Is It Safe to Go Carb-Free During Pregnancy?


It’s hard to escape the no-carb craze. At the grocery store you can find just about anything with a low-carb label, from tortillas to frozen dinners and more. Not since the low-fat craze has a single nutrient been so vilified. Carbohydrates are being blamed for a host of serious medical conditions including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

But carbohydrates alone are not the culprit. Most Americans eat too many carbohydrate-rich foods that are also high in fat, sugar, and calories.

There is much debate about the efficacy of diets such as Atkins, South Beach, and The Zone, but a growing body of research confirms that reducing your intake of high-caloric, refined carbohydrates can improve your health, particularly if you are obese or diabetic.

As the old saying goes, “There is a time and a place for everything.” And experts agree that for most women, pregnancy is not the time to place yourself on a low-carbohydrate diet.

“It is recommended that half the calories a pregnant woman takes in each day should come from carbohydrates,” says Dr. Hope Ricciotti, MD, an OB-GYN and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and author of The Pregnancy Cookbook. “Glucose, which is the byproduct of carbohydrates, is the primary fuel for the baby.”

But before you reach for those chocolate chip cookies, remember that all carbohydrates are not created equal. Consuming fast food, candy, cakes, pizza, doughnuts, and soda can lead to excessive weight gain and exacerbate symptoms of gestational diabetes (diabetes developed during pregnancy). Since these foods have little nutritional value, they cannot provide your growing baby with the nutrients, protein, and healthy fat required for optimal development.

“Even if you eat horribly the rest of your life, during those nine months of pregnancy, you do your best to attain perfection,” says Dr. Mary C. Vernon, MD, CDM, a physician of bariatric and family medicine in Lawrence, Kansas, and a member of the Atkins’ Physicians’ Council. “Basically, this means that when you are pregnant, there is never an excuse.”

So if you opt for a Snickers bar instead of an apple are you putting your baby in jeopardy? Of course not. But cutting back on junk food and eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is the best way to nourish your baby, avoid excess weight gain, improve your mood, and increase your energy level.