The mother’s fat stores begin to become depleted and the result can be ketosis. The ketones are then most likely sent to the baby and used for the formation of the brain.
Crazy Note: Infants stay in ketosis for their first month of life and kids can automatically remain in low levels of ketosis for their first 8 years of life.
The other crazy thing that Lily points out is that horrible baby health issues occur after birth as a result of high blood sugar.
If this is such a major factor of poor health then why are the recommended diets recommending foods that are able to spike blood sugar? Here are a few of the birth defects I found associated with high blood sugar:
- Congenital Heart Defects
- NTD’s and Spinal Malformations
- Malformation of Kidneys
- Cleft Palate
- Genital Malformations
- Limb Reduction Defects and Polydactyly (extra toes/fingers)
- Enlarged Pancreas (6 X Risk of Diabetes by Age 13)
- Still Birth
As if having mothers eating high carb diets isn’t bad enough it may also cause babies that are born obese to end up obese for the rest of their lives.
Lily Drops More Health Crisis Knowledge
She found out that:
- 2/3 of women at reproductive age are overweight/obese
- 18% of pregnant women have gestational diabetes, “carb intolerance”
- Excess weight and excess blood sugar are by far the most common causes of macrosomia.
- Childhood obesity and diabetes are rising
- Now there are more women starting pregnancy metabolically unhealthy
- Gestational diabetes is the most common pregnancy complication and it’s about 18% of all women
- If a toddler has type 2 diabetes it’s the mother’s fault not the baby
So why are high carb diets recommended and not something like the carnivore or keto even? Questions. Questions. Questions.
Lily’s Recommendations on Pregnancy
Lily wasn’t asked about the carnivore diet during her talk but she did provide a list of her recommendations. Here are a few of them.
- 90-150 grams of carbs per day
- Focus on micro nutrient needs
- Monitor/regulate blood glucose levels
- Eat low-glycemic, nutrient dense carbohydrates (non starchy vegs, nothing refined or processed)
- Take out grains and cut back or eliminate sugar
- Go for nutrient dense foods like liver, organ meat, slow cooked meat, bone broth, eggs, fatty cuts, fermented dairy and fatty fish
- Nutrient dense real food in a prenatal diet reduces risks for mom and baby
- Carb needs very women to woman but are generally lower than current guidelines
- Low level ketosis is a natural part of pregnancy
What Does Keto Diet Proponent Dr. Ken D. Berry Say
I had to see what Dr. Berry says. He is a huge keto and carnivore diet proponent so at least he can speak on the perspective of low carbs and the effect that would have on pregnancy. Or least give us his opinion.
First off he clearly states there is little to no research on whether a high fat low carb diet is safe during pregnancy. All he had to go with in terms of research was a BS study on mice.
Basically mice were given a synthetic fat diet and their offspring had problems and abnormalities. Hmmm, maybe giving them canola oil, Crisco, margarine style fats did it?
Dietary Brochures From Obstetricians
He finds it rather strange how the recommended dietary guidelines given to pregnant women aren’t even based on research either.
There isn’t any randomized control study showing the safety of these guidelines.
The guidelines recommend eating lots of grains, fruit juices, and veggies. Basically a lot of foods that easily spike glucose levels.
He goes on to mention that our brains and especially the brains of fetuses need fats and cholesterol as that’s what they are made of. So why are these not being recommended by our current obstetricians?
Which Diet is Best?
Dr. Berry highly recommends the keto diet and doesn’t seem to believe a low keto approach is dangerous during pregnancy.
Take It Way Back, Ancestor Style
So what were our ancestors eating 1000s of years ago? I’m pretty sure they didn’t have to worry about the pregnancy complications our society is accustomed to today.
If your ancestors lived closer to the poles then they consumed 18-98 grams of carbohydrates per day and obviously less during winter.
If your ancestors were closer to the equator the carbohydrate intake was anywhere from 96-143 grams per day.
But today our guidelines are recommending a whopping 270-420 grams of carbohydrates per day.
Our ancestors figured out through trial and error that their babies would be born healthier if the mothers were given the fatter and more nutrient-dense portions of the recently killed animals. The bone marrow, organs, and fattier cuts went straight to pregnant women.
Weston A Price has a tremendous amount of research and documentation revolving around the best practices of diet and pregnancy. This podcast is an eye-opener and worth the listen.
Kelly was a low carb dieter for 5 years and went full-on zero carb (carnivore).
Kelly says, “I began eating a high-fat, no-carb, all animal-based diet and immediately felt amazing!”
But then she got pregnant and didn’t know what to do as all the pregnancy literature suggested the high fiber and low fat. So she let her OB/GYN know and continued with the zero carb diet. (She did mention she took a vitamin supplement as suggested by her OB/GYN but in low quantities.)
Her challenges during pregnancy were mainly food aversions as she didn’t want to eat burgers or even steak! However, she did eat copious amounts of bacon, cheese, eggs, and chicken wings and didn’t eat grains, veggies, or fruits.
She avoided all other food cravings.
She does like to mention that she didn’t have morning sickness, indigestion, hemorrhoids, or digestive issues. Her baby grew at a normal weight too.
However, her baby was born premature but not as a result of her diet. All of her doctors believed there wasn’t a connection between her diet and premature birth.
Even though her baby girl was born early she was born without any complications and totally healthy!
She continued to stay zero carb (carnivore) while breastfeeding and all was good. So good that within a year she was pregnant again and this time with a boy.
During this pregnancy, she stayed on her diet and had a healthy boy without complications. She says, “I didn’t suffer morning sickness, heartburn, post-partum depression, high blood sugar, blood pressure problems, or other pregnancy-induced issues.”
I watched a video of Nutrition with Judy in which she interviewed a woman named, Molly. Molly has been on the carnivore diet for some time and continues to practice it through her pregnancy.
She says she has had a relatively easy pregnancy as the first trimester she didn’t experience any nausea. However, she did have cravings for fruit and did indulge in a small amount of fruit snacking. She believes the cravings were the result of the glucose testing as she hasn’t eaten sugars in years and that test may have triggered them.
She eats about 2 pounds of meat per day and at least one ribeye. She found it funny how when given the “how to eat while pregnant” brochure, meat was at the bottom of the list while grains were at the top.
Molly says, “you gotta do what’s right for you. If you feel good being carnivore then your baby is gonna feel god.”
Follow Molly and her carnivore experiences here @Meat_Molly.
Conclusion and Disclaimer
As you can see, perhaps a carnivore diet and keto diet are safe during pregnancy and maybe even better than what is suggested by our current nutrition overlords. However, I am not a licensed dietitian or a medical doctor. If you are seeking a professional opinion on how you should proceed with your health, please consult a doctor. Obviously, do your research and speak to your doctors with any questions regarding the carnivore diet, keto diet, and anything having to do with pregnancy.
If you are new to the carnivore diet, I have a great post on the benefits and my experiences here, “The Carnivore Diet 101: A Meaty Resource.”
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. Consult with and ask your doctor about any diet or medical-related questions. No information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease or condition.