Carbohydrates in Pregnancy - Types, Importance & Food Sources

Carbohydrates During Pregnancy – Benefits, Intake, and Dietary Sources

Medically Reviewed By
Vandana Sharma (Paediatric Nutritionist)
View more Paediatric Nutritionist Our Panel of Experts

A healthy diet during pregnancy can offer a world of goodness to you and your growing baby. When we say a healthy diet, you might immediately think that you should avoid carbs, but that’s not true. In fact, pregnancy is not the time to go low on carbs. Carbohydrates are a good source of energy and fibre. A pregnant woman who consumes a carb-rich diet tends to derive about half of her calories from only carbohydrates. Therefore doctors usually advise expectant moms to refrain from opting for a low-carb diet when pregnant. That said, you should eat healthy carbs and not processed and refined foods.

What Are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates or carbs are macronutrients which consist of hydrogen, carbon and oxygen atoms. They are either available in simple forms like sugars or in complex forms like fibres and starches. Foods like cereals, millets, pulses, vegetables, fruits and milk products are a rich source of carbohydrates. They constitute the key source of energy for most organisms. Carbohydrates are typically broken down by the body into simple sugars such as glucose to release energy which fuels the brain, muscle functioning, and other vital organs of the body.

Types of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates can be of two types:

1. Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates like white rice, white bread, refined cereals, pasta, cake, pastries, biscuits, added sugars and junk food offer a lot of energy and calories but are poor in nutritional value. They can easily be broken down by the body causing a rapid surge in insulin levels and blood glucose. Preferably pregnant women should avoid consuming such foods.

However, not all simple carbohydrates are unhealthy. Simple carbs which are present in fresh fruits and dairy products like milk, cottage cheese and yoghurt make for healthy choices.

2. Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates like oatmeal, starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, potatoes, corn, whole grain bread, brown rice, dried peas, and beans are full of protein, minerals, B vitamins and fibre which are necessary for the development of the unborn baby. Complex carbohydrates make for a better food source as they take considerable time to break down and deliver energy over a period of time.

Importance of Carbohydrates During Pregnancy

Some of the benefits of carbohydrates during pregnancy can be:

  • Complex carbohydrates have fibre which may help in maintaining the health of the digestive system during pregnancy by regulating bowel movements and preventing constipation.
  • Intake of healthy carbohydrates may assist a pregnant woman to manage her blood sugar levels and keeping it stable by thwarting any sudden spikes thereby decreasing the chances of gestational diabetes.
  • Eating healthy carbs may counter the changes which can occur in carbohydrate metabolism during pregnancy to meet the growing energy needs of the developing foetus. Metabolic adaptations can lead to insulin resistance or increased maternal glucose
  • A pregnant woman consuming nutritious complex carbohydrates can sustain a healthy weight throughout her pregnancy and avert the risk of obesity.
  • Pregnancy may trigger fatigue and carbohydrates can provide the much-required energy boost. They get readily broken down into simple sugars to supply energy to body cells and support the developing foetus.
  • Carbs contain phytonutrients which function as antioxidants help in destroying free radicals produced during metabolism which can expose a pregnant woman to ailments.
  • Some pregnant women find eating carbs useful in combating pregnancy symptoms like morning sickness, nausea during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Importance of Carbohydrates During Pregnancy

What is the Recommended Daily Intake of Carbohydrates During Pregnancy?

There is as such no RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for the daily intake of carbohydrates during pregnancy. However, the daily intake of carbs should not exceed more than 100 gms or else it could cause ketosis (a metabolic state in which the fat breaks down to meet calorie requirements). Most nutritionists suggest that around 60 per cent of pregnant women’s everyday calorie intake should be made available from carbohydrates sources out of which about half of it may stem from whole grains. Ideally, 10 to 11 servings of healthy carbs per day may be sufficient in pregnancy.

Is Low-Carb Diet Safe for Pregnant Ladies?

Pregnant ladies need not follow a restrictive or low carb diet during pregnancy as it is not safe. Adopting a low carb diet while pregnant can adversely affect the unborn baby’s weight and development as he may remain deprived of essential nutrients like calcium and folic acid. It may limit the consumption of vegetables, fruits and fibre which can result in certain nutrient deficiencies that is likely to negatively impact the mother’s health. Diets which have low carbs are usually high in fat which can lead to unnecessary weight gain during pregnancy resulting in possible pregnancy issues.

Food Sources of Carbohydrates That are Good for Pregnant Women

Food sources for healthy carbs for pregnancy may include:

  • Wholegrain pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Wholegrain bread
  • Oatmeal
  • Sweet potatoes/potatoes (with skin)
  • Wholegrain cereals
  • Fruits like bananas
  • Vegetables like cauliflower, spinach, asparagus, broccoli
  • Sweet corn
  • Dairy products like milk, yoghurt
  • Legumes
  • Beans like kidney, red, lima, chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Millets

Which Carbs Should Be Avoided When Pregnant?

Pregnancy can trigger certain cravings in pregnant women. Craving carbs during pregnancy can be one of them. But not all kinds of carbs are good for pregnant women. While pregnant, you may want to avoid simple carbs which don’t offer nutrition such as:

  • White bread
  • White rice
  • Sugary foods like cake, pastries, biscuits, candy, lollies
  • Junk food like chips, bakery foods, too much of ice cream
  • Added sugars like in sweetened beverages, corn syrup, preservatives

It is advisable to consider the quality and quantity of carbohydrates consumed during pregnancy. Carbohydrates occurring naturally in foods favourably contribute to overall health. Pregnant women should stay away from low-quality carbs as found in refined and sugary foods. Opting for healthy carbohydrates when pregnant is desirable.

Also Read: Protein Intake during Pregnancy

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