Just as I fell pregnant, a whole new topic of conversation opened up for me as I began to hear from people around me about their pregnancies, and a lot about their “horror stories”. You know the ones, where they describe how swollen their feet and ankles were that they went up two shoe sizes! Stories about heartburn that literally debilitated them to the point that they could not function any more. I even heard a few stories from the husbands who were “attacked” by their crazed wives demanding chocolate and ice-cream at 3 ‘O clock in the morning. I have to admit it all made me quite anxious about what was in store over the next 9 months!
The most amazing thing that happened was that I did not experience any of those pregnancy symptoms and I have had a very healthy and happy pregnancy up until now (currently 36 weeks). So what’s the secret? I have followed a low carb lifestyle since 2008 and I have maintained that way of eating throughout my pregnancy too!
In doing some research I have also found that there is actual scientific evidence to back up the reasons why a low carb pregnancy is the way to go.
However, I have to remind everyone that following a low carb lifestyle during pregnancy, should not be seen as a diet or a means to lose weight. Rather having a low carb pregnancy should be viewed as eating food that is full of nutritious protein, fats and good carbohydrates (from veggies and fruit), and steering clear of all processed foods and those with sugar and simple carbohydrates. During my pregnancy I ate more fruit and vegetables than I normally would when I wasn’t pregnant just to make sure that I was getting some extra good carbohydrates to fuel a growing being. But, I followed this lifestyle because it is healthy not because I wanted to be restrictive in any way.
You can have a symptom-free pregnancy too, here are the top 4 benefits of a low carb pregnancy:
1. Heartburn-Free Pregnancy
Contrary to popular thought, heartburn is not caused by excess (or too little) acid in the stomach. It is actually caused by a malfunctioning valve between the lower end of the oesophagus and the beginning of the stomach. The reason this happens is actually due to a malabsorption of carbohydrates – as Norm Robillard discovers in his book “Heartburn Cured: The Low Carb Miracle”. By just reducing your carbohydrate intake (particularly the processed and simple carbs) and focussing on healthy food (like meat, veggies and a little bit of fruit) you can have a pregnancy free of heartburn! My pregnancy was heartburn-free – well, except for that one day when I overloaded on my mother-in-law’s confectionaries – and I paid the price! I knew it was caused by the excess carbs and I made sure to get back on my low carb wagon as quickly as possible to enjoy heartburn-free bliss once again. The thing that really annoys me though, is that many websites and doctors are quick to recommend medication to control things like heartburn. But quite frankly, when you are pregnant the last thing you want to do is add medicines and additional preservatives (and who knows what else) into your baby’s system. Rather than reaching for the Tums, try a low carbohydrate diet for a few days and I can promise you won’t look back.
Extract from “Heartburn Cured: The Low Carb Miracle”:
Those seeking relief from heartburn are advised to… avoid coffee, reduce fatty foods, avoid lying down, eat less, avoid trigger foods and loosen clothing. If that does not work, there are over the counter and prescription medicines that block the production of stomach acid that is needed to digest food. The problem with the current heartburn advice is that it is often wrong… The simple truth is that the consumption of excess carbohydrates is the main cause… and the cure is a reduced carbohydrate, high protein, high fat (that’s right high fat) diet.
2. Minimal water retention and puffiness
During pregnancy your body produces about 50% more blood and fluids to assist in the growth of your little one. This can cause your body to swell and feel puffy (even more than you would with a growing belly). A certain amount of water retention is then par for the course when you are pregnant, however this shouldn’t lead to extreme swelling where you would need to throw out your flats for a larger pair. Carbohydrates can be contributing to this type of extreme swelling and the only way to reduce this water retention is to reduce your carb intake and make sure you are drinking enough water during the day. Excess carbohydrates have been known to lead to a spike in blood sugar and insulin levels, which in turn make your body retain sodium and this leads to greater fluid retention – which shows up in your hands, face, legs, feet and ankles especially after walking, standing and prolonged activity. I was very lucky not to have any extreme water retention and I am certain it is because of the low carbohydrate lifestyle I followed. Also, a lot of people remarked that I didn’t get that puffiness in the face that sometimes happens during pregnancy. Again, thank you low carb!
3. Less Bloating, Gas and Constipation
Pregnancy gives us a lot of added hormones that are needed for the development of our baby. However along with some of those hormones comes some extra things we would prefer not to have (or speak about for that matter). Say hello to bloating, gas and constipation. We have progesterone to thank for those three torments. Progesterone (which has been called the “pregnancy hormone”) is vital in keeping the uterus relaxed, and also in building the immune function, particularly because of the additional foreign DNA that is growing in our bodies! The down side of progesterone is that it also relaxes all of the digestive functions which can cause our bodies to bloat, build up gas, and suffer from constipation. Nice! I am very happy to tell you though, that you can avoid those uncomfortable symptoms by following a low carb lifestyle. I was lucky enough not to experience any B, G or C, in fact, I was very regular throughout my pregnancy. The best explanation for this is because you get a very healthy dose of natural fibre when following a low carb lifestyle. It is well known that vegetables, fruit and seeds (like flaxseeds and chia seeds which I love) are great at keeping your digestion functioning like clock-work. Couple that with getting enough water every day, plus avoiding ALL gluten and you can feel like a new preggie woman in the morning.
4. No cravings
If you’ve ever gone from a high carb to a low carb lifestyle before, you will know what happens to you physically and even emotionally! For days on end you crave the sugar. You cry about it, you’re moody, you feel exhausted, you just want the sugar, chocolate, bread, anything and everything that has carbs in it! But if you stick to a low carb lifestyle long enough, you find that the cravings stop. Just like that! It’s like the world becomes peaceful and eventually the little sugar-demon that was sitting on your right shoulder is no longer there. It has been proven time and again in studies that sugar is addictive which is why we get those cravings. (Watch this video “How Sugar affects the Brain” for a great summary). Now, what does this mean for pregnancy? No one has been able to explain the reason why pregnancy has a heightened level of cravings, however it can be linked to the increase in some hormones that control our appetite. Our bodies automatically know that we need to get more fuel and energy from food to aid in the growth of our baby. But what then happens is we start to feed it all of the wrong convenience foods, because they are quick and available – like energy bars, fruit juices, muffins (all of which are loaded with sugar). This in turn sends us on a more chaotic addiction spiral with sugar and can cause some very weird cravings during all times of the day or night (sorry husbands /partners!) What I found however, is that if you stick to a low carb lifestyle throughout pregnancy and include a wide variety nutritious foods, you can avoid cravings altogether. The important thing here is to make sure you get enough fat as this will be the prime fuel source for you and your baby. (A study done by scientists at Pennington Biomedical Research Centre in the USA (2011) found that people following low carbohydrate diets are less likely to crave carbohydrates or starches and even experience an overall decrease in appetite).
Those are just 4 of a number of benefits I experienced following a low carb lifestyle during my pregnancy. Let me know in the comments what benefits you experienced during your low carb pregnancy?