While weight gain is an unavoidable side effect of pregnancy, many women follow strict diet and exercise regimens in order to minimize excess weight gain. Some doctors will ask their patients to refrain from any type of dieting during pregnancy, but others may actually suggest following particular diets depending on the individual situation. If suggested, a low carbohydrate diet that is followed sensibly can effectively provide all of the essential nutrients a growing baby needs for proper fetal development.
Diets that restrict or eliminate carbohydrates, also known as low carb diets, were first introduced in the 1860s in England by William Banting, then revisited in 1972 by Dr. Robert Atkins, but did not gain widespread popularity until much later in the 1990s. There was an array of low carbohydrate diets that developed after the Atkins diet, but the trend reached its peak in 2004.
The basic premise of a low carb diet is to limit the amount of carbohydrates ingested at a meal in order to lose weight. Carbohydrate-rich foods, such as bread, pasta, grains, rice, starchy vegetables, and fruits, are discouraged on a low carb diet since they are known to raise blood sugar levels, which in turn raises insulin levels in the body. It is believed that insulin drives blood sugar in to the cells and prevents the breakdown of fat in the body, making it difficult to lose weight.
There are a variety of low carb diets each with slight variances in the foods that should be eaten while implementing the diet. The Atkins diet is an extremely low carb diet and restricts carbohydrates while emphasizing proteins and fats. The Zone diet is similar to the Atkins by focusing on protein and allows only a small amount of carbohydrates, and the South Beach diet is a modified low carbohydrate diet and focuses on low carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats.
In certain circumstances, eating fewer carbohydrates can be beneficial during pregnancy, and is sometimes recommended by a doctor if a woman is suffering from gestational diabetes. Most low carb diets have specific diet alterations for women who are pregnant or lactating in order to ensure both mother and baby are meeting their nutritional needs sufficiently. One note of importance though, constipation is often a result of low carb diets which can also be compounded with pregnancy.
Extremely low carb diets, like the Atkins diet, are not recommended during pregnancy. It is important that a pregnant woman receive the recommended amount of dietary fiber for proper fetal development, which is lacking in most low carb diets. Whole grains, fruits, and natural carbs should be incorporated into the diet to receive an adequate amount of fiber. A pregnant woman considering a low carb diet should discuss all risks and possible adverse affects with a health care professional.