Since I became pregnant, all I’ve been craving are carbs and fried chicken. How healthy, right? As someone who has PCOS, I’ve always struggled with whether I’m supposed to eat carbs at all, and what carbs are safe for me to consume — since most women with PCOS are insulin resistant and are told to stay away from carbohydrates. But when I got pregnant, I became even more confused and wondered, are carbs good for you during pregnancy? I’m sure the fried chicken and macaroni and cheese I’ve been craving isn’t the best option, but what carbs, if any, should I be eating to make sure I’m the healthiest I can be, and that I’m providing the best nutrition for my growing little boy? These no-carb, low-carb diet fads and trends can’t possibly be safe for pregnancy, can they?
Carbohydrates are typically the go-to for morning sickness, according to Amanda Capriglione, a registered and certified dietitian nutritionist and owner of Food Balance. This is because they’re bland and tolerable, she adds. “Eating the right carbs can help keep your blood sugar levels where they need to be, which is another trigger for nausea — low blood sugar,” Capriglione explains in an interview with Romper.
Dr. Jamil Abdur-Rahman, who is an OB-GYN and medical travel blogger along with his twin brother for TwinDoctorsTV, agrees and tells Romper there’s definitely a benefit to eating carbs while pregnant. “Pregnant women require more calories than non-pregnant women. In the second trimester, they require about 350 more calories than they do when not pregnant. In the third trimester, they require an additional 500 calories. Of the three major dietary sources of calories and energy (i.e., carbohydrates, proteins, and fats), carbs are the easiest for the body to breakdown and to harvest calories from. That is why we typically recommend that pregnant women get about 60 percent of their total dietary calories from carbs,” Abdur-Rahman explains.
Other benefits to eating carbs while pregnant, in addition to helping your blood sugar levels and curbing nausea, include being a superior source of energy to fats and proteins, notes Abdur-Rahman. “Additionally … if they are getting their carbs from whole grains (a great source of complex carbohydrates), they can benefit from the ability of whole grains to reduce/control … blood pressure. For women with gestational diabetes (a form of diabetes seen in pregnancy) and for women with pregnancy-induced hypertension (a type of high blood pressure seen in pregnancy), these added benefits are really important,” he says. Other benefits of complex carb intake include helping with that pesky inflammation most pregnant women get in their backs, joints, pelvises, and lower extremities, Abdur-Rahman adds. And this is because many complex carbs are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.
For most women, if they don’t have gestational diabetes, Abdur-Rahman doesn’t advise pregnant women to be on a low-carb or no-carb diet. This is because, according to him, a lot of “good” carbs are very nutritious. “Whole grains are rich in fiber, B vitamins like thiamin, folate and niacin, vitamin E, and nutrients like iron and magnesium. These vitamins and nutrients are really important for pregnant women,” he explains. “Magnesium for example can prevent preterm labor." (Apparently, doctors use magnesium to treat preterm labor — fun fact.)
"Folate promotes development of a healthy spinal cord and brain. B vitamins can help to prevent nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. Iron can help to prevent anemia, something that is very common in pregnancy. The fiber in whole grains can prevent constipation, another common issue encountered in pregnancy," Abdur-Rahman adds. All very good, very important stuff for you and your growing baby.
So what are these “good carbs" — “complex carbs" — that seem to be healthier for you to consume when you’re pregnant, as opposed to simple carbohydrates? Capriglione suggests whole grain breads and pastas. Abdur-Rahman agrees and adds, “The one exception to the [not eating simple carbohydrates rule] would be the simple carbs that are found in fruit. These carbs are good for pregnant women as well. We advise pregnant women to avoid simple carbs because, while they provide a good source of energy, the energy they provide comes in the form of a quick spike.” This is because your body breaks down those simple carbs more quickly, bringing your blood sugar levels and energy down pretty fast. “Conversely, because complex carbs are broken down more slowly, they provide a steady, prolonged energy boost. The reason we say that simple carbs from fruit are an exception is that most fruit is rich in fiber. Fiber slows the absorption of sugar, so simple carbs from sugars are absorbed more slowly, in a manner very similar to complex carbs,” he says.
So it looks like carbs are pretty good for you when you’re pregnant — and in general — as long as they’re of the complex variety, like whole grains and fruit. As always, discuss your diet with your healthcare provider if you’re planning on making any drastic changes, and keep them up to speed on your eating habits since every woman’s pregnancy and body is different.
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