Why Your Baby Needs Carbohydrates
Fat and protein are critical to your growing baby, but they do not provide the glucose, fiber, and folic acid found in carbohydrates. Folic acid is a B-vitamin found in fruits, vegetables, cereals, breads, pastas, and rice. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all women of childbearing age get 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. Pregnant women should double this to 800 micrograms daily. Insufficient amounts of folic acid can result in serious birth defects including anencephaly (a brain abnormality) and spina bifida (incomplete closure of the spinal column).
Foods that are rich in folic acid include dark, leafy green vegetables like collard greens, kale, broccoli, and asparagus. Papayas, strawberries, oranges, lentils, and chickpeas are also great choices.
Unfortunately, only 30 percent of American women get the recommended daily allowance of folic acid through food, which is why doctors strongly recommend a daily supplement of folic acid for pregnant women.
Severely restricting your intake of carbohydrates may pose another health risk to your baby: Without a steady stream of carbohydrates, your body burns fat for energy. Although this helps people lose weight, it may also result in high levels of ketones in the blood. Ketones are a natural byproduct of fat metabolism in the liver. It is still unclear whether ketones in the mother adversely affect the fetus.
Additionally, according to a June 26, 2004, Science Daily report, a diet high in protein and low in carbs is bad for women trying to conceive or who are pregnant. And it isn't just the absence of carbs that has an adverse affect on mothers-to-be, it is the increase in protein that low-carb diets dictate that can cause damage. A 2003 British study on pregnant mothers whose diets included a high meat/fish intake in late pregnancy found that these women developed high cortisol levels. "This is a concern since in animals, high fetal exposure to cortisol may lead to elevated blood pressure in the offspring later in life," the study's authors report.
"There are no studies that show the safety of a low-carbohydrate diet in pregnancy," adds Dr. Ricciotti. "Right now all the studies that talk about what constitutes a healthy diet during pregnancy include carbohydrates."